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The University of Alabama

Paul Jones Lecture Series Opens with Brantley Visit

Thanks to the generosity of one man, UA and the greater Tuscaloosa community enjoy access to one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of 20th-century African-American art in the world, and to the artists whose works are in the collection.

The Paul R. Jones Collection of American Art at The University of Alabama is a 1,700-plus piece collection valued at more than $4.8 million. Jones donated it to the College of Arts and Sciences in October 2008.

Jones, who died in 2010, had been described by Art & Antiques magazine as “one of the top art collectors in the country.” He spent decades amassing his collection. Jones was known as a passionate collector who sought to collect from both well-known and lesser-known artists, a quality which makes his collection distinct.

Unlike the typical collector of world-class art, Jones was not independently wealthy, nor did he come from a wealthy family. Instead, Jones was born and raised in a mining camp in Bessemer, Ala.

Jones said that choosing The University of Alabama to be the permanent home of a portion of his extensive art collection was his way of “coming home.”

“The University is a flagship for the state of Alabama, and so by giving it to the University I feel that I am giving it to the people, the citizens of Alabama,” he said.

In 2011 the gallery that bears his name and displays works from his collection opened in downtown Tuscaloosa. While managed by the University, the gallery’s location at 2308 Sixth St. makes it easier to share the remarkable collection with the greater Tuscaloosa community. The gallery is open Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., and Thursdays, noon-8 p.m.

“The Paul R. Jones Collection of American Art at The University of Alabama is a teaching collection. It was Paul R. Jones’ wish that his collection be used to instruct students, of all ages, about the value of diversity, particularly in the field of modern and contemporary American art. He believed, very strongly, that art could be used to bridge differences, and  –  in his own words  – ‘start a conversation’ between individual persons and communities. In adopting Mr.  Jones’ outlook, the Jones Collection is working to integrate its roughly 1,700 pieces, most of which are works by African-American artists, into the broad educational experience of students at UA,” said Lucy Curzon, director of education and outreach for the collection.

James Sherman Brantley

This month the Paul R. Jones Lecture Series, established in his honor, brings to UA an internationally recognized artist who has been a part of the American art scene for more than 40 years, James Sherman Brantley. He will give a lecture titled “James Brantley: View from an Artist” on Oct. 24 at 7 p.m. in 205 Gorgas Library. The event is free and open to the public.

In conjunction with his lecture, Brantley will have two of his works, “Here Comes the Storm/Balcony View” and “Early Gray Skies,” on display as part of the Paul R. Jones Gallery exhibit, “Vanishing Point: Landscapes from the Paul R. Jones Collection,” which will be on display through Nov. 16.

Born in 1945 in Philadelphia, Pa., Brantley’s artist path was shaped by many circumstances. He was the youngest of three children, and his mother died when he was three weeks old. According to a biography of Brantley written by Lewis Tanner Moore, “The drama of his personal life and the essence of who he is have, by some unknown process, been merged to fuel an enduring commitment to the creative process and to the imagery that he creates.”

By the time he attended Simon Gratz High School in the late 1960s, Brantley had found his passion for art. He later enrolled in the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and served two years in the Army before completing his studies in 1971.

His first major statement to the art world came in 1968 with his self-portrait titled “Brother James,” which was later acquired for the permanent collection of his alma mater, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Brantley has gone on to display works all over the world and at the National Academy of Design and the Whitney Museum of American Art, both in New York City.

Heralded as a storyteller with his portraiture and paintings, Brantley is known for experimental compositional arrangements. In a 2007 artist’s statement, Brantley said, “My paintings represent efforts to make marks that make sense and take you on an incredible adventure.”

While on campus, Brantley will meet with students in the art and art history department, and there will be a reception held in his honor Oct. 25 at 5:30 p.m. at the Paul R. Jones Gallery.

”Early Grey Skies“ by James Brantley