Benny Andrews’ painting, “Turtle Dove,” reminds Randell Henry of a trip to Africa.
Henry was on his way to Africa and Andrews was at home in New York, where Henry had to change planes before flying overseas. Henry brought along a few photos he’d taken of Andrews at an exhibit of his work at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans.
Henry tracked down Andrews’ address and knocked on his front door, not knowing what Andrews’ reaction would be.
“He let me in,” Henry says. “He was so happy to get the photos, and he gave me a print. He knew I was going to Africa, so he wrapped it up so it wouldn’t get damaged along the way.”
Henry also is an artist whose work has garnered national notoriety, but he stands as an art fan among work by legendary African-American artists in the Southern University Visual Arts Gallery. This is the second show of works owned by private collector Irvin Jones that he’s curated at the school, with Benny Andrews’ “Turtle Dove” among them.
The exhibit, “Irvin Jones Collection of African American Art,” is in its final week, ending Thursday, March 5, and it’s Henry’s mission to expose university students, as well as the public, to artwork that usually would be found in famous museums.
“But we have it here,” Henry says. “You can just walk into the Visual Arts Gallery right here on campus and walk among this work by these artists.”
As a professor of art at Southern, Henry has taught his students about many of these artists, who become more than names on paper when their work comes together in the gallery. Each has a story with at least one connected to the professor who brought this show together.
Henry curated pieces from Irvin’s collection in the 2011 exhibit, “Choices: Selected Works by African American and Contemporary African Artists,” in the Visual Arts Gallery. Irvin lives in Fairfax, Virginia, but owns a home in Baton Rouge.“He let me go through his house and choose paintings for the show,” Henry says. “It was really a difficult choice to make, because he has so many great pieces.”
Jones is a 1967 graduate of the Southern University Laboratory School. He earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Howard University in Washington, D.C., and his master’s degree in industrial psychology from the University of Detroit.
He began collecting art after taking an art appreciation class at Howard University, beginning with posters.
“His professor told him that he should start collecting artist’s prints,” Henry says. “They were affordable, and they were also actual works by the artists.”
Jones graduated to paintings and sculpture upon entering the professional world, amassing some 400 works.
“I simply collect African-American art, because I’m an African-American man who enjoys the works of other African Americans,” he told Southern’s student newspaper, The Southern Digest. “Each art piece has a story behind it, which makes each piece special in its own way.”
Stories in this exhibit include pieces by Tamara Madden, Malaika Favorite, Charlie Palmer, Emerson Bell, Charles Criner, Ellis Wilson, Henry O. Tanner, Herbert Gentry, Richard Mayhew, Mo Bookner, Artist Lane, Robert Colescott, Elizabeth Catlett, Lois Mailou Jones, John Biggers, Sam Gilliam, James Denmark and New Orleans native Willie Birch, who established a successful career in New York before moving home.