Brenda and Larry Thompson of Atlanta with their [Un]Common Collection contribution by Beauford Delaney, "Portrait #16," at the Driskell Center at the Driskell Center at the University of Maryland on Sept. 19 (Robert Roberts/The Washington Informer)
Brenda and Larry Thompson of Atlanta with their [Un]Common Collection contribution by Beauford Delaney, "Portrait #16," at the Driskell Center at the Driskell Center at the University of Maryland on Sept.19 (Robert Roberts/The Washington Informer)

Whether you are an avid follower of African American art or still learning about art of the African diaspora, [Un]Common Collections takes a broad look at mixed media art on loan from 15 collectors.

It is the fall 2019 exhibition at 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. The exhibition of 64 works spans from 1860 to 2018.

The curators — professor Curlee R. Holton and Dorit Yaron, the center’s director and deputy director, respectively — selected four works from each collector. Visitors will see an emphasis on diversity in mediums, styles, periods, subject matters, and themes.

Most of the contributing collectors were at the opening reception for [Un]Common Collections. Collectors revealed an intense dedication to ensuring that the works of art are paths for learning.

Larry and Brenda Thompson from Atlanta were influenced in their collecting by viewing art collections at Clark Atlanta University (formerly Clark College), a historically Black college in Atlanta, where the couple lives. Additionally, the Thompsons read books by gallery namesake Driskell, which fueled their interest in collecting.

The couple boasts a collection of 600 to 700 pieces of African American art. The four artists included in the Thompsons’ contribution to the exhibition are Keven Cole, Beauford Delaney, Freddie Styles and Driskell.

“My husband Larry and I have been collecting for 40 years,” said Brenda Thompson. “Because of the history of this country, African American artists did not have a place to exhibit. Clark College was where they could show their work. We try to recognize artists who were overlooked because of Jim Crow.”

By showcasing selected works in [Un]Common Collections, the Driskell Center hopes to highlight each collector’s approach to collecting, explore each collector’s legacy, and encourage others, especially young collectors, to follow their example.

Juanita and Neil Hartbarger from Silver Spring, Md., said their African American art collection grew organically because of the love for the culture. The Hartbargers came to the exhibition opening with one of their favorite artists E.J. Montgomery whose work, “Garden of Wildflowers” is in [Un]Common Collection. Other artists whose works have been loaned by the couple are Loïs Mailou Jones, John T. Scott and Herbert Gentry.

“Once we began to meet some of the artists and see the breadth of the work, it’s just mind-blowing,” said Neil Hartbarger. “Every piece we own has been a love affair. It’s something we do together.”

The Hartbargers continued by heralding E.J. Montgomery.

“We wanted her to see her art in this show,” said Juanita Hartbarger. “She refers to us as her collectors and for us, that is a tremendous honor.”

Patricia Walters and her late husband Ron Walters, Ph.D. have a global collection of art. Ron Walters was a renown scholar in African American politics who taught at Howard University and the University of Maryland. The couple started collecting in 1985. For [Un]Common Collections, Walters contributed works by Alma Thomas, Delita Martin, Selma Burke and Henry O. Tanner. The Tanner piece, “Jesse” is historic because it is of the painter’s son and wife who always posed for Tanner’s religious paintings. Walters said Driskell educated her on what she had collected.

“We amassed close to 200 pieces,” Walters said. “My concept was the 19th-century masters, then I spread out to the Harlem Renaissance period. Ron was about the liberation of Black people and my thing was about the preservation of our history in terms of art.”

The [Un]Common Collections exhibition is free and runs through Nov. 22. Driskell Center Gallery hours are Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. with extended hours on Wednesday until 6 p.m. The Driskell Center Gallery will additionally be open on select Saturdays including Sept. 21, Oct. 12 and Nov. 9. For more information, call 301-314-2615 or email

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Brenda Siler is an award-winning journalist and public relations strategist. Her communications career began in college as an advertising copywriter, a news reporter, public affairs producer/host and a...

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