$4.8 Million Paul R. Jones Art Collection Donated to UA
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. One of the top 100 art collectors in the United States, Paul R. Jones of Atlanta, has donated his 1,700-piece art collection valued at $4.8 million to The University of Alabama.
The Paul R. Jones Collection of American Art includes one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of 20th century African American art in the world, amassed over decades by Jones, who has been described by Art & Antiques magazine as “one of the top art collectors in the country.”
“The University of Alabama is pleased to be the permanent home of Mr. Jones’ dynamic and diverse collection of American art,” said UA President Robert E. Witt.
Unlike the typical collector of world-class art, Jones is not independently wealthy, nor does he come from a wealthy family. Instead, Jones was born and raised in a mining camp in Bessemer, Ala. Jones said that choosing The University of Alabama to be the permanent home of his extensive art collection was his way of “coming home.”
“The University is a flagship for the state of Alabama, and so by giving it to the University I feel that I am giving it to the people, the citizens of Alabama,” he said.
The collection includes art in a variety of media from more than 600 artists, including works by such well-known masters as Romare Bearden, Prentice Herman (P.H.) Polk, Elizabeth Catlett, Jacob Lawrence, Carrie Mae Weems, Sam Gilliam and Benny Andrews.
“The Jones Collection is remarkable not only for the breadth and quality of African-American artists represented in it, but also because it brings together a body of artists who worked at a time in recent American history when African-American artists were not widely collected,” said Dr. Amalia Amaki, professor of art in the UA department of art and art history, who has written extensively on the Jones Collection. “Likewise, an important aspect of the collection is that it is both a reflection and a product of the keen artistic eye of the man who collected it for more than 40 years.”
The collection will become part of the department of art and art history in UA’s College of Arts and Sciences and will be incorporated into course curricula at UA. Pieces from the collection will be displayed in galleries and academic venues on the UA campus and will be made available to historically black colleges and universities, other institutions of higher education and museums throughout Alabama. The College of Arts and Sciences has formed the Paul R. Jones Advisory Board, a group of Alabama citizens who will provide advice and assistance in identifying venues for exhibition of the collection.
“This is a major gift to the state of Alabama, and we are honored that the Paul R. Jones Collection has been placed into our care to share with teachers, students, and citizens throughout the state,” said Dr. Robert Olin, dean of UA’s College of Arts and Sciences. “The art, the lives of the artists, their place in modern American art and history and the personal vision of the man who collected the works have much to teach us.”
Jones’ love of collecting art began in the early 1960s when he bought three small prints from a street vendor works by Toulouse-Lautrec, Chagall, and Degas. As Jones began to immerse himself in the art community and attend major exhibitions, he realized African-American art was vastly under-represented in public collections. It was then that he began his goal of collecting American artwork with a particular emphasis toward collecting African-American art.
“Building an art collection is rarely perceived as a radical or political act,” Amaki said. “But there is a distinct aggressiveness to the acquisitions methodology of Paul R. Jones that suggests just that.”
As Jones began buying African American art, he often had to deal with the artists directly, since many were not represented in commercial galleries. From those interactions, Jones learned about the artists, and their work, and about art in general, which made him a more sensitive collector, he said. Additionally, the collection took on moral and social implications.
“At times, I would purchase works from artists I liked to help them pay the rent or mortgage or buy a ticket home to see family,” he said. “Sometimes I felt like a social worker in addition to an art collector.”
Soon, Jones’ collection and reputation grew. Art work covered not only all the wall space, but entire closets and rooms of his Atlanta home. Artists now seek out Jones hoping to be included in his collection as Jones’ taste has become the benchmark by which many other collectors acquire African American art.
Jones hopes that by giving his art to the Capstone, it will preserve the legacy of artists especially African-American artists, spark the interest of future art collectors, and help elevate African-American art in the eyes of the art world, he said. Jones also wants to ensure that this genre of art, which is an intrinsic part of the history and totality of American art, is never lost or forgotten by the art world.
“I’ve worked to bring African American artists to the point where if their work goes to auction houses like Sotheby’s and Christie’s that they can command the same price for their work as other people of equal talent,” Jones said. “That has been my goal and philosophy. In a nut shell, that’s how I got going and it continues to drive my efforts.”