March 4, 2010

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The Way

— PORTLAND — David C. Driskell discovered Maine in 1953 and fell instantly in love. That was the year he attended the Skowhegan School of Sculpture and Painting; the year he went back home to Maryland and said to his wife, Thelma, ''You know, all great artists go to Maine in the summer to paint.''

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GISELLE GOODMAN/Staff Writer From left to right, are: Mr. David C. Driskell, the celebrated artist; Bob Freeman, an artist and long-time friend of Driskell; Freeman�s wife Bettye; Tom Franklin, Portlander and Committee of 100 member; and Caroline Teschke, museum member.

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GISELLE GOODMAN/Staff Writer Board members James Hunt, Anne Zill and Chair Lara Hurley were photographed in the Red Room.

He was kind of kidding at the time. But the words were prophetic. In the early 1960s, the couple bought a home in Falmouth, a home they still own. And today, Driskell is one of the great artists currently working in America.

Just look at the many things he has accomplished in that time:

He is a distinguished professor emeritus at the University of Maryland and cultural advisor to Camille O. and William H. Cosby (yes, the Jell-O guy). Driskell accepted a National Humanities Medal from President Bill Clinton in 2000. He has an educational center named after him at the University of Maryland. And his paintings sell in art houses and galleries where you don't ask for prices -- your agent does.

He also is a really nice guy.

How do I know? On Monday night, I was invited to attend the Portland Museum of Art's special event for members of the Committee of 100. It was a private gathering called ''A Conversation with David C. Driskell.'' It served as a precursor to the opening Thursday of ''Evolution: Five Decades of Printmaking by David C. Driskell,'' now on display at PMA until Jan. 17.

Top-tier access like the kind offered at the museum Monday night is one of the perks of being a member of the Committee of 100, which is made up of the museum's most generous gift givers.

It was one of many ''meet-and-greet'' events with Driskell before the grand opening, all of them paid for by the Leonard and Merle Nelson Social Justice Fund.

Yes. The same Leonard and Merle I wrote about in last week's column, and the same Leonard and Merle I had the pleasure of seeing again Monday night.

It was the most quaint event of the week, with maybe 50 people in attendance. PMA Director Mark Bessire began the night by asking Driskell a few questions in the auditorium. Then the party moved upstairs to the entrance hall, where party goers had a private viewing of the ''Evolution'' exhibit.

It was pretty amazing access to a truly amazing artist. And I must say, it I were blessed enough to be considering words like ''endowments'' and ''legacy gifts,'' I would be honored to be a member of the Committee of 100 so I could have this kind of experience again. The influential artist and his wife were mingling with guests as if they were in a friend's living room, not the museum. Also joining the party was Driskell's nephew and assistant Rodney Moore; Dr. Robert E. Steele, executive director of the University of Maryland's David C. Driskell Center; Bob and Bettye Freeman from Boston, friends of the Driskell family and influential members of the New England art community; Bill Mills, a former Howard University student who credits David with teaching him the meaning of art appreciation; and Mario Powell, a teacher at Cheverus High School.

Of course, there were a number of Committee of 100 members enjoying the perks that comes with generous gift giving: Tom Franklin of Portland, who came with guest and museum member Caroline Teschke; David and Gwen Hiatt, Harry Noel, Jane N. Hurd and Nancy K. Kaye, and more.

There are names I missed, as the party was big enough that I didn't get to see everyone. But I certainly made time for the guest of honor.

And I, like many others who were with me at the museum Monday night, had a great conversation with David C. Driskell.

SALT OPEN HOUSE

PORTLAND — They call it the Red Room for good reason. It's really red.

And at first, Donna Galluzzo wasn't going to go for it. It was so bold a decision. Such a bold color.

But it didn't take long for architects Erin A. Anderson and Paul Lewandowski to persuade Galluzzo, executive director of the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies, to take the chance. And there were many people attending an invitation-only open house at Salt's new digs Wednesday night who would agree: It is a good thing the architects were so persuasive.

The red room is fabulous, as is the attached gallery space, with its angular walls the color of wet clay. Both serve as the perfect host for the photographic work of people like staff member and alum Christine Heinz, the kind of work for which Salt is famous.

These special gems are not hard to find -- all you have to do to see them is to press your nose against the glass of Salt's new space at 561 Congress St.

But what about the rest of the school -- the part that goes back nearly to Cumberland Avenue? Where do the students create their timeless pieces, their collections of photographs, writings and recordings?

As you probably guessed, that space is awesome too. Which is why Salt's board of trustees organized the open house. They wanted to give people like Cathy Plourde, Jen Hazard, Caroline Kurrus, Chad Vinkemulder, his wife, Lisa Scali, and their little one, Ella, a chance to see what lies beyond the Red Room.

An opportunity to see the russet-orange photo studio, the chalkboard bathroom walls (graffiti encouraged!), the parrot-green writing room, the clean Ikea furnishings, the see-through glass paneling and the progressively narrowed Lewis-Carollish corridor.

Some of the board members who came out that night to show off the space were Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram employees Bill Nemitz and Karen Beaudoin, James Hunt, Anne Zill, Mara DeGeorge, Susan McCray and chairwoman Lara Hurley.

Also showing off the space was Jon A. Provost, project director from Zachau Construction, which did the work. He brought a friend and colleague, Drew Wing.

Bet you can't guess which area of the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies was his favorite? The Red Room, of course.

By the way, if you are now thoroughly intrigued and must see this space for yourself, you will have an opportunity from 5 to 8 p.m. Dec. 17, when the students will host their end-of-semester public open house to show off their work.

I am certain you are invited. The bathroom wall said so.

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