The University of Delaware became aware of the Paul R. Jones Collection when William I. Homer, now H. Rodney Sharp Professor Emeritus of Art History at UD, traveled to Atlanta for a lecture after agreeing to serve on a committee for a doctoral student at Emory University. During the trip, he visited Jones at his home and immediately called colleagues who were planning an African-American art symposium on the campus. They wanted an exhibition of art appropriate for the theme. Homer knew he had found it.
Ties between Jones and the University were strengthened when works from the Jones Collection were included in an exhibition on campus in 1993. Five years later, the University Gallery mounted a special show of photographs by noted photographer P.H. Polk from the Paul R. Jones Collection.
"We were very taken by the foresight he had to begin collecting," Margaret Andersen, professor of sociology who was then interim dean of the College of Arts and Science, said. "What an extraordinary gift he has given us in this collection. The value of it is the legacy it leaves us about the creativity of people who lived under various forms of racism and oppression. What it says about the creativity of the human spirit among the African-American artists is deeply moving. It is exceptionally important in an educational setting."
Lynda Roscoe Hartigan, chief curator of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, said that appreciation for African-American art is on the upswing. "First and foremost, African-American artists have played a tremendously significant role in the evolution of American visual culture," she said. "An appreciation of that role has been growing since the 1920s, although it was not until the 1980s that there was a concerted groundswell among collectors, dealers and museums to look consistently at the contributions African-American artists have made."
"The trend within museums, the collecting community and the academic community is to regularly fold African-American artists into discussions of who has contributed to the visual record of this country," Hartigan said, adding, "It is important to understand the work was created as a specific and deliberate reflection of the culture it came from, but also to look at the work as part of the larger culture."
It has long been Paul Jones practice to generously share and celebrate these works with the broader public through loans and gifts to various museums, Belena S. Chapp, director of museums at UD, said. Now, we are working together to ensure that future generations will comprehend and appreciate the distinguished contributions of these important African-American artists. In doing so, we will also continue the effort to properly incorporate within the scholarly canon and among the artistic community, a greater understanding of the pivotal role such artists have played.
Through his dedication to the art of African Americans and his unselfish devotion to teaching by doing, Paul Jones has taught several generations to value and learn from these works, she said. At the University of Delaware, we are honored by the trust he has placed on us to carry forth this mission.