IDSVA Driskell Fellows Remembering Dr. David C. Driskell

SPRING 2020

IDSVA awards one David Driskell Fellowship with each incoming cohort. Driskell Fellows are students of color who show promise in carrying forward David Driskell’s mission to encourage worldwide community and equality through art.

Here below, IDSVA Driskell Fellows offer their reflections on the impact of Dr. Driskell in their lives.

David C. Driskell and Ras Selassie Alleyne. Spannocchia 2019
David C. Driskell and Ras Selassie Alleyne. Spannocchia 2019

Dear IDSVA community, I offer my prayers and condolences to Dr. Driskell’s family and friends in this time of loss. As we mourn the physical loss, let us remember what we have gained from Dr. Driskell’s exemplary life. Dr David C. Driskell was a man ahead of his time. The opportunity to sit and learn his story, one to one in Spannochia this past summer, was an honor. Dr. Driskell's kindness and generosity have touched the lives of so many artist scholars-philosophers following his path. Being a recipient of the 2019 IDSVA David C. Driskell fellowship award, in the wake of this immense loss, leaves us the task of maintaining Dr. Driskell's road of humanity paved with art and scholarship. His global legacy and life story represent an era of upliftment for African-Americans and African diaspora who carried the dream of freedom in a changing world. Let us continue to celebrate this dream as we forever honor Dr. Driskell's legacy. Let us always remember his life as a gift of enduring love and generosity he gave for all to share.

Ras Selassie Alleyne, Driskell Fellow 2019

David C. Driskell with Dr. Kalia Brooks. Photo credit: Deborah Willis, Pretoria, South Africa, 2016

David Driskell has made an indelible mark on my life and career. As the inaugural Driskell Fellow 2010 at IDSVA, I was honored to uphold his legacy of dedicated and impassioned aesthetic research that changed the discourse of art history and curatorial practice. It is a distinction that I hold dear, and cherish as I embolden my scholarship on the path that he laid forth. David was a warm and generous spirit. A consistent embodiment of artful living, his love for art, learning, travel  and community is unsurpassed by any standard. I am forever changed by the wealth of knowledge, beauty and grace he has bestowed upon me.

 Kalia Brooks, PhD, Driskell Fellow 2010

Julius Brewster-Cotton with David C. Driskell at the Morgan Library, January 2019.

I first met Dr. David C. Driskell on January 12, 2019, at The Morgan Library and Museum along with my fellow cohort Carolyn Martin. We were invited by IDSVA President George Smith. I was honored by the invitation and its meaning and purpose did not go unnoticed. The meeting was not meant to sit there awestruck by this giant in the arts world, rather, it was meant for me to see what it means To Be the embodiment of purpose. While I must admit that I was extremely nervous, I was put at ease by the way in which Dr. Driskell walked into the dining hall; elegant, confident and with humility. He greeted all who attended, but paid special attention to Carolyn and myself; walking to each of us he made us the center of his attention. While the conversation touched on many topics, the one thing I remember was the way he looked at me while I spoke. He didn’t just listen, he heard me, he found my life story intriguing and asked questions as to get to know me better. Purpose. I knew then the purpose of the breakfast. Not only was it for us to meet, I the man whose name has gifted me the ability to be at IDSVA, but for him to see that his mission, his grace, his art, his voice, his purpose would resonate and continue in me and all those who in fellowship bear his name. I do not mourn his passing, but rather, I celebrate with anticipation the fulfillment of purpose as gifted to me by Dr. David C. Driskell. I salute him as he has now moved to the elevated plane, and with the ancestors continues to guide us. I do not mourn his passing, for as a man of faith, I rest in the assuredness that he gifted his last breath to the world he left behind; and while looking towards the heavens the words resounded, “It is well with my soul.” Rest well Dr. Driskell, the journey is done good and faithful servant.

Julius Brewster-Cotton, Driskell Fellow 2018

David C. Driskell with Dr. yonTande Whitney V Hunter. Spannocchia 2013

There are moments in a person’s life when you realize you are in the presence of greatness. Sometimes you are aware of the magnitude and other times it might slip by you. This was not the case with Dr. Driskell. Upon first meeting of Dr. Driskell, his quiet yet profound demeanor was a cue to me that this is a man of substance — one which commands attention. Not as a shout but as a soft but mighty rumble under the ground upon which one stands. My life at IDSVA was made possible and successful by the acceptance as a David Driskell Fellow and the charge given upon receipt of such an honor. Let it be known that I am honored to carry the title and do continue the work of “growing the field” - the charge so near and dear to Dr. Driskell. I am here because Dr. Driskell saw me and said yes. The only regret that I have is that I could not dance for him in my Spannochia spring 2013 session. Ase, Ibaye. Modupe, Dr. David C. Driskell. I dance for you now great ancestor.

yonTande Whitney V Hunter, PhD, Driskell Fellow 2013

Kimberly J. Wade with David C. Driskell. Spannocchia 2019

I had the opportunity to volunteer at the Driskell Center several summers ago. Spending days in his archives, I was surrounded by a lifetime of photographs, correspondences, journal entries and other ephemera. I was able to revisit American history through the lens of African-American life and art as I read written correspondences, often personal letters, between Dr. Driskell and artists/scholars such as Jacob Lawrence, Jeff Donaldson, James A. Porter, Elizabeth Catlett, Aaron Douglass, Lois Mailou Jones and many others. I was amazed and puzzled by how he and every other Black person who lived in America through the Jim Crow era not only survived but were able to be the change they wanted to see.

Since Dr. Driskell’s passing, I receive peace every time I recognize that what Dr. Driskell showed up with in Washington, DC, was hope. So even though the current global situation presents high doses of fear, frustration and sadness for me, I am reminded of Dr. Driskell's legacy. And as a David C. Driskell fellow, I must continue to show up and be fueled by hope even in what feels like the bleakest of times.

Kimberly J. Wade, Driskell Fellow 2019

L to R: Natalya Mills, David C. Driskell, Zoma Wallace, and Eric Bess at the Morgan Library, January 2018

L to R: Natalya Mills, David C. Driskell, Zoma Wallace, and Eric Bess at the Morgan Library, January 2018Dr. David Driskell was so much more than an artist and scholar in African American art. He meant so much to so many, his work and words enriched our community and will continue to inspire future generations of artist and artist philosophers. Not only because he was a giant in the art world but he was my “Grandfather mentor” (he was my mentor's mentor). It is an honor to be named a David Driskell Fellow and I will continue to honor his name and legacy.

Natalya Mills, Driskell Fellow 2017

I formally met Dr. Driskell at the beloved Spannocchia Castle, in a garden overlooking the farming valley of the estate. I would come to learn that his own home gardens were life-giving, spiritual spaces at the heart of many of his artworks and personal ethos. The hugeness of his career and influence made me intensely nervous to meet him, especially as a new David C. Driskell fellow at IDSVA. Expecting to shake his hand, he instead opened his arms for a hug with a warm smile and sparkling eyes, instantly making me feel worthy and unconditionally welcomed. Out of the many stories that could be told of his profound influence on me, one thing that has never left my memory is seeing his illustrated Moleskine journals that chronicled the trips he took around the world. No matter the nation, city, or town recorded, he uplifted their gardens and the plant life unique to each place in dazzling watercolors along the borders of every page. In doing so, he honored the divinity in the Earth’s most humble, silent beings just like he honored the humanity in each individual he met, no matter their stature, title, or position in life. Thank you, Dr. Driskell, for your unconditional love and the legacy that you have left for us all to continue learning from. There is so much more to thank you for.

Zoma Wallace, Driskell Fellow 2015

When I received the Driskell Fellowship in the summer of 2016, at first I felt inadequate for it, and I was aware that my knowledge of Dr. Driskell’s work was limited. Over the next three years, I learned about Driskell’s ability to endure suffering with grace, his endurance and steadfastness, and his art that celebrated and mourned a people burdened by a heavy past. I learned about his accomplishments, his organizations, his work on the Cosby show, and him receiving the National Humanities Medal. I sat in awe listening to his stories about making and thinking about art and about friendships with leading figures in the world of art and entertainment. I learned about his generosity and his sacrifices to help others get out of their own way. I mostly learned that his shoes were too large to fill, but that I could craft shoes made for my feet and still be informed by his example. In the very short time that I got to meet and know David Driskell, I learned a lot about the depths of human generosity and the power of a willful smile. So today, I smile knowing that there are countless others like me who were touched by the gifts and generosity of this spirit, a spirit that lives on in our own movements throughout our own fates.

Eric Bess, Driskell Fellow 2016