Erasing an Absence: The Paul R. Jones Collection's Inaugural Exhibition of African American Art Treasures Debuts at University of Delaware

By Roach, Ronald | Black Issues in Higher Education, December 2, 2004 | Go to article overview

Erasing an Absence: The Paul R. Jones Collection's Inaugural Exhibition of African American Art Treasures Debuts at University of Delaware


Roach, Ronald, Black Issues in Higher Education


With the opening of "A Century of African American Art: The Paul R. Jones Collection" at the University of Delaware this fall, the inclusion of African American art in the annals of American visual art is believed to have taken a significant leap forward.

The inaugural exhibition of 101 works by 66 African American artists has been celebrated as a landmark debut for what represents one of the largest collections of African American art housed at a public U.S. institution. The exhibition is culled from more than 500 works of art Jones has donated to the University of Delaware. The expected total donation from Jones will be roughly 1,000 pieces out of a collection of more than 1,500 art works he's collected, according to officials.

"We've been entrusted with an extraordinary educational and cultural asset. Our commitment is to preserve, enhance and to share that asset," says Dr. Daniel Rich, the University of Delaware provost.

"Paul Jones was motivated to collect largely because of absence--too few works of African American artists on museum walls, in gallery displays and at auctions," according to Dr. Amalia Amaki, the curator of the Jones collection.

Last month, Jones, who has been called the "dean" of African American art collectors, helped preside over a series of public events at the campus based in Newark, Del., to commemorate the inaugural exhibition. A popular and much appreciated figure in the African American art world, the 76-year-old Jones showed considerable enthusiasm at events that reunited him with several of the artists whose works are included in his collection and brought him in contact with dozens of art fans who had traveled to Newark to celebrate the exhibition.

"My contention is that we need to push forward the African American presence in art," declared Jones at a forum during the celebration.

On display in the exhibition are works by 20th-century African American masters in American art. Among the original paintings, prints, sculpted pieces and photographs are works by Romare Bearden, Elizabeth Catlett, Charles White, Henry Ossawa Tanner, Jacob Lawrence, Hale Woodruff, Margaret T. Burroughs, James Van Der Zee and Leo Twiggs. The works occupy spaces in the Old College university gallery and Mechanical Hall, both historic buildings on the Delaware campus. Officially the home of the collection, Mechanical Hall has undergone a $4.6 million renovation, paid for primarily through university funds, to create a museum for storage, conservation, academic activities and exhibition space.

WINNING MOMENTS

Witnessing the energetic Jones during the exhibition celebration, just a week after the U.S. presidential election, proved similar to watching a candidate savor election victory while in the company of his closest supporters. In receptions, talks and a book signing, Jones eagerly interacted with those around him. Full of hugs, joking banter and friendly chat, Jones exuded the charm and down-to-earth affability that has helped make him one of the most recognized figures in American art.

"You don't have to be a Rockefeller or a Mellon to buy art. Timing is key," he told nearly 100 people who attended one of his talks.

Launched this past September, the inaugural exhibition is scheduled to run through June 2005 at the Delaware campus. Afterwards, the exhibition will travel to Spelman College in Atlanta, a move which represents the fulfillment of a cooperative arrangement the University of Delaware has with Spelman in regards to sharing the collection with historically Black institutions.

Beaming with pride, Margo Humphrey posed for pictures while standing between "Hometown Blues" and "Pulling Your Own Strings," two of her lithographs that hang in the Old College gallery. Humphrey, an art professor at the University of Maryland College Park, considered it "an honor to be included in the Paul Jones collection. …

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