Volume 10, Number 1, 2001

Artist, art historian prepares book on Paul Jones Collection

Atlanta artist and art historian Amalia K. Amaki is sharing her many talents with appointments in the Black American Studies Program, the newly formed Center for American Material Culture Studies and at the University Gallery in Old College.

In addition, Amaki is gathering research for a book on the Paul Jones Collection of Art and she is developing another book from her doctoral dissertation on the history of black art exhibitions in the U.S.

On campus, she plans to teach courses on African-American art, women's art, American culture and film and art, media and criticism.

And, of course, there's her own art--photo-based button assemblages, photo quilts and other works in fabric for which she is well known. Many of her works are triptychs, created in a series of three.

"I think I just keep working on a piece until I get it right," Amaki says with a laugh.

Her large fabric creations are included in many prestigious collections, including the High Museum of Art and Nexus Contemporary Art Center, both in Atlanta. Her work hangs in three locations in the city's busy Hartsfield International Airport, and she has completed commissions for Coca-Cola Enterprises. Another large work hangs in Atlanta's Sam Nunn Federal Center.

Amaki participated in a special show held in conjunction with the Atlanta Olympics and when the Miller Brewing Co. wanted to honor Benjamin Hooks on his retirement as the executive director of the NAACP, Amaki was commissioned to create a gift.

A past art critic for Art Papers and Creative Loafing, she was also the art reviewer for Atlanta Homes magazine and guest art critic for the Atlanta Journal and Constitution.

Amaki's parents realized early on that their daughter had a talent for art. When she was in third grade, a milk carrier, an insurance salesperson and a repair person who visited her parents' home each paid the youngster $5 for something she had drawn.

When she was in seventh grade, Atlanta's famed Rich's Department Store heard of the young teen's work making yarn still lifes and paid her parents $50 to hang three of Amaki's works on the walls in the furniture department. The woman who eventually bought the living room suite that was being showcased also bought the three artworks.

"That's when my six sisters say I really started to get a big head," Amaki says.

When she was a sophomore in high school, Amaki was chosen to create the annual poster for the Atlanta chapter of the American Cancer Society. She went to Georgia State University on a Regents Fellowship and sold landscapes in order to take extra courses in the summer.

Friends were surprised when she pursued an undergraduate degree in journalism, not art, but she landed a job at the Atlanta Journal and Constitution right out of college. It took her only\ six months to realize that reporting wasn't for her.

Yearning to travel, she studied all the benefit packages for airlines flying out of Atlanta and chose to work for Southern Airways as a reservationist. In five years, when she had traveled everywhere she wanted to go, she took a job as a wire transfer bank investigator.

But she soon felt the pull of the art world again and pursued another bachelor's degree in photography and painting at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque.

After finishing her degree requirements she headed back to Atlanta where she worked for the Environmental Protection Agency and began teaching art history classes at Spelman College. She also began pursuing her master's and doctoral degrees at Emory University.

In the meantime, she was approached by a friend to help with a project aimed at starting an African-American Art Museum in Atlanta. The friend wanted to borrow some of the works owned by local art collector Paul R. Jones. Having known of a wealthy Paul Jones from her days on the newspaper, Amaki volunteered to join two other women who were going to visit and assess his collection.

When Jones opened the door for his three visitors on that fateful Saturday, Amaki, expecting a wealthy white man, thought Jones, an African-American, was the butler. The two still chuckle over the inauspicious beginning of their long and lasting friendship.

Amaki was the first to realize the treasure trove of art that Jones had stored on his walls, under beds and inside closets in his then-tiny Atlanta home.

"It was so exciting," she says of that initial visit. "We were just running from room to room, calling out to each other, 'I found a Charles White!' 'There's a Tanner etching in here!' It was like uncovering rare jewels."

It also was apparent that the three women would need much more time than the three Saturdays they had allotted to catalog the entire collection. While the others had little time to devote to such a massive project, Amaki kept working for a year doing fundamental cataloging.

While helping Jones prepare pieces to loan to a show at Emory University, Amaki became interested in their graduate program in art history. She enrolled, completed her master's degree and was working on her doctorate when things began to go awry.

"My dissertation committee began to fall apart," Amaki recalls. "One professor retired with health problems, another one left when he didn't get tenure and a third transferred to another institution."

Always an optimist, Amaki called UD's William I. Homer, H. Rodney Sharp Professor Emeritus of Art History, one of the country's premier experts on American art, and asked him to serve on her committee. Homer agreed, and through Amaki, he met Jones.

The rest, as they say, is history. As the three grew to be friends, Amaki finished her degree, Homer found in the extensive collection an exhibit for the art department's Biennial American Art Symposium and later the University Gallery's exhibition of photographs by P.H. Polk and Jones found a new home for his collection.

--Beth Thomas