The Driskell Center is committed to collecting, documenting and presenting African American art as well as replenishing and expanding the field of African diasporic studies.
The Art Collections
The David C. Driskell Center is proud to present and preserve its collections of works by African American artists. The collections include drawings, paintings, prints, mixed media and sculptures with works by well-known artists such as Benny Andrews, Aaron Douglas, Romare Bearden, Elizabeth Catlett, David C. Driskell, Sam Gilliam, Jacob Lawrence, Keith Morrison, Faith Ringgold, Augusta Savage, Charles White, William T. Williams, and many more. In 2007, the art collections consisted of about 100 works; today, the collections consists of close to 2,000 and continues to grow.
In 2017, the David C. Driskell Center was awarded a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to help digitize the art and archives collections. Work is ongoing through 2020. In 2011, the David C. Driskell Center was awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts [NEA] as part of the NEA’s Access to Artistic Excellence Grant program.
The Driskell Center Art Collections currently include:
The collection includes works donated over the years by Professor David C. Driskell from his own private art collection. Among the significant works are those by artists such as Richard Barthé, Romare Bearden, Aaron Douglas, Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller, Jacob Lawrence, Augusta Savage, Alma Thomas, James Wells and other significant artists.
This unique collection was donated to the Driskell Center by Professor Driskell and his wife Thelma. It mainly consists of 150 drawings by David C. Driskell, many of them done during the 1960s while Professor Driskell traveled in Europe. These drawings were created with very organic lines and reflects Driskell’s interest in trees, building, religion, still life, and people.
In 2012, Sandra Baccus, an art lover and collector of African American art, passed away, and bequeathed to the Center a collection of more than 280 works, the majority of them by African American artists. Mrs. Baccus met Professor Driskell in the early 2000, and inspired and guided by him, she quickly amassed a large and impressive collection. She knew that the Center would present, preserve, and research the collection. Among the artists in the collection are Benny Andrews, Radcliff Bailey, Sam Gilliam, Loïs Mailou Jones, Hale Woodruff, and James Van Der Zee.
In 2015, the Center presented Collectors’ Legacy: Selections from the Sandra and Lloyd Baccus Collection. It features 68 works and showcased diverse range of media–sculpture, painting, photography, drawing, print, and object–from an array of prominent African American and African Diasporic artists.
The collection was donated over the years by the second Director of the David C. Driskell Center, Dr. Robert E. Steele, and his wife, Jean, who are both major collectors of works on papers, mostly by African American artists. The collection, consists of more than 250 works, includes works by contemporary artists such as Emma Amos, John T. Biggers, Melvin Edwards, Samella Lewis, John T. Scott, Lou Stovall, and Deborah Willis.
In 2012, the Driskell Center presented the traveling exhibition Successions: Prints by African American Artists from the Jean and Robert Steele Collection, an exhibition of works by some of the most highly regarded African American artists. Forty-five artists, using traditional printmaking techniques such as etching, monoprint, lithography, linocut and silkscreen, created the sixty-two works on display. The exhibition highlighted the remarkable focus of the Jean and Robert Steele whom, for the last four decades, have amassed a collection of thousands of prints and works on paper by African American artists. Instrumental in the Steele’s collecting has been their patronage of artist studios, galleries representing African American artists, printmaking workshops that have been established by, and focus on, African American artists, and institutions with which African American artists have collaborated.
The African collection includes works donated by several collectors of African objects, among them the Wil and Irene Petty Collection, the Lester Trachtman collector, and the Esther K. Reed Collection.
The African collection includes more than 200 works from such counties and cultures as Kongo, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, Benin, Senufo, Yoruba, and more. This collection was amassed in part to provide hands on experiences to students who are interested in working with art objects, exploring Africa, and even creating three dimensional prints based on those objects.
Larry and Brenda Thompson are major collectors of African American art and generously support the Driskell Center. The Thompsons donated thirty-nine works to the Center, including by such artists as Camille Billops, Louis Delsarte, Paul Keene, Preston Sampson, Walter Williams, William T. Williams, and more.
This collection, amassed since the Driskell Center, was founded in 2001 and includes works by African American artists donated over the years by artists, collectors, gallery owners, and many individuals who support the Center’s mission.
Donations range from one to several works, created using different medium, and range from early 1800s to the present. The collection continues to grow as we add works on a regular basis.
The Archives Collections
The David C. Driskell Center is proud to present and preserve the Professor David C. Driskell Archive of African American Art, central to the Driskell Center’s mission to expand and replenish the field of African American art. The Driskell archive was assembled over more than six decades and consists of an estimated 50,000 objects.
As mentioned above, in 2017, the David C. Driskell Center was awarded a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to help digitize the art and archives collections. Work is ongoing through 2020. The archival portion of this project concentrates on digitizing, and thus preserving for future generations, unique and vulnerable technologies in the David C. Driskell Papers, including 150 audio tapes, 90 visual reels, 1,500 photographs, 3,500 slides and many other unique resources vulnerable to degradation through aging.
In 2013, the David C. Driskell Center was awarded a $251,700 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, through the Council on Library and Information Resources’ [CLIR] Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives program. About 30% of the archive has been documented through a two-year grant awarded to the Driskell Center in 2011 from the Institute of Museum and Library Services [IMLS].
Among the unique objects in the Driskell Archive are exhibition catalogues, lectures, students’ dissertations, slides, art projects, children’s art kits about African American life and culture, magazines and, most importantly, correspondences with such nationally known artists as Romare Bearden, Elizabeth Catlett, Aaron Douglas, Jacob Lawrence, Georgia O’Keefe and James Porter. Most material included in the archive has yet to be explored; however, the contribution of Professor Driskell to the field of African American art is unquestionable.
The art collections, archives, and library are available for research by appointment; to schedule a visit, please contact the Driskell Center at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Driskell Center Archives currently houses the following collections:
The David C. Driskell Papers have been maintained and organized by Professor Driskell since the 1950s and document the evolution of African American art as a practice and field of study as well as Driskell’s personal life. The papers of artist, scholar, curator, collector and philanthropist David C. Driskell measure 150 linear feet and date from 1800 to 2014. Most of the papers come from the years 1960–2000 and focus mainly on Driskell’s relationship to African American art. A large portion of the collection focuses on Driskell’s correspondence with various artists (many of whom are African American), museums and other institutions. These correspondences touch on both personal and professional aspects of Driskell’s life. Also found in the collection are memos, meeting agendas, curatorial notes and documents, journal entries, writings, ephemera and exhibition catalogues, as well as audio, moving image and photographic materials.
The David C. Driskell Papers were donated to the David C. Driskell Center Archives by Professor David C. Driskell. The majority of the materials were transferred to the center in 2011. Once the materials were surveyed and inventoried, they were organized into 11 series. Materials were acquired by the Driskell Center Archives in three batches. The final transfer occurred in 2015.
The Harmon Foundation Papers consist of materials given to Professor David C. Driskell by the former director of the Harmon Foundation, Mary B. Brady. The Harmon Foundation was established in 1922 by William E. Harmon, a real estate tycoon who desired to assist African American artists in their struggle to gain recognition in the historically segregated art world. During the foundation's tenure it supported a number of influential artists such as Loïs Mailou Jones, Hale Woodruff and Archibald Motley. Mary B. Brady was an important figure within the Foundation and served as the director from 1922 until it closed in 1967. Driskell met Brady as a junior at Howard University in 1954. From that initial meeting, Brady took a personal interest in Driskell's career and in a number of instances loaned out original art pieces from the Harmon Foundation's collection for exhibits he curated at Talladega College, Howard University and Fisk University. In 1964, Driskell received a fellowship from the Harmon Foundation to study and travel in Europe. Driskell and Brady remained friends and communicated regularly until Brady's death in 1981.
The collection is predominantly made up of correspondence between Mary Brady and artists associated with the foundation. There is also a great deal of correspondence between Driskell and Brady, all of which provides valuable insight into their relationship as colleagues and friends. Besides correspondence, the collection contains a number of newspaper articles, brochures and exhibition catalogues, which document the foundation's activities. A notable highlight of the collection includes a postcard Langston Hughes wrote to Brady in 1965. The records in this collection are incredibly fragile and require careful handling.
The papers of artist, author, activist and educator Faith Ringgold consist of books, binders of artwork and primary source material that date from 1948–2016. The Faith Ringgold Study Room Collection is organized into 21 series, which Ringgold denotes as “galleries.” The 21 galleries fall into five larger categories: Works on Canvas (Galleries 1a-4), Works on Paper (Galleries 5-8), Works in Sculpture and Performance (Galleries 9-12), Works in Editions (Galleries 13-16) and Archives (Galleries 17-21). Galleries 1a-16 feature binders containing images of Ringgold’s artwork in various mediums, such as paintings on canvas and paper, quilts, dolls and posters. Galleries 17a-21 consist of her archives, which include books and writings by or about Ringgold, exhibition catalogues, reviews and resume items. Also found in the collection are sketches of art, correspondence, periodicals, scripts, early drafts of books and children’s stories, photos, speeches, notes, documentation of awards and honorary doctorates, interview transcripts, activist material and other ephemera.
The papers of Dr. Robert E. Steele, former Executive Director of the David C. Driskell Center, are almost completely processed by Driskell Center Archives staff.
This collection was donated by Holly Tank, who conducted interviews with African American artists who worked in Washington D.C. The interviews were meant to come together in a documentary, but the documentary was never completed. The materials in this collection, particularly in Series 1, are the videos and transcripts of the interviews. In these interviews, the artists speak about art as a universal language, a way of connecting and as self-discovery. They explore the idea that art defines us and that the artist has special gifts and responsibilities. They recall the past, e.g. coming to Howard University as a student, the key players at Howard in the early years of the art department, enduring segregation on the streets and in the museums of D.C., having a chance to display and sell paintings at the Barnett Aden Gallery, sketching soldiers for the USO in World War II and dealing with Black Power politics. They speak of their influences, about being artists in the nation's capital, about teaching in D.C. Public Schools, various curators and about how art and "beauty" are not necessarily the same thing.
Tank received several grants from D.C. Arts and D.C. Humanities, amongst others, toward a one-hour documentary on the art pioneers at Howard University (James Herring, James A. Porter, James L. Wells, Loïs Mailou Jones, Alma Tomas, Alain Locke and Alonzo Aden) as recalled by their still living students and colleagues. But the project was never completed due to funding.
The paper material in Series 2 is memorabilia that the donor had in her personal collection that relates to African American history. These materials are not related to the project specifically, but are of interest to African American history in general.
Archives staff are currently processing the papers of Tritobia Hayes Benjamin. Professor Benjamin was a distinguished art historian, Professor Driskell’s Ph.D. student and long-serving faculty member in the art department at Howard University. She is the author of “The Life and Art of Loïs Mailou Jones” (1994). This collection, which includes photographic material, audio and video tapes, promises to be a significant resource for scholars with a particular interest in African American artists associated with Washington, D.C.