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.

David C. Driskell at Fisk University’s The Carl Van Vechten Gallery

Welcome back to the David C. Driskell Archives Blog! We hope you had a wonderful holiday season and a Happy New Year. We’ve had a nice break over the holidays and the Archives Staff is looking forward to bringing you more interesting tidbits from the David C. Driskell Papers in 2014!

Before the break, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet with David C. Driskell at his beautiful home in Hyattsville. Though I had met Prof. Driskell in person before, our conversations had all been very brief; but during this meeting, we were able to discuss the Driskell Papers at length. I updated him on the progress we’re making and asked some important questions that will help us to be able to better understand and present the collection.

Prof. Driskell was kind enough to answer my questions about some of the records that I’ve been working on in the Exhibitions series, one of which touched on his role at Fisk University. Prof. Driskell was a Professor of Art and Chairman of the Department of Art at Fisk University from 1966-1977, during which time he curated several exhibitions at The Carl Van Vechten Gallery. Many of the exhibition catalogues in Driskell Paper from Fisk University’s Carl Van Vechten Gallery have an Introduction or Foreword by Prof. Driskell, but few of them explicitly mention a curator. I asked about his role in the exhibitions and he said that for a gallery such as The Carl Van Vechten Gallery during that time and with limited staff, it was often the role of the curator to write the catalogue, curate the show, and do much of the administrative work and planning that goes along with mounting an exhibition. Though many of the exhibitions were on a smaller scale than some of the others he curated later in his career, the effort it must have taken to produce these exhibitions while being a full-time professor must have been one of great dedication and time. His explanation was eye-opening to me, providing information on the role of gallery’s director and curator.

After speaking with Prof. Driskell about this aspect of his career, I found this item in the Driskell Papers:

Image

Left photograph: a compilation of twenty-one of the 5-10 page exhibition catalogues that were products of the shows that Prof. Driskell curated or where his art was featured while he was at Fisk University. Right photograph: an example of one of these catalogues. (“Afro-American Art Series 1966-1976 David C. Driskell Fisk University” (1966-1976). David C. Driskell Papers: Exhibitions, David C. Driskell Center Archive. Photograph courtesy of the David C. Driskell Center.

The photograph above shows the exhibition catalogues for exhibitions that Prof. Driskell was involved in at Fisk University during his time there. The David C. Driskell Papers hold these and other exhibition catalogues which are great resources for those who want to see how Prof. Driskell’s curatorial career developed as well as for those who are interested in the evolution of exhibitions on African American art and artists. What is clear from this collection is that during his time at Fisk University, Prof. Driskell was able to really begin to hone his curatorial skills and present exhibitions on African American artists to the greater public.

Speaking of exhibitions, we’re looking forward to the opening of the exhibition Charles White – Heroes: Gone But Not Forgotten. The Archives will have a display in the gallery that will accompany this powerful exhibition, so please come by and check it out! The exhibition opens on January 30, 2014 with a reception at 5:00PM.

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

“An Idyll of the Deep South” and David C. Driskell’s Discussion with Aaron Douglas

As I’ve mentioned previously on this blog, David C. Driskell is a man who wears many hats—artist, scholar, professor, and advocate of the study of African American art being a number of them. But perhaps the most fascinating hats that Prof. Driskell has donned are those of storyteller and confidant. These aspects of his personality come across quickly when speaking to him in person, but they are also evident in his papers, adding life to this engaging collection.

One of my favorite objects from the Driskell Papers illustrates this notion. On four pieces of paper torn from a spiral-bound notebook, Prof. Driskell recounts a discussion that he had with Aaron Douglas in April 1971 at Fisk University’s Fine Arts Festival. The conversation centered on Douglas’s painting “An Idyll of the Deep South,” which was owned by David C. Driskell and featured in the exhibition Narratives of African American Art and Identity curated by the Art Gallery at the University of Maryland in 1998. This piece has always invited much speculation and study about its imagery and symbolism. According to the exhibition catalogue for the Narratives exhibition, “The Driskell Collection image is a smaller version of the third panel of Douglas’s mural series Aspects of Negro Life, commissioned in 1934 by the WPA for the Harlem Branch of the New York City Public Library.” [1]

During their discussion, Douglas revealed to Prof. Driskell that the star in the work was not representative of the North Star as it has often been thought, but rather, “a beam of light coming from the star was from the red star of Russia.” Douglas explained the pull of Communism for African Americans in the 1930s (he references Langston Hughes and Paul Robeson), and how these African Americans thought Communist ideals were enlightening. Prof. Driskell goes on to quote Douglas as saying “This red star was not strong enough—you see only a few being affected by it. But this is all history. I painted what was real.”

This recollection is handwritten by Prof. Driskell and delves deeper into Aaron Douglas’s life as an artist and as an African American man. The conversation also touches on patrons such as Mary Brady of the Harmon Foundation and “Godmother” Charlotte Osgood Mason, along with other subjects.

Below, you can see a scan of the entire entry.Click on the images to see them larger.

Driskell Notes on Talk with Aaron Douglas (April 1971): Folder T-132-13. David C. Driskell Papers: Personal, David C. Driskell Center Archive.

Driskell Notes on Talk with Aaron Douglas (April 1971): Folder T-132-13. David C. Driskell Papers: Personal, David C. Driskell Center Archive.

Driskell Notes on Talk with Aaron Douglas (April 1971): Folder T-132-13. David C. Driskell Papers: Personal, David C. Driskell Center Archive.

Driskell Notes on Talk with Aaron Douglas (April 1971): Folder T-132-13. David C. Driskell Papers: Personal, David C. Driskell Center Archive.

Driskell Notes on Talk with Aaron Douglas (April 1971): Folder T-132-13. David C. Driskell Papers: Personal, David C. Driskell Center Archive.

Driskell Notes on Talk with Aaron Douglas (April 1971): Folder T-132-13. David C. Driskell Papers: Personal, David C. Driskell Center Archive.

Driskell Notes on Talk with Aaron Douglas (April 1971): Folder T-132-13. David C. Driskell Papers: Personal, David C. Driskell Center Archive.

Driskell Notes on Talk with Aaron Douglas (April 1971): Folder T-132-13. David C. Driskell Papers: Personal, David C. Driskell Center Archive.

This is one of several handwritten journal-type entries that the Driskell Papers holds in the collection which are testaments to Prof. Driskell’s recollection and storytelling skills as well as his dedication to preserving the history and culture of African American art. Also, Prof. Driskell writes, “I had to all but swear to Aaron that I would not speak about its meaning, the star and ray, that is, until after his death.” To me, this indicates the trust and confidence that Aaron Douglas put in Prof. Driskell and the collegial relationship between these two artists and scholars.

PS—Be sure to check out our article in the SAA Archivists and Archives of Color Roundtable Newsletter this month! You can view it as a PDF here: http://www2.archivists.org/sites/all/files/AACv28n1.pdf

All images of documents are copyright of David C. Driskell, 2011. Gift of Prof. and Mrs. David C. Driskell.

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

[1] The Art Gallery and the Department of Art History and Archeology at the University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland. Narratives of African American Art and Identity: The David C. Driskell Collection. San Francisco, CA: Pomegranate Communications, Inc., 1998. Page 80.

David C. Driskell as Mentor and Mentee

As we go through the David C. Driskell Papers, I love seeing the role Prof. Driskell played as a mentor to students, artists, and colleagues. People often sought his advice and used his thoughtful responses to inform decisions both big and small. This is a common theme throughout much of the Artists and Individuals series. It is clear by looking through the folders  that part of what made Prof. Driskell such a wonderful mentor to so many was his relationship with his own mentor, James A. Porter.

Recently, I was looking through some of the papers to identify objects to represent our collection in the new David Driskell Archives brochure, and I stumbled across some folders that Prof. Driskell kept on James A. Porter who was a pioneer as a scholar in African American art. The correspondence between the two scholars is fascinating and shows a wonderful relationship developed over 20+ years, as well as the immense respect each man had for the other. Prof. Driskell studied under Porter while at Howard University in the early 1950s, and Porter was an important influence on the young Driskell. It is wonderful to see that that their relationship did not end when Driskell graduated in 1955 but grew instead into a friendship and mentorship of mutual respect and admiration.

In her book David C. Driskell: Artist and Scholar, author Julie L. McGee describes this relationship and notes Porter’s influence on the way Prof. Driskell approached his role in promoting African American art as a scholarly field of study.[1] Like James A. Porter, Prof. Driskell combined curating with practicing and teaching art.[2] From the correspondence, essays, and speeches that Prof. Driskell has kept, it is clear that their relationship was one which both men enjoyed and benefitted from personally and professionally.

I recently came across a letter from James Porter to David Driskell written on December 14, 1966 which is a good example of the mentor/mentee relationship they shared. The letter addresses an appearance that Porter planned to make at Fisk University while Prof. Driskell was Chairman of the Department of Art.  Once the business side is out of the way, Porter makes a point of complimenting Driskell on his work at Fisk. You can read the letter here:

Letter from James A. Porter to David C. Driskell (December 14, 1966): Box 37, Folder T-160-10. David C. Driskell Papers: Artists and Individuals, David C. Driskell Center Archive.

Letter from James A. Porter to David C. Driskell (December 14, 1966): Box 37, Folder T-160-10. David C. Driskell Papers: Artists and Individuals, David C. Driskell Center Archive.

The Archives staff has been working hard processing the David C. Driskell Papers and we’re arranging and describing more and more of his files each day, so please take a look at the new records added to Series 4, Subseries 3: Exhibition Catalogues; Series 5: Artists and Individuals; Series 3, Subseries 1: Solo Exhibitions; and Series 3, Subseries 2: Group Exhibitions.

PS: You can purchase a copy of Julie McGee’s book David C. Driskell: Artist and Scholar through the Driskell Center! Click here for more information.

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


[1] McGee, Julie L. David C. Driskell: Artist and Scholar. Petaluma, CA: Pomegranate Communications, Inc., 2006. Print. Pages 33, 70.

[2] Ibid., Page 37.