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Sun, 06.07.1931

David Driskell, Artist, and Art Educator born

David Driskell

*David C. Driskell was born on this date in 1931. He was a Black artist, scholar, professor, and curator recognized for his work in establishing African American Art as a distinct field of study.

David Clyde Driskell was born in Eatonton, Georgia, the son of George Washington Driskell, a Baptist minister, and Mary Cloud Driskell, a homemaker. William Driskell's grandfather was born into slavery in 1862 and taught himself Methodist doctrine, becoming a minister. When David Driskell was five years old, he moved with his family to Appalachia in western North Carolina, where he attended segregated elementary and high schools. Art was already embedded in his family life before he went to college. His father created paintings and drawings on religious themes, his mother made quilts and baskets, and his grandfather was a sculptor.

Driskell attended Howard University in Washington, DC, graduating with a bachelor's degree in art in 1955. He started studying painting and history until meeting James A. Porter, an acclaimed Black art historian who took him under his wing and encouraged him to study art history. James V. Herring, another of his professors at Howard, and Mary Beattie Brady, the director of the Harmon Foundation, influenced him. This organization collected work from African Americans. Driskell would continue to work closely with Brady throughout his early career. In 1952 he married Thelma Grace DeLoatch.

In 1953, Driskell received a scholarship to attend the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. After teaching for several years at Talladega College in Alabama, he earned a Master of Fine Arts degree from Catholic University in 1962. Driskell was an associate professor of art at Howard University from 1963 to 1964. In 1964 he held a fellowship at the Netherlands Institute for Art History in The Hague. In 1966 he joined the faculty of Fisk University in Nashville as a professor of art and department chairman.

Driskell curated many shows highlighting black artists during his time at Fisk, including Aaron DouglasWilliam T. Williams, and Ellis Wilson. He was a rigorous scholar, and due to his careful cataloging of African American works, he began creating the archive and context for research into black art. Driskell was a visiting professor at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, in the spring of 1973. After ten years at Fisk, he moved to the University of Maryland, College Park, in 1976. He chaired the department there from 1978 to 1983 and, in 1995, was named Distinguished University Professor of Art. Driskell retired from the University of Maryland in 1998.

In 2001, he was honored with naming the David C. Driskell Center for the Study of Visual Arts and Culture of African Americans and the African Diaspora, which presents exhibitions on African American art and holds the Driskell archive. He had a long relationship with the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, which began in 1953, the year he attended as a participant in the program. He was invited back as faculty in 1976, 1978, 1991, and 2004. He served on the Board of Governors from 1975 to 1989 and the Board of Trustees from 1989 to 2001.  David C. Driskell: Artist and Scholar by Julie L. McGee, a book detailing Driskell's life and work, was published in 2006.

He served on the Advisory Committee from 2003 until his death. He has been recognized as a mentor for developing art collectors for works by African American artists and advocating for "younger, up-and-coming artists." David Driskell died in Washington, DC, on April 1, 2020, due to complications from COVID-19 during the COVID-19 pandemic in Washington, DC

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