"This room illustrates our collecting strategy," Steele says. "We've got emerging artists, mid-career artists and masters all together. There are works by Lawrence and Gwen Knight [Lawrence's wife], also Mary Lovelace O'Neal and Verna Hart, whose work is similar in feel to Bearden's -- she was the last artist he mentored before his death and she even signs her work like Romare."
In the corridor, Steele stops in front of Michael Platt's drawing of the Bushman.
"It just knocked me out," Steele says. "He's working with just blacks and grays, and there's such uniqueness to the piece. He just captures the essence of his subject."
Steele is particularly proud of his recent Bearden acquisitions, a suite of three prints from a series the artist executed on the subject of the Trojan War (a fourth print from the series is in the Morgan show). Steele would dearly like to find the other prints in the series.
"It's a disease, an obsession," he says of the collector's passion, only partly in jest. He is a trained psychologist, after all, and he's given some thought to what motivates a collector's drive.
"We have that compulsive tendency toward order or completion," he admits. "Like that series by Bearden -- we're always on the lookout for those last few pieces we need to complete it."
And there's great pleasure in simply being surrounded by beautiful artworks in one's home. "Part of it is just the admiration and awe we feel for what artists are able to do," he says.
But there's also a more serious purpose behind his passion for collecting.
African-Americans "complain about not being part of the mainstream art scene, but we can't expect the mainstream to care about our art and our artists if we don't show that we care about them ourselves," he says.
"That's why we, as African-Americans, have to put together the collections, be the gatekeepers for the best in our tradition -- and be willing to give artworks and take part in the activities of those mainstream institutions. There are all kinds of steps we have to take to get the story out."
As the incoming director of the Driskell Center at College Park, Steele will be in a position to augment his efforts toward that end.
The center, founded in 2002 as a tribute to Driskell, a longtime UM artist-educator, brings together scholars from around the world to examine the history, culture and experience of African peoples in the Americas.
Steele, who has known Driskell as a colleague and friend for nearly three decades, says he wants to make African-American art and artists an integral part of the center's programs.
"The current programming places major emphasis on the diaspora, and there are a lot of programs in place already, which I'll continue," he says.
"But African-American visual arts will also become a major focus, tied to David's legacy and his contributions in helping to bring recognition to African-American art as an important aspect of American art history."
The center will draw on Driskell's legacy in five areas, Steele says: "David as artist, as historian, as collector, curator and educator." To carry out his program, Steele plans an ambitious series of lectures, exhibitions, artist residencies and workshops.
And what advice does Steele have to offer new or aspiring collectors?
"One of the myths that needs to be shot down is that you have to be rich. If you look at the Brandywine portfolio, you see stuff for as little as $500. There are a lot of ways one can get quality things without breaking the bank if you know what you're looking for."
What: Successions: Prints by African-American Artists From the Jean and Robert Steele Collection
Where: Carl J. Murphy Fine Arts Center, Morgan State University, 2201 Argonne Dr.
When: Through Aug. 22
Hours: Tuesday through Friday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday noon to 4 p.m.; closed Monday