Robert Blackburn and The Printmaking Workshop

Summertime at the Driskell Center, though always busy, seems to have something missing due to the empty gallery space. I always look forward to the fall semester when I get to walk past the gallery every day and see the wonderful works on display. As works on loan for the exhibition Robert Blackburn: Passages have arrived to the Center, and our intrepid staff begins hanging them, it inspired me to take a look into the Driskell Papers and see what the collection holds about Robert Blackburn and The Printmaking Workshop which he founded in New York City 1948.

Robert Blackburn was an artist in his own right, and this exhibition is the first comprehensive retrospective of his work. The exhibition will feature 100 works by Blackburn, as well as  a few additional works by his colleagues–teachers, artists, and friends.  After doing additional reading about Blackburn, it is very clear that Blackburn influenced, worked with, and helped many artists, among them Romare Bearden, Grace Hartigan, and Robert Rauschenberg.

Though there is no correspondence in the Driskell Papers between Prof. Driskell and Blackburn, Prof. Driskell did keep informational material about The Printmaking Workshop and about Blackburn himself. I found some interesting documentation including a brochure that Prof. Driskell kept about this unique and groundbreaking space created by Robert Blackburn. The brochure has some great facts and outstanding photographs (taken by Ryo Watanabe and Eric Maristany) that showcase The Printmaking Workshop and the great work that Robert Blackburn did for the art community.

Front of pamphlet on The Printmaking Workshop (undated): Box 4, Folder 15. Driskell Papers: Artists and Individuals, David C. Driskell Center Archives.

Front of pamphlet on The Printmaking Workshop (undated): Box 4, Folder 15. Driskell Papers: Artists and Individuals, David C. Driskell Center Archives.

Inside of pamphlet on The Printmaking Workshop (undated): Box 4, Folder 15. Driskell Papers: Artists and Individuals, David C. Driskell Center Archives.

Inside of pamphlet on The Printmaking Workshop (undated): Box 4, Folder 15. Driskell Papers: Artists and Individuals, David C. Driskell Center Archives.

The exhibition Robert Blackburn: Passages opens with a reception on September 18, 2015 from 5-7PM; the exhibition is open until December 19. The Driskell Center also produced a 144 page catalogue for this show which will be available for sale at the Center as well as on-line beginning September 18, 2014 (please check back here to purchase online after that date).  For more about the exhibition, please visit our website.  If you are interested in learning more about Blackburn, the Library of Congress holds the records of The Printmaking Workshop in their manuscript collection.

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.

Ephemera in the Driskell Papers

As we continue processing the David C. Driskell Papers, I love finding objects that at first glance are seemingly ordinary, only to have been made unique by David C. Driskell. These types of objects have been found throughout the collection, but as our Graduate Assistant Nick Beste processes the series African American Art and Diaspora, we continue to find additional treasures. Split into four sub-series, African American Art and Diaspora pulls together the many exhibition catalogues, ephemera, and files that Prof. Driskell kept on various artists and subjects within the fields of art and African American studies. This series allows us to get a view of the exhibitions and events that Prof. Driskell was interested in and what he found valuable in his research.

Nick has completed processing Sub-Series 3: Exhibition Catalogues, which contains catalogues that Prof. Driskell collected ranging in dates from 1901-2010. Nick has now moved on to organizing Sub-Series 2: Ephemera; ephemera is defined by Merriam-Webster as, “things that are important or useful for only a short time; items that were not meant to have lasting value.”[1]   Ephemera showcase printed material that was originally meant to be transitory but often present an interesting resource. The Driskell Papers collection of ephemera includes invitations to events and exhibitions, exhibition announcements, brochures, newsletters, and newspaper clippings among other items.

As we began sorting through the ephemera, one of the treasures we found was a program from a concert held at the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC –presented in collaboration with the Cultural Programs of the National Academy of Sciences and The National Academies’ African American History Program—which Prof. Driskell attended on February 14, 2010. The concert featured the Ritz Chamber Players performing pieces by Mozart, Anderson, Villa-Lobos, and Dvorak. Upon initial inspection, the program seems generic, but when you open the program to the first page, an insight into Prof. Driskell’s artistic and ever-active mind is revealed:

Front cover of program for Ritz Chamber Players at the National Gallery of Art (February 14, 2010): David C. Driskell Papers: African American Art and Diaspora: Ephemera, David C. Driskell Center Archive.

Front cover of program for Ritz Chamber Players at the National Gallery of Art (February 14, 2010): David C. Driskell Papers: African American Art and Diaspora: Ephemera, David C. Driskell Center Archive.

 

Inside pages of program for Ritz Chamber Players at the National Gallery of Art (February 14, 2010). David C. Driskell Papers: African American Art and Diaspora: Ephemera, David C. Driskell Center Archive.

Inside pages of program for Ritz Chamber Players at the National Gallery of Art (February 14, 2010). David C. Driskell Papers: African American Art and Diaspora: Ephemera, David C. Driskell Center Archive.

These ink sketches feature musicians with their string instruments, presumably the musicians featured in the concert (if you look closely at the left-hand sketch, you can see Prof. Driskell has written “Amadi” which is the first name of the musician Amadi Azikiwe who performed that day). Looking closely at the sketches, you can also see the leaves and nature that surrounds the musicians. Even in an indoor setting, Prof. Driskell brings one of his signature themes—nature—to his work.

This is what is so wonderful about the David C. Driskell Papers—something seemingly ordinary turned into a work of art! We found a lot of interesting things while doing our initial organizing of the sub-series. As Nick takes a more in-depth look at the materials, I’m sure we’ll find additional fascinating objects. This particular part of the collection is a great resource that allows the researcher a view into the life of David Driskell not only as an artist or a curator, but also as an appreciator of and participant in art and culture.

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


[1] Definition from Merriam-Websters Dictionary: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ephemera