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David C. Driskell was born in Eatonton, Georgia, in 1931. Educated in the public schools of North Carolina, he received his undergraduate degree in art at Howard University and a Master of Fine Arts degree from the Catholic University of America, both in Washington, D.C. He pursued post-graduate study in Art History at The Netherlands Institute for the History of Art in the Hague and has studied, on four continents, the subjects of African and African American cultures. He has been awarded 12 honorary doctoral degrees in art.
In addition, Driskell has been the recipient of many fellowships, among them number three Rockefeller Foundation Fellowships, a Danforth Foundation Fellowship, and a Harmon Foundation Fellowship. In 1995, Driskell was named Distinguished University Professor of Art at the University of Maryland, College Park, a title he now holds as Emeritus. He is a member of the National Academy.
Driskell began his teaching career at Talladega College in 1955. He has taught at Howard and Fisk Universities and in numerous visiting positions. He joined the faculty of the Department of Art at the University of Maryland in 1977 and served as its Chair from 1978-1983. After leaving the chair in 1983, Driskell has maintained an active career in the arts as teacher, curator, administrator and art consultant. He retired from his post at the University of Maryland in 1998.
Highly regarded as an artist, scholar, and curator, Driskell is cited as one of the world's leading authorities on the subject of African American Art. He is the recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Award in Art from Howard University in 1981 and The Catholic University of America in 1996. He has written widely, authoring five books on the subject of African American art, co-authoring four others, and publishing more than forty catalogues from exhibitions he has curated. His articles and essays on the subject of African American art have appeared in more than twenty major publications throughout the world. His paintings have been reviewed and written about in such venues as Art News, Art in America, The New York Times, and The Washington Post.
Among Dr. Driskell’s important commissions is his creation of 65 stained glass windows for the DeForest Chapel on the campus of Talladega College in Alabama. Driskell is equally well known for the creation of "The Singing Windows", the Afrocentric Christian windows at Peoples Congregational United Church of Christ in Washington, DC.
Since 1977, Driskell has served as cultural advisor to Camille and Bill Cosby and curator of the Cosby Collection of Fine Arts. In 1995, Driskell was called upon by President and Mrs. Clinton to select a work of art by an African American artist for permanent display in The White House. Henry O. Tanner's celebrated painting, Sand Dunes at Sunset: Atlantic City was chosen. It was unveiled and installed in a ceremony at The White House on October 29, 1996 and is housed in The Green Room.
In 1998, the University of Maryland founded the David C. Driskell Center for the Study of the African Diaspora to pay homage to Driskell whose career as artist, educator, philanthropist, collector, and art historian spans 44 years.
Dr. Driskell received the National Humanities Medal from President Bill Clinton on 20 December 2000 at a White House ceremony. The citation to Dr. Driskell reads, in part, "The President of the United States of America Awards this National Humanities Medal to David C. Driskell for opening our eyes to the beauty, poignancy and power of African American art. As artist, curator, scholar, and educator, he has focused attention on black artists sparking worldwide interest among art lovers, critics, and historians and enriching the cultural heritage and history of our Nation."
Biographical Narrative provided by David C. Driskell