Summer 2014 Progress on the Driskell Papers

It’s been a while since I’ve posted to the blog, but so many things are happening here in the David C. Driskell Center Archive that it’s been hard to keep up! Here is an update on what is new in the Archives.

Over the past few weeks, we have gotten some new windows in the Driskell Center which kept us busy packing up the boxes that hold the Driskell Papers and storing them in our conference room so that they are protected from the construction. Though we still have access to the boxes, we’re hoping to get them back in the Archive in the next few weeks.

One of our Graduate Assistants, Nick Beste, has found a full time job as an Archivist in Arkansas where he’ll be processing collections for the National Park Service. We had to say goodbye to him a few weeks ago, but we know that his time at the Driskell Center prepared him for life as a professional Archivist and we wish him all the best! Before he left, though, Nick worked hard to process Series 10: Audio and Video Materials, Sub-Series 1: Audio Recordings. This sub-series includes cassette tapes, minicassettes, and audio reels that are recordings of David C. Driskell’s lectures and interviews. In the coming months, we will also be processing Series 10: Audio and Video Materials, Sub-Series 2: Video Recordings which includes VHS tapes and reel-to-reel films of interviews, lectures, colloquia, and films that have accompanied exhibitions. The potential of these materials is great and we are looking forward to delving into this sub-series more.
Though Nick has moved on, our other Graduate Assistant, Molly Campbell, has been hard at work. Since the last blog post, Molly has completely processed all of Series 2: Educator which focuses on Prof. Driskell’s life as a professor, mainly at Fisk University and the University of Maryland, though he also held adjunct and shorter-term positions at various universities around the world. This series is made up of five sub-series including: Sub-Series 1: Fisk University, Sub-Series 2: University of Maryland, Sub-Series 3: Other Institutions, Sub-Series 4: College and University Catalogs, and Sub-Series 5: Miscellaneous. These records are available on PastPerfect online and are open for research.

Another exciting project that has gained some traction this summer is the cataloging of the Driskell Center’s research library collection into PastPerfect. The Driskell Center has an extensive library of over 2,000 books, exhibition catalogues, and journals which focuses on African American art and culture and is constantly being updated. This resource is a valuable one for researchers whose interests coincide with the Driskell Center’s mission. Previously, the records of these books were kept in an Access database, available only to the Driskell Center staff. The staff has since decided to catalog them in PastPerfect, thereby making the records available online. This project is ongoing and new records will be made available through PastPerfect online each week.

As summer is getting to its peak, we are looking forward to meeting some of our processing goals and preparing for the fall which will include an Archives display accompanying the exhibition Robert Blackburn: Passages which opens on Thursday, September 18, 2014.

Look for a post in the coming weeks about some of the interesting things we are finding in the series that Molly is now working on (Series 1: Personal) and more updates!

This post was written by Stephanie Maxwell, Archivist at the David C. Driskell Center Archives.

A Folder Can Be More than Just a Folder

Sometimes, the most interesting things about the Driskell Papers aren’t contained in the correspondences and catalogues that David C. Driskell kept, but rather in the containers in which he kept them. As part of our project, we are replacing the folders that Prof. Driskell had used to organize his papers with acid-free, archival quality folders. This aspect of preservation is an important part of the process as the new folders will help to maintain the quality of the paper materials held within and will prevent deterioration.  We do other preservation acts that will help to stabilize the materials like putting mylar sleeves around photographs to keep them from fading, using acid-free white paper sleeves to house fragile or damaged documents, and putting all of the folders into Hollinger boxes which are acid-free and fit the folders perfectly so as to avoid bending. On a daily basis, we perform these small actions to make a big difference to the longevity of the papers.

Many of the folders that Prof. Driskell kept have folder titles, helping us to accurately know what is contained within, and many also have writings, scribblings, and notes on them. Molly Campbell, one of our Graduate Assistants, brought to my attention such a folder as she was pre-processing the sub-series on Prof. Driskell’s time at Fisk University. Prof. Driskell titled the folder “Carl Van Vec” which we can infer has to do with the Carl Van Vechten Gallery at Fisk University. The folder contains some articles about exhibitions at the Carl Van Vechten Gallery as well as some appraisals done for works in the gallery, and correspondences on behalf of the gallery. But what is most unique is the original folder that held these materials: 

"Carl Van Vec" Folder with Packing List (undated): Folder T-183-149. David C. Driskell Papers: Educator, David C. Driskell Center Archive.

“Carl Van Vec” Folder with Packing List (undated): Folder T-183-149. David C. Driskell Papers: Educator, David C. Driskell Center Archive.


The list on the front of this folder seems to be a packing list for a trip Prof. Driskell took to Jerusalem. We don’t have records of the exact dates of the trip, but we believe that it was in the fall of 1973. This list includes the necessities of travel like toiletries and a passport, but also some of the more individual things like the journal paper he carried with him and slides of his recent work, which allow us to piece together his motives and preparation for the trip. Looking at the way someone organizes not only their papers, but themselves can tell you a lot about a person. So much of what is in the Driskell Papers focuses on Prof. Driskell’s life as an educator, curator, artist, and scholar, but strewn among that are these glimpses into his personal life, as trivial as they may seem.

Because of the unique nature of this folder, it will be placed into a white paper folder kept with the materials it originally held and then placed into the new, acid-free folder. Keeping these materials together is important in the archival world, allowing for researchers to see the material as the owner once used it. Folders with writings on them can be found throughout the Driskell Papers, adding another layer of meaning to this already rich collection. 

This post was written by Stephanie Maxwell, Archivist at the David C. Driskell Center Archives.

Artists and Individuals: Highlighting David C. Driskell’s Correspondence with Artists

This post is written by Molly Campbell, a Graduate Assistant at the David C. Driskell Center Archive. Molly is a first-year student at the University of Maryland’s iSchool, focusing on Archives, Records, and Information Management and has been at the Driskell Center since June 2013. Molly recently finished processing the largest series within the Driskell Papers Series 5: Artists and Individuals. The post below highlights some of her experience and the interesting objects she found in the series.

Recently I finished processing Series 5: Artists and Individuals, which is one of the largest series in the David C. Driskell Papers. It is primarily comprised of correspondence David C. Driskell shared with fellow artists, colleagues, clients, students, and friends, but also contains writings, exhibition catalogues, photographs, and ephemera related to these individuals.  I found this series to be particularly exciting because it chronicles the many relationships Prof. Driskell cultivated over the span of his career as an artist, curator, and academic. Moreover, these records evidence his emergence as one of the leading authorities on African American Art. As a whole, this series is a valuable resource which provides insight into Prof. Driskell’s personal and professional life, and furthermore demonstrates his commitment to the advancement of African American art into the mainstream culture.

When Archivist Stephanie Maxwell first asked me to write this blog post I was excited to share my experiences working on this series, but was unsure how to thoughtfully convey the significance of Artists and Individuals. I decided that the best way to highlight this series is by choosing a single record and reflecting on its evidentiary value as a historical document. After some searching I choose a letter that Prof. Driskell wrote to the artist Claude Clark (b. 1915 – d. 2001) in July 1969. Clark is also represented in the exhibition Narratives of African American Art and Identity and his work in that exhibition can be seen here. I selected this correspondence because it offers a glimpse into the relationship Prof. Driskell and Clark cultivated first as colleagues and later as friends. In the letter Prof. Driskell thanks Clark for hosting him while he visited California and for showing him the art scene in the Bay area. Prof. Driskell obviously enjoyed spending time with Clark and respected him as an artist and friend—an aspect that an archival researcher would find significant and revealing.

Letter from David C. Driskell to Claude Clark (July 14, 1969): Box 7, Folder 11. David C. Driskell Papers: Artists and Individuals, David C. Driskell Center Archive.

Letter from David C. Driskell to Claude Clark (July 14, 1969): Box 7, Folder 11. David C. Driskell Papers: Artists and Individuals, David C. Driskell Center Archive.

There are a number of other important points in this letter that reveal interesting facets of Prof. Driskell’s life. For example, Prof. Driskell mentions that he had just received a letter from the artist, and mutual friend, Jacob Lawrence who was teaching at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine that summer. This detail is remarkable because it further highlights the connections that tied these significant individuals together and indicates the ways in which they may have influenced one another.  I found this passage especially poignant because camaraderie is a persistent theme throughout this series as many of the correspondences show how artists represented in this series supported each other as colleagues and friends. Furthermore, the series as a whole reveals the milieu in which artists—particularly those of minority background—lived and worked in. All together the series documents the growth of African American art in the 20th century through the experiences and words of Prof. Driskell.

I thoroughly enjoyed processing Artists and Individuals and am thrilled that the series is now open for research use. I hope that you will come visit the Archive and take advantage of its valuable resources. I have recently begun arranging Series 2: Educator, which focuses on Prof. Driskell’s role as an educator and mentor.  I look forward to writing about that series on the blog when I finish in the following months!

Major Progress in Driskell Papers

Despite the snow and wintry weather we’ve had in Maryland over the past few weeks, the David C. Driskell Center Archives staff has been hard at work. We have a lot of goals for this Spring semester, and we recently accomplished two of those goals as our Graduate Assistants Nick Beste and Molly Campbell completed processing Series 4: African American Art and Diaspora and Series 5: Artists and Individuals, respectively. These series are two of the larger ones in the David C. Driskell Papers, and Nick and Molly have worked tirelessly to organize, describe, and preserve the materials that fall into those series. I am happy to report that all the records for the materials in these series are available through our PastPerfect database and are accompanied by descriptions of the series.

Graduate Assistant Nick Beste has been processing the African American Art and Diaspora series (or AAAD as it’s referred to here in the Archives) which pulls together the various materials that Prof. Driskell collected over six decades that helped to inform his own research and lessons as well as the materials for events and exhibitions he attended and/or was invited to. I’ve written about part of this series here, focusing on the Ephemera sub-series, but this series is comprised of a lot more than just ephemera.  As a group, these materials are a great resource for studying the evolution of art and art-related events over the 60 years that Prof. Driskell collected the items. AAAD is split into four sub-series which pull together materials by their function or format:

This series as a whole gives the researcher a first-hand look at what Prof. Driskell found interesting or helpful in his studies and teachings and in his personal life.  It adds a layer of connection to the Driskell Papers.

Our Graduate Assistant Molly Campbell has been working on arranging and describing the Artists and Individuals series since she started working at the Driskell Center Archives. Easily the most complicated and difficult series to process, she’s done a wonderful job making the correspondence that Prof. Driskell has had with various artists, scholars, and individuals in the art community accessible and easy to find. I’ve written about some of the wonderful things to be found in the Artists and Individuals series here, here, here, and here, and in the next few weeks Molly will be writing a post about her experience processing the series and some of the interesting things she found while she was doing it.

As Spring Break approaches, we are in good shape to achieve our goals for this semester. Molly has started arranging Series 2: Educator, which concentrates on Prof. Driskell’s role as a professor, and I have begun to enter information into PastPerfect about the records we have on his role as a curator from Series 3: Exhibitions.  And as these paper materials start coming together, we’ll begin looking at our Audio/Visual and Photographic Materials!

Thank you for staying tuned to the news on the David C. Driskell Papers—it’s a very exciting time here, and we’re looking forward to hopefully seeing many of you as you use the collection!

This post was written by Stephanie Maxwell, Archivist at the David C. Driskell Center Archives.