Mural of a Lifetime

Collage-style Painting in Cole Honors Giant in African American Art
By Sala Levin ’10 | Photo courtesy of BRANDON DONAHUE

A striking red-lipped woman, her arms outstretched toward a gray church. Over her shoulder, a branch of ripe peaches. And overlooking it all, a portrait of someone who’s both a young boy and an old man.

A new mural in Cole Field House, home to the David C. Driskell Center, honors its namesake, the late renowned artist and scholar of Black American art and longtime UMD professor. Designed by the center’s then-artist-in-residence, Brandon Donahue, the 9-foot-tall, 35-foot-wide mural honors Driskell’s own background and bold, colorful art.

“I thought it would be really cool to retell the story (of his life) through one mural,” says Donahue. The woman comes from Driskell’s painting, “Memories of a Distant Past.” The church is the one where his father preached, while the peaches are a nod to a tree Driskell owned in adulthood. And the silhouette is Driskell himself.

Before Driskell died of COVID-19 in April 2020, Donahue presented him with the mural’s design. “He felt like an elder, like a family member I’d never met before,” says Donahue.

Driskell, whose work is on display at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, was an early champion of Black art as a genre and curated the landmark 1976 exhibition, “Two Centuries of Black Art: 1750-1950.”

The mural, painted by Donahue with assistance from students, “celebrates Driskell’s commitment to the creative enterprise and the mentorship of students,” says Curlee R. Holton, director of the Driskell Center.


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