Paul R. Jones of Atlanta, a pioneer in the acquisition of African-American art, started collecting in the 1960s while working for the federal government in Atlanta.
"As I began to evidence an interest in art, I bought three reproductions of old masters," he said. "I got unstained frames, painted them and framed the prints. Those were the first things I ever hung up."
Quickly, however, his interest turned to original works primarily by African-American artists.
"Very early on, I had to determine a focus, and I sought to fill the gap created because museums were acquiring very little art by African Americans," Jones said. "The major art galleries were not including artists of color, with the exception of a blockbuster show every four or five years. I decided to focus on those artists, to expose them to the art world and the world of collecting and also to impact their futures. Ive loaned my art frequently, so others have had their appetites whetted to collect. It has given the artists exposure to collectors and galleries so those galleries might become more inclusive.
"I started out with several pieces, a few of which I thought were excellent examples of fine art," Jones said. "That few became several and then a few hundred pieces, and I was always looking to add to the collection. As the result of lending out works, I got good feedback. It meant that somewhere along the way my eye was developing. I sought to find strong, mid-career and emerging artists with the maturity and talent to advance. Eventually, I focused on art that really appealed to me."
Part of the reason Jones had to check his interest was that, since the beginning, the collection has been stored primarily in his home. Today, it covers nearly every space on the walls and spills over into closets and drawers.
As one of the few collectors of African-American art in the 1960s, Jones became personally involved in the lives of many of the artists. There were times, he said, when his purchase provided the artist a meal or another month's renthe didnt know whether he was a social worker or art collector.
"Pretty soon, artists began to beat a path to my door," Jones said. "Sometimes, Id be buying from a well-known, mature artist and sometimes from a budding, new artist. In those daysas part social worker and part art, collectorI bought from many struggling artists who were about to be evicted or didnt know where their next meal was coming from.
"Artists still beat a path to my door, and occasionally some almost wanted to give a work of art to me in order to be represented in the collection," Jones said. "Others come by because they want to get to know the collector. I regret that I cannot always respond by purchasing a work of art. Im still collecting, but I now try to limit it so Im broadening the base of artists in the collection and the styles represented."