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that the best way to highlight this series is by choosing a single record and reflecting on its evidentiary value as a historical document.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!