Volume 12, Number 3, 2004

The Paul R. Jones Collection

The most important art exhibit in the history of the University of Delaware will open in fall 2004 as a direct result of a major gift generated through the Campaign for Delaware, that of the Paul R. Jones Collection.

Given to the University in February 2001 by benefactor Paul R. Jones of Atlanta, the Collection contains more than 1,500 paintings, etchings, photographs and three-dimensional works by 20th Century African-American artists.

Before being given to UD, it was the nation's largest and most comprehensive private collection of works by African-Americans, filling the walls of Jones's home and spilling over into closets and drawers.

The Collection is now being moved into its campus home, the newly renovated Mechanical Hall, which will be at the center of the exhibit that will run throughout the 2004-05 academic year.

Historic Mechanical Hall has undergone a $4.6 million transformation, providing gallery space, storage and offices for staff associated with the Collection and for several other UD units.

"I expect the Paul Jones Collection to have a genuinely transformative effect on the University of Delaware," Mark Huddleston, dean of the UD College of Arts and Sciences, says. "The art itself represents an unparalleled resource, of course, one that will put the University museum in the front ranks of institutions with major holdings in African-American art.

"The Collection contains works from such a broad range of truly outstanding artists that anyone who is serious about this important genre will want to visit and study what will hang on our walls," Huddleston says.

"This is a major collection of 20th-Century art that is very coherent," Janis Tomlinson, director of the University Museum, says. "It looks at works of art created by a group that has traditionally been underrepresented. African-American artists have been underrepresented and the field of study has been underrepresented."

That is beginning to change, Tomlinson says, noting the recent show featuring works by Romare Bearden­whose works are also included in the Paul Jones Collection­at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.

"People are beginning to take notice of African-American art," Tomlinson says, "and that puts the University in a good position. With the completion of Mechanical Hall, the University of Delaware will become a major center for the study of African-American art."

In addition to moving the University to the forefront of the field nationally, the addition of the Paul Jones Collection will have important ramifications on campus.

"The Paul Jones Collection will draw, and has already begun to draw, interest from disciplines across the University, far beyond the boundaries of art and art history," Huddleston says. "Students and faculty in sociology, political science, history, urban affairs, education, anthropology and other fields will soon have the chance to weave the power of this art into their teaching and research."

Huddleston says the College of Arts and Sciences has made a commitment to undertake seminars and workshops that will help faculty integrate art from the Collection into their classes.

Further, Huddleston says the Collection will enable UD to "deepen ties with communities in and around the state, communities that are keenly interested in this art, and to forge even stronger connections with other academic institutions, particularly Historically Black Colleges and Universities."

"It is easy to imagine busloads of schoolchildren who will take field trips to sit in the study room in Mechanical Hall and to see firsthand art that may well inspire a few of them to flights of similar creativity," he says.

Already the University has worked collaboratively with Historically Black Colleges and Universities, including Delaware State University and Spelman College in Atlanta, both of which have exhibited shows that originated on the Newark campus.

"I am confident that the Paul Jones Collection will continue to generate extraordinary interest, on campus and off, and will indeed gain even greater momentum in the years to come," Huddleston says, adding, "I would be very surprised indeed if the Collection did not serve as a magnet for further works of art, if painters and sculptors and other fine artists didn't begin to donate pieces, just so they could say that work of theirs appears in the Paul Jones Collection."

Tomlinson calls the Collection "a jewel on the University of Delaware campus" and a "wonderful investment in the future" that will make more people aware of the institution and that will draw increased attention to other art resources on campus, including the University Gallery.

Jones says he is thrilled to be part of preparations for the first major show, which follows two earlier shows: "Original Acts: Photographs of African-American Performers in the Paul R. Jones Collection" and "The Magnificent Seven: Hayward Oubre's Students­Works from the Paul R. Jones Collection."

"This is it," Jones says. "The countdown is on and the crescendo is building. We're entering the building we have dreamed of, one that will be staffed by educators from a mix of disciplines across the campus­art, art history, art conservation, Black American studies, history and museum studies, among others."

He says the gift of the Collection is part of a larger initiative to weave the works "into the fabric and culture life of the community."

"The University of Delaware has been on the cutting edge in moving this collection of African-American art to campus," Jones says. "Now we are beginning to excite other institutions into doing the same thing. The challenge is to stay ahead of the game and continue to lead."

Jones praised the leadership of UD President David P. Roselle in providing leadership and setting the tone in shaping the initiatives made possible by the gift. "And we are seeing the benefits," he says. "People from throughout the country are coming to the University of Delaware to study the works, there has been an impact in the national media and the Collection has enhanced for the University what had already been a good reputation."

The reputation of the Collection already has attracted a major gift of prints and other materials valued at $350,000 from the renowned Brandywine Workshop in Philadelphia, which assists African-American artists in the creation of prints of their works.

Jones says the gift, which includes copies of every new print made by the Brandywine Workshop, provides the Paul Jones Collection one of the largest collections of prints in the nation, in a class with the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Schomberg Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

A primary goal of the gift is to maintain the University of Delaware's reputation as an international leader in art history, Jones says. "The real challenge is to maintain Delaware's art history prominence, which was driven by H. Rodney Sharp Professor Emeritus William I. Homer and H. F. duPont Professor Emeritus E. Wayne Craven, both of whom have been supportive of the Collection," he says.

Another key goal is to broaden the diversity of students and staff in the arts at UD, Amalia Amaki, curator of the Collection, says.

"We want to make inroads in the field of art history, in particular, and we hope to generate interest by providing people the opportunity to work with the Collection," Amaki says.

Huddleston says the Paul R. Jones Collection will be the focal point of a variety of educational initiatives. "As Paul Jones himself said at a recent opening at Delaware State University, art is an essential part of everyone's education," Huddleston says. "We are proud to be able to make this art a central part of the educational experience at the University of Delaware."