In Memory of David C. Driskell

April 2, 2020

David C. Driskell

June 7, 1931–April 1, 2020


David Clyde Driskell, Blue Pines, 1959. Oil on canvas, 36 x 29 in. (91.4 x 73.7 cm). Gift from the Alex Katz Foundation and Museum purchase from the Jere Abbott Acquisitions Fund. Accession Number: 2017.388.


David C. Driskell was one of the greats. The Colby community joins Driskell’s colleagues at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, the Portland Museum of Art, and so many others in the state of Maine and the larger art world to mourn his recent death and to pay tribute to his transformative life as an artist, scholar, curator, and mentor. Through his research and ground-breaking exhibitions, Driskell fundamentally changed our understanding of the history of American art. His own work as an artist is an important part of that historical narrative. Along with three works on paper, the Colby College Museum of Art is privileged to have three of Driskell’s paintings in its collection: Blue Pines, 1959; Of Thee I Weep, 1968; and Soul X, 1968. 

Driskell served on the Museum Board of Governors from 1994 to 2003, received an honorary degree from Colby in 2000, and was given the Museum’s Cummings Award for Artistic Excellence in 2017. His enthusiastic encouragement and wise counsel were critical to the newly launched Lunder Institute, for which the David C. Driskell Center for the Study of the Visual Arts and Culture of African Americans and the African Diaspora at the University of Maryland, College Park, served as an important model and inspiration. Had circumstances been different, David Driskell would have opened the Lunder Institute’s inaugural research symposium on March 12, 2020, sharing reflections on his life as a scholar and artist in conversation with his colleague at the Driskell Center, Curlee R. Holton.

Maine figured largely in Driskell’s life. He first came to Maine in 1953 to attend the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, and he remained an important member of the Skowhegan School community for more than six decades, serving on their faculty, board of governors, board of trustees, and advisory committee. He received the Skowhegan Lifetime Legacy Award in 2016. His student experience at Skowhegan led David and his wife Thelma to purchase their house in Falmouth, Maine, in 1961. His gardens at his homes in Maryland and in Maine were always an important part of his life and creative expression, and trees, especially the Maine pine tree, formed a central motif in his art. The High Museum in Atlanta and the Portland Museum of Art are organizing a major retrospective of his career. David Driskell: Icons of Nature and History is scheduled to open at the PMA on June 19, 2021.

We are honored to feature images of Driskell’s artwork in the Colby Museum and photographs from his visits to campus over the years and to share a link to Museum Director Sharon Corwin’s July 2017 interview with him.