Erin Kinhart and Stephanie Ashley
Scope and Contents
The papers of African American artist and educator Jeff Donaldson measure 12.5 linear feet and 0.003 GB and date from 1918 to 2005, with the bulk of the records dating from the 1960s to 2005. The collection documents Donaldson's work as a professional artist, his academic career at Howard University, and his leadership role in the Black Arts Movement through biographical material, a small amount of professional and personal correspondence, personal business records, writings by Donaldson and others, research files, artist files, sound recordings of interviews Donaldson conducted with over 40 artists, teaching files, exhibition files, printed and digital material, and photographs. Also found are detailed records of his professional activities and leadership roles in AfriCOBRA, CONFABA, FESTAC, and the Organization of Black American Culture (OBAC), including documentation on the Wall of Respect mural.
Biographical material includes biographical summaries and resumes detailing Donaldson's career, and documents such as his birth certificate, veteran and education records, and passports.
The correspondence series includes 0.3 linear feet of letters to and from colleagues, friends, and educational and art organizations. This correspondence relates primarily to Donaldson's professional activities. Also found are one folder of letters each from Gwendolyn Brooks and Hoyt Fuller. The bulk of Donaldson's professional correspondence can be found in other series.
Interviews consist of transcripts and sound recordings of interviews conducted by Donaldson for research for his dissertation on the Harlem Renaissance, with more than forty artists including Charles Alston, Romare Bearden, Bob Blackburn, Nancy Cox, Mildred Howard, Suzanne Jackson, Senga Nengudi, Mary Lovelace O'Neal, James Phillips, and Lamonte Westmoreland. This series also includes two transcripts of interviews with Donaldson.
Writings by Donaldson include articles, catalog essays, notes and draft excerpts from his dissertation, and draft lectures on TransAfrican art.
Artist files were compiled by Donaldson and relate to various projects including his dissertation, his teaching, and his involvement with FESTAC and other projects. Artists represented include Romare Bearden, John Howard, Jacob Lawrence, Archibald Motley, James Phillips, Hale Woodruff, and others. The files contain scattered correspondence, writings and notes, printed material, and photos of artists and artwork.
Exhibition files document Donaldson's involvement with the TransAfrican Art Invitational Exhibition (1997-1988) at the Orlando Museum of Art through correspondence and other planning documents, catalog essays, artist records, printed and digital material, and photographs. The series also documents solo and group exhibitions of Donaldson's artwork from 1980-2000, and includes correspondence, printed material, and photographs.
Professional files provide a rich and substantial record of Donaldson's leadership roles in the African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists (AfriCOBRA), the Conference on the Functional Aspects of Black Art (CONFABA), the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC), and the Organization of Black American Culture (OBAC). The records are particularly extensive for AfriCOBRA and FESTAC, and include correspondence, planning documents, financial records, meeting records, printed and digital material, and photographs. Additional professional files document Donaldson's involvement with other committees and conferences, including his role as guest editor for the International Review of African American Art.
Research files provide additional material related to Donaldson's dissertation and his teaching career. Of particular note is correspondence from the 1940s-1950s between the Harmon Foundation and the Department of Art at Howard University, as well as notes and a photograph of Harlem Renaissance artists outside 306 West 41st Street where Charles Alston taught art classes.
Teaching files document Donaldson's role as art department chairman and subsequently dean of the College of Fine Arts at Howard University, through correspondence and employment records. The files also include his lecture notebooks and other course documentation.
Personal business records document Donaldson's personal art collection, as well as appraisals, sales, and consignments of his own artwork. Printed material includes announcements and catalogs for exhibitions of Donaldson's artwork and the artwork of others, as well as news clippings compiled by him on subjects of interest, particularly African American artists and racial injustice.
Photographs are primarily slides of Donaldson's artwork produced from the 1950s to 2000, but also include some photos of Donaldson, including contact sheets and photographs of late career portraits, and photos of Donaldson with his wife, Arnicia. One set of photos documents a visit to Uganda in 1974, where Donaldson and his travel companions met with Idi Amin.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Donated 2015 by Jameela Donaldson, Jeff Donaldson's daughter.
Funding for the digitization of the Jeff Donaldson papers was provided by the Walton Family Foundation.
The collection was processed to a minimal level and a finding aid was prepared by Erin Kinhart in 2016-2017. Full processing and updating of the finding aid was completed by Stephanie Ashley, and the bulk of the collection was digitized, in 2018. Born-digital materials were processed by Kirsi Ritosalmi-Kisner in 2019 with funding provided by Smithsonian Collection Care and Preservation Fund.