University of Maryland loses revered artist and professor due to COVID-19
Photo courtesy of the David C. Driskell Center/Maryland Today
David C. Driskell, a beloved emeritus professor at the University of Maryland and an admired African American artist, passed away on April 1, 2020. He was 88.
Driskell’s passing was due to complications of the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19.
He was acknowledged globally for his artistic prowess, grace, vigor and scholarship in African American Art.
He broke onto the art scene in 1976, with his pioneering exhibition, “Two Centuries of Black American Art,” which recognized the neglected work of black artists from 1750 to 1950. This exhibition featured over 63 artists and 200 works that included paintings, decorative arts, drawings and more.
Driskell became a faculty member in the Department of Art at UMD in 1977 and served as its chair from 1978-1983.
In 1995, Driskell was named as a Distinguished University Professor at UMD. He retired in 1998.
His appointment as DUP was not the beginning nor end of many honors and accolades he received in his lifetime. Driskell was one of 12 recipients honored with the National Humanities Medal given by former President Bill Clinton in 2000. In 2005, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta created the David C. Driskell Prize, which is the first national award to honor and acknowledge contributions to the field of African American art. Driskell received the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture’s Lifetime Legacy award and was appointed to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2018.
Overall, he played a vital role in transforming and shining a light on African American art and artists alike. His scholarship and creative work transcended many obstacles and was hard for people to overlook.
His contributions to the art world made it known that African American art was not only unique, but a critical part of the art world as a whole.
He was an art historian and also an artist who worked in many media, including collage, printmaking, watercolor, oil, acrylic, gouache, and more.
Driskell’s paintings and prints have been exhibited throughout the United States. For example, his work could be seen in the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Oakland Museum and multiple museums in New York City.
While devoted to creating his own art, it was also his mission to support and promote African American artists personally, and through the contributions of The David C. Driskell Center, located at UMD.
The David C. Driskell Center was established in 2001 at UMD for the study of the visual arts and culture of African Americans and the African diaspora. “The Center provides an intellectual home for artists, museum professionals, art administrators, and scholars, who are interested in broadening the field of African Diasporic studies. The Driskell Center is committed to collecting, documenting, and presenting African American art as well as replenishing and expanding the field,” stated driskellcenter.umd.edu.
Driskell was born in Eatonton, Georgia, in 1931 and grew up in North Carolina. In 1953, he finished the art program at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture located in Maine.
He received his bachelor’s degree in art from Howard University in 1955 and earned his M.F.A from the Catholic University of America in 1962.
Driskell also studied art history at the Netherlands Institute for the History of Art in The Hague.
His exceptional legacy is evident in his artwork, teachings, students, The David C. Driskell Center and his family.
Driskell is survived by his wife, Thelma Driskell, two daughters, Daviryne McNeill and Daphne Coles, five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Article by Jaime Williams
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