Donovan Durham is remembered as a visual artist who overcame many obstacles. He died in July while visiting family members in North Carolina. A memorial service was held August 26 in St. Paul.
Durham, 55, was one of the founding artists at Interact Center for the Arts and was nearing his 18-year anniversary at Interact. A special exhibition of his work was on display this summer. All proceeds went to his family. He created portraits, landscapes remembered from his youth in the south, places he wanted to visit and cartoon storybooks about a character named Dobby.
Durham liked working in a wide range of media. “I like to do backgrounds, design, shadow and shade and I do paintings, too … Paintings with color, lakes and trees and water and everything … everything” he said in an interview.
He lived with paranoid schizophrenia and sickle cell anemia. He began drawing as a child, encouraged by a doctor who believed that drawing would help him share his feelings. But after his work was shown and won high praise, his parents objected for religious reasons. His parents destroyed much of his work. His doctor kept several drawings and is believed to have sold them later. One piece turned up at a show curated in Florida in 1993.
Almost 20 years ago, Durham came to the Twin Cities. He soon came to Interact and plunged into his art. He worked extensively at Interact and with other arts groups. One bright spot was a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board and a chance to make prints at Highpoint Center for Printmaking in Minneapolis. Some of his prints were shown in New York. His work was also featured in local galleries and on TPT. Minnesota Public Radio featured Durham and a 2005 art show of his prints.
Durham was also active at Pilgrim Baptist Church in St. Paul. He is survived by family members and friends.