Introduction and Acknowledgments

Dr. Robert E. Steele

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, is proud to present William T. Williams: Variations on Themes. The exhibition, its accompanying catalogue and Arts Education Program, follow the Center’s mission to collect, present, and document the work of African American artists as a part of the narrative of American art. Moreover, the Center, which honors the legacy of David C. Driskell, Distinguished University Professor Emeritus of Art, Artist, Art Historian, Collector, and Curator, would not be able to continue to present its art and education programming without the constant commitment and dedication of its founder. I thank Professor Driskell for his vision and continued support.

William T. Williams: Variations on Themes presents an in-depth examination of Williams’ four decades as a printmaker and a painter. During those decades, Williams became professionally involved with such artists as Robert Blackburn, Melvin Edwards, and Sam Gilliam, who are among the most important voices in American art.

This exhibition was curated by Dr. Lowery Stokes Sims, Curator at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City. In her essay for this catalogue, Sims highlights the innovation and creativity of William T. Williams at a transitional period in American art, when abstract expressionism was fading out and the dominant artistic tendencies of Color Field and Minimalism immerged. Sims effectively distinguishes Williams as a trailblazer through the course of his artistic exploration of line and form. Furthermore, Sims draws our attention to Williams’ Ellington etchings, which he worked on at the Printmaking Workshop in New York, founded by Robert Blackburn, an early MacArthur Genius Prize winner who contributed significantly to exploring and developing the medium of lithography. Williams’ lithography and works on paper are a continuation of Blackburn’s legacy of excellence.  The catalogue which accompanies this exhibition highlights four decades of Williams’ work, and along with the essay contribution by Curator, Dr. Sims, it includes a checklist, color images, and an essay by Marshall Price, Curator at the National Academy Museum in New York. Price’s essay nicely complements Sims’ essay and further situates the significance of Williams’ work in the larger context of a transitional period and the emergence of a new direction for art making.