August 5, 2002 - University of Delaware: Returned Thailand Deputy Director Paul R. Jones is leading African-American Art Collector

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Returned Thailand Deputy Director Paul R. Jones is leading African-American Art Collector

Read and comment on this biography from the University of Delaware about leading African American Art collector Paul R. Jones who was Deputy Director of the Peace Corps in Thailand in 1970 - 72 and returned to the United States to work in the Action Corps until 1979 at:

Paul Raymond Jones*

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Paul Raymond Jones

Paul Raymond Jones was born on June 1, 1928, to Will and Ella Jones. The family lived in the Muscoda community of Bessemer, Ala., a mining camp owned by the Tennessee Coal, Iron & Railroad Co.—a subsidiary of U.S. Steel. “We had a company store, dispensary, school, baseball team, you name it,” Jones recalls. “It was like a big family made up of people from rural Alabama—tenant farmers, people who worked the cotton and corn fields. Some might say a form of slavery still existed in the South, but Bessemer brought some sort of relief from that.”

Polished Up North
On matters of education and child rearing, Will Jones sometimes found himself outvoted by his wife and her four daughters. Such was the case when Ella made up her mind that young Paul should go north to school.

“When I was in fourth or fifth grade, we went to New York City to see the World’s Fair,” Jones recalls. “We stayed with my father’s son from his first marriage. Well, my mother was impressed by the school system up there. When we came back, she and my sisters, who were much older and teaching school at the time, huddled and all decided that I should go to school in New York. My father didn’t want me to leave home, but he was outvoted.

“Soon, I lost my southern accent and picked up a northern ‘brogue,’ and when I would return home in the summer, people would gather around just to hear me talk. That helped me learn to live in two different necks of the woods.” By high school, Jones was living at home again, playing football and running track, making good use of his highly competitive nature. In his senior year, he was chosen to take a series of statewide academic exams and scored in the top 3 percent of all students in the state, earning an academic scholarship for college. He also was awarded an athletic scholarship. Up until this point, his encounters with racism hadn’t left many scars, but all that was about to change as he headed off to college.

Jim Crow Strikes
After high school, Jones received a scholarship to Alabama State University, where he was president of the freshman class, president of his fraternity pledge club, halfback on the football team and played the drum in the marching band. After two years, he decided to try and get into law school at the University of Alabama.

Initial responses to his queries were encouraging and cordial. Later, as Jones completed his undergraduate education at Howard University in Washington, D.C., the law school changed its mind, and a letter from the dean of admissions, dated Feb. 4, 1949, had a decidedly different tone:

"While this may be gratuitous, I am adding that we at the University of Alabama are convinced that relationships between the races, in this section of the country at least, are not likely to be improved by pressure on behalf of members of the colored race in an effort to gain admission to institutions maintained by the State for members of the white race. On the contrary, we feel that inter-racial relationships would suffer if there is insistence that the issue be joined at this time. The better elements of both races deplore anything that tends to retard or jeopardize the development of better relationships between the races. For these reasons, therefore, we hope that you can persuade yourself not to press further your application for admission here."

With his plans for a law career dashed, Jones stayed at Howard for a year of graduate work. Then, with funds running low, he decided to return home.

Early Government Experience
Back in Bessemer, young Jones first worked as the executive of the Birmingham Interracial Committee of the Jefferson County Coordinating Council for Social Forces, what was then known as the Community Chest. The position allowed him to recognize some of his political aspirations with the powerful and highly visible appointment.

Jones later worked in the U.S. Department of Justice’s Community Relations Service, helping ease tensions during the civil rights struggle of the 1960s. He earned a national reputation for his work in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Model Cities Program and served as a deputy director of the Peace Corps in Thailand.

The Collector
Ben Apfelbaum, who curated the exhibition “Paul Jones Collects” at the Tubman Museum in Macon, Ga., writes, “Early in the ‘60s, Paul Jones bought his first art at a low-end shopping mall—three small scale prints—one each of works by Toulouse-Lautrec, Degas and Chagall. He then bought three unstained frames, a paintbrush and paint to prepare them for his walls.”

On the heels of that first purchase, Jones learned about Hale Woodruff and the national juried show of African-American art at Atlanta University.

“The Atlanta University annual event was of immense importance for the field in general, and in the case of Paul Jones, for the collector as well,” Apfelbaum writes.

Although it was tradition for the university to purchase the work judged best of show, other sales were rare, and it became tradition for organizers to call Jones to let him view both the juried art and the works that had not been selected for the show.

Over the years, both his collection and his reputation grew, and soon artists were beating a path to Jones’ door. During those years, as he decided to focus on young and mid-career African-American artists, Jones says he was part collector and part social worker.

“During the 20 years that I have known him, Mr. Jones has been more than the source of next month’s rent or the next meal, but also the sole provider of a reason why, at a critical moment, an artist decided to continue in the profession,” Amalia Amaki, artist and art historian, wrote in the Tubman catalog.

“For an artist, being in the Paul Jones Collection is meaningful, whether your reputation is local, regional or national. In addition to countless opportunities to have your work appear in exhibitions mounted from the collection nationwide, presence in his home alone offers tremendous exposure of the work of an artist to museum staff, gallery owners, art historians, fellow artists and other collectors,” Amaki writes.

In his own words, Jones says, “Early on, I had to determine a focus for my collection and sought to fill the gap created by museum that were not acquiring art by African Americans. With the exception of a blockbuster African-American show once every five years or so, American galleries were not including the works of artists of color in their exhibitions.
“I decided to focus on those artists—to give their art work exposure and, hopefully, impact their futures.

“Pretty soon, I had art on my walls, in closets and under the beds. Before I knew it, I had a couple hundred pieces, than I had 500 pieces and now, heavens to Betsy, here we are with 1,000 pieces of art—drawings, paintings, three-dimensional works and a large body of photography.

Read this article from the NAACP Crisis Magazine on Paul R. Jones:

Paul R. Jones: Collector, activist and huge fan of Black art
Jul 1, 2002 - Crisis [NAACP]
Author(s): Freightman, Connie Green


When Leo Twiggs tried to sell his art in the late 1960s, rarely would an African American buy it. Back then, shows of the South Carolina artist's batiks generally garnered more oohs and aahs than sales.

Than came Paul R. Jones. The charming young government worker had heard about a Twiggs show in Gainesville, Ga., and drove up from Atlanta to check it out.

Jones chatted with Twiggs as he examined his art. Sunddenly, he pointed out five pieces that he wanted, wrote a check and asked the artist to ship his purchases. Twiggs was taken aback.

"He came in at a time when African Americans weren't buying my work. The buyers were young white professionals," recalls Twiggs, today a distinguished artist-in-residence at Claflin University in Orangeburg, S.C. "But Paul was so decisive. He was one of the first Black professionals to purchase my work. It just struck me."

What Twiggs didn't realize then was that Paul Jones was on a mission.

Since Jones, 74, began his quest for Black art almost 35 years ago, he has amassed one of the world's largest private collections of African American art. What's amazing to many is how Jones, a man of modest means, has been able to acquire at least 1,500 pieces of art.

"It was something I sacrificed for. I would always buy used cars," Jones says. "I sometimes sold art to buy other art. It was also a matter of good timing and having ready cash when something came along I wanted to buy."

Jones' collection includes work by renowned artists like Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, Charles White, Henry Ossawa Tanner, Elizabeth Catlett, noted photographer P.H. Polk and Selma Burke, who created the Franklin Delano Roosevelt image that appears on the dime. Mediums range from paintings, sculpture, drawings and watercolors to quilts, photography and fine art prints.

But this collection is built more on the works of emerging and mid-career artists, some who have gone on to gain recognition. The collection's prized more for the life story it tells of a man who grew and matured as a collector along with the artists he supported.

The walls of Paul R. Jones' Atlanta home are papered with art.

"He started off as a social worker, then became a collector. He has a great teaching collection," says art appraiser Ben Apfelbaum, director of exhibitions at the Spruill Center for the Arts in the Atlanta suburb of Dunwoody, Ga.

"True, he has few of what others would consider treasures in his collection. But if you consider the entire collection, that is the treasure," says Apfelbaum, who curated an exhibit called "Paul Jones Collects" at the Tubman African American Museum in Macon, Ga. "Some collectors buy big names, some buy what someone else tells them to buy. They aren't collectors, they just bought a lot of art. Paul's smart; he's a tough bargainer and he buys what he likes, which is the way you should buy art anyway."

Many of Jones' purchases and loans for exhibits were motivated by his desire to encourage young artists to continue painting, to inspire other African Americans to collect or to help a struggling artist to buy supplies or pay rent. Whether prodding museum boards today to hire Black curators or stage more Black art exhibits and acquire Black art for their permanent collections, Jones turned his passion for art collecting into a force for social change.

Jones' journey to become one of the nation's leading collectors of African American art started in an Alabama mining camp. Paul Raymond Jones was born June 1, 1928, in the Muscoda community of Bessemer, Ala., a mining camp owned by Tennessee Coal, Iron & Railroad Co., a subsidiary of U.S. Steel. His father, Will Jones, was an outgoing, down-to-earth man who had a way of getting along with everyone and defusing conflict between the races, Jones recalls. He was tapped to be a community relations worker, a liaison between Black workers and mining camp management.

By fourth or fifth grade, Jones was sent north to live with relatives in New York City, where his mother and sisters felt he would receive a better education. He returned home to complete high school, and attended Alabama State College for two years, then completed his undergraduate studies and a year of graduate work at Howard University, after which he returned to Bessemer.

Back home, he first served as the executive of the now-defunct Birmingham/Jefferson County Interracial Committee. He later joined the U.S. Justice Department's Community Relations Service, working to ease tensions during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. He gained national recognition for his work with the Model Cities Program of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. He also served as a deputy director of the Peace Corps in Thailand.

The turbulent '60s also were marked by an emerging Black consciousness movement, which promoted Black pride, culture and achievements. It was around that time that Jones got interested in art. His first purchases were three small prints of works by European artists Toulouse-Lautrec, Degas and Chagall.

"[Art] was something that I sacraficed for. I would buy used cars. I sometimes sold art to buy other art."

When he started looking for original works by African Americans artists, Jones says, he immediately ran into roadblocks. There were no Black art galleries, and white galleries weren't showing the art. He couldn't view it in the major museums, as those institutions were not spending money to put African American art in their permanent collections.

"That's what led me to collect African American art so that the things I collected wouldn't be lost to the art world," Jones says.

He began a quest to locate African American artists. As he traveled, he would visit an artist he'd heard about, which would lead to another. These relationships with artists helped him not only build his collection, but also develop an eye for selecting art. Another source for African American art early on was the national juried shows organized by artist and educator Hale Woodruff at Atlanta University (now Clark Atlanta University).

As his reputation grew along with his collection, artists began to seek him out. Some would turn to him when they needed to sell art to pay a past-due bill or rent, and Jones would help them out. One of those artists was William Anderson, a photographer, sculptor and printmaker who moved to Atlanta in 1982 after a teaching stint at Georgia's Savannah State College.

"I was destitute and depressed. I didn't have money to buy paper or chemicals," recalls Anderson, who now works as a professor of fine art at Morehouse College. "[Jones] saw my work and told me it was good. He bought me materials and told me about an art contest. I entered and won first and second place. He gave me hope."

No doubt, these were mutually beneficial relationships. Jones would invite artists over for refreshments to discuss their work, and also offer artists advice on how to reach the collecting public. "It was a win-win situation," Jones recalls. "I learned a great deal from my interaction with artists. I told them it was okay to document an era, but to think about what people would want in their homes. Think about whether people want to buy a clenched fist to put on their walls to look at 365 days a year. They took my advice to heart."

By the mid-'70s, Jones began hosting art receptions in his home for local doctors, lawyers and other Black professionals to expose them to African American art and encourage them to start collections of their own. He sold art off his walls to help some get started.

As Jones gained attention for loaning art from his collection for exhibits, other Black collectors started to come out of seclusion, says artist and art historian Amalia Amaki, curator of the Paul R. Jones Collection and assistant professor of Black American studies, art and art history at the University of Delaware. "People do ooh and aah over collectors now," says Amaki, who has art pieces in the Jones collection. "What distinguishes him is that he is not elitist. He would loan to a public school as quick as he would loan to a museum. Especially in Western culture, collecting has been an elitist enterprise for the wealthy and privileged.

His collection totally challenged that because it was built on a salary."

Jones, who is divorced, describes his life as comfortable. His house is part residence, part gallery, which he opens to people interested in viewing his collection. And he has supported his passion for collecting art by leading a frugal lifestyle, saving and investing wisely in stocks and real-estate holdings. His collection's estimated value is about $10 million, but it likely should be worth more. While the value of African American art is on the upswing, according to many art experts, it still remains under appraised.

After a five-year search for a home for his collection, Jones announced in February 2001 that he was donating the core of his collection to the University of Delaware in Newark. While he was interested in giving his collection to a historically Black college or university, Jones says it didn't work out. He wanted the collection kept together to be used for teaching and exhibits, but he realized during talks with several Black college officials that to house, exhibit, conserve and hire a curatorial staff for such an extensive collection would strain their resources.

So Jones struck a deal with the Un\iversity of Delaware, a well- endowed institution nationally regarded for its degree programs in art history and conservation, that he hopes will give greater exposure to African American art, and also benefit art programs and students at HBCUs. As a condition for donating his collection, Jones negotiated an agreement with Delaware that includes renovating a building to house his collection, hiring a Black curator (Amaki), incorporating the study of African American art into the curriculum, recruiting Black students, faculty and staff and collaborating on art-related projects with HBCUs.

The first collaboration, between Delaware and Spelman College, was an exhibit last spring at Spelman of P.H. Polk photographs from the Jones collection and a scholarship for a Spelman student to pursue a graduate degree in art at Delaware.

"[Jones has] made a very important donation to the University of Delaware," says Lynda Roscoe Hartigan, chief curator of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. "He's a positive activist for African American art. He wants students to understand the contributions of African American art."

Indeed, the donation has generated attention for Jones and the University of Delaware. Black artists continue to seek him out, some offering him art for free just to be represented in the collection.

Meanwhile, he enjoys communing with his collection like family. His favorite three works are "Woman Grinding Peppers" (chalk-like crayon) by Herman "Kofi" Bailey; "Original Man" (pastel on paper) by Amos "Ashanti" Johnson; and "John Henry" (oil wash and pencil on paper) by Charles White.

"I like them because [the artists are] all strong draftsmen," Jones says. After his favorites and others move to Delaware, he expects his walls in Atlanta won't be bare for long. "I'm still collecting," he says with a sly smile.

"He's obsessed. He can't stop," says Amaki, who, with a Delaware team, did an inventory of the collection. "There's so much stuff that it's hard for me to keep up with it. You have to go under beds, in dresser drawers, behind the couch, and we discover things we missed. It's like a scavenger hunt through his house for hidden treasures."

Jones visits Delaware about once a month to monitor progress as the college prepares for his gift. He is dedicating his donation in the memory of his parents and his four sisters and in honor of his only child, PR. Jones, a computer programmer in Los Angeles.

"I could have sold this collection and got me a maid, a butler, a nurse, a cook and a chauffeur and traveled the world twice a year," Jones says. "But I've led a good life and had the pleasure of living with art and using it as an instrument for change."

Paul Jones on the Art of Collecting

The African American art market is doing better than ever, art experts say. In the last 10 years, the value of Black art has risen tremendously, and more people are buying.

But there are still challenges, says collector Paul Jones. He'd like to see more Black-owned and operated galleries and more African American patrons of Black art.

Before buying, people must educate themselves about art so that they can develop an eye for what to buy. Visit museums and galleries, attend art seminars, talk with art dealers, curators and artists, visit their studios, get books on original art and fine art prints.

If you can't afford originals, fine art prints are a good way to start collecting, just be sure you aren't accumulating finely framed posters, Jones says. Fine print dealers recommend going to a reputable art dealer, asking lots of questions and asking for documentation, including the details about how the print was made, the size of the edition and the artist's signature.

Also learn how the politics of the art world work, Jones says. While the value of African American art is finally being recognized, it is still under appraised, he adds. "You don't have to be a Rockefeller or a Mellon to collect art. I'd rather see you with a few good pieces than a house full of reproductions. We also need to start looking at what we do with our children. Instead of buying them $150 sneakers, why not buy them art. They may get accustomed to it and appreciate it. That's building the future."

See works from the Paul R. Jones Collection on page 52

Connie Green Freightman works parttime as a writer for the Atlanta JournalConstitution.

Copyright Crisis Publishing Company, Incorporated Jul/Aug 2002

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