ART HUNT: CHARLESTON & RJG

I never intended to live in Charleston, but I’m grateful for a God of providence. After seventeen years here, it might take the Rapture or a raging hurricane to dislodge me.

After the stress and physicality of unloading my father’s company in Mississippi and cleaning out over six thousand square feet of furniture, storage, files, and more, I was exhausted and eager for a fresh start. New York and its cold were no longer compelling, and I was desperate to stay on southern soil. Hollis connected to Rob Hicklin, a South Carolina–born gentleman who built an empire brokering southern masterpieces. He was of the most extreme masculine forms—an avid gun collector, hunter, and plantation home owner. My first interview with Rob was on the second level of his historic building in Charleston, exquisite portraits in hand-gilded big frames canvasing the wall. He was dressed in camouflage with an orange vest, having migrated from the woods into the city for our interview. 

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I was in typical attire: black slacks and a black Ralph Lauren sweater, with a red wood shawl to add some kick. Spring had penetrated the Lowcountry, and trees bloomed aggressively. Pedestrians stirred on the streets, but there was still a chill in the air. Upon my arrival, a warm fire brewed, and the scent of scotch lingered. Masterpieces of art lined the walls with grace and sophistication, small tags indicating their value with lots of zeroes.  

I was immediately charmed by Charleston. I had a sense of place and longing to be surrounded by this elegant land. The delicately aged antebellum architecture, tranquil breeze off the bay, and familiar conversational rhythms were—and continue to be—a salve to the North’s hurried aggression. Walking the cobblestone streets, laid long before my childhood hometown was built, was an awakening to a newer version of me that realized home—and particularly Charleston—was the most romantic destination all along and perhaps the one I’d been longing for. 

And then there was the art. I was wholeheartedly seeded by the art of the South, and pioneer in the southern art market Rob Heckling offered me an entirely new and specific level of education at his Charleston Renaissance Gallery in the historic downtown. I pored over unsung masterpieces and researched an array of southern artists and their established or burgeoning markets. I was intrigued by the modern artists and photographers who pushed beyond the traditional and explored controversial tropics through progressive styles and mediums. Rob and I spent many afternoons debating the meaning of “southern modern art,” and we never came to an agreement. I eventually turned in my gallery keys on a spring day as nearby St. Philip’s rang half past noon.  

I could not ignore that a new Charleston was emerging in which contemporary did not mean just paintings of palmettos or Rainbow Row by living artists. For my gallery, I wanted to seek out artists who stay true to their southern and Caribbean roots by exploring the complexities and conundrums of the place we call home.  And I wanted to risk showing what was not yet considered fine art--photography.   

After years of diligent research and honing my skills, I at last opened my dream gallery.  Born from hundreds of scribbled legal pad pages, plus blood, sweat, tears, and a generous supply of bourbon, Rebekah Jacob Gallery launched to search out the socially charged, aesthetically progressive artwork on which we have built our national reputation. 

Rebekah Jacob Gallery began in a modest thousand square foot white box in the quiet, quaint area of lower King Street in downtown Charleston.  The odds were not in my favor; at this point, neither contemporary art nor photography had a strong foothold in the Charleston market. Yet I persevered, bolstered by the entrepreneurial spirit of my father, Les Jacob, whose voice I would often hear reminding me to put my head down and get to work, no excuses. 

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Everything starts with the art.  I choose artists and estates from the American South and based on instinct, creativity, breadth of work, price point, quality, and rarity. I aggressively mine and exhibit enlightened work that evokes the modern age of the Southern region riddled with complexity and never-ending exploration.  Whether emerging or experienced, these artists expand the conventional definitions of their medium including paintings, works on paper, photography and video.  

Growing up in the Mississippi Delta, I was wholeheartedly seduced by the art of the American South both for its stunning visuals and for the great divides it addresses.  Many Southern fine art photographers deeply engage in the essence of place, visually examining the relationship between past and present to make sense of the peculiarities of Southern identity. I seek out artists who stay true to their Southern roots not by solely focusing on the beauty of the landscape but also by exploring the conundrums of the place we call home.  These issues of poverty, race, and inequality have become a driving point of interest for me, strongly evident in my affinity for documentary photography, whether vintage or contemporary, as it relays a strong, intricate narrative that extends beyond the place where words end.  Bringing the work of Civil Rights photographers like James Karales to the forefront likewise highlights the need for continued discussion on issues that continue (unfortunately) to remain relevant today.  My favorite WPA authors/photographers like Eudora Welty and Walker Evans traveled the Carolinas, capturing in words and images this land of elegant decay, still struggling to heal from the Civil War. Similarly, many contemporary photographers like Bill Steber who capture and document the Mississippi blues and it's 'jukers in the heart of the Delta.

In a short time, Rebekah Jacob Gallery not only survived but also thrived, and as the economy rebounded in 2010, I decided to triple our inventory and our space. Progressive art requires a progressive neighborhood, so I headed north to Upper King Street, an area at the heart of the city’s creative cultural renaissance. The large walls of this sexy three-thousand-square-foot, Chelsea-like gallery were necessary to keep up with the increased production from my artists, and I was attracted to the traditional design by a Charleston architect that was flexible enough to allow for a modern edge.  A progressive but also an ardent preservationist, I was attracted to the traditional design by a Charleston architect that was flexible enough to allow for the modern edge instilled by my designer William Bates.

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However, I failed to forecast how the mercurial rise of Internet commerce and the radical redirection of marketing toward social media would dramatically affect business. Technology trumped square footage, so eventually I downsized the gallery’s footprint and invested in an Internet platform. Today, our physical location on John Street, a modest 1000 square feet, secondary to our online presence, where the majority of our art is now sold to buyers around the world. Instead of print media buys, we focus our energies on creating an e-commerce experience that is attractive and secure.  

The path has been far from easy, but after twenty years in the art business, I know that if you stay in it long enough, you get to the truly good stuff.  And regardless of hard and dark times, my passion and commitment has never waned.  

My father said that success happens when preparation meets opportunity. I have spent my life preparing through academic training, apprenticeships, professional networking, and global travels.  As Rebekah Jacob Gallery continues to grow, I think he would have been proud to see my diligence has turned into a legacy.

 

BAYARD WOOTTEN:  CHARLESTON 

ART HUNT: CIVIL RIGHTS & A HEATED SOUTH

Civil Rights and a Heated South

Growing up in Mississippi, a complex and often heated bedrock for political discussion, a series of books, travels, and conversations made me aware of the South’s complex racial problems, even as young child.   And it has been through my constant work of mining Civil Rights photographs that I have come to some understanding of racial inequality and injustice.  I hope I have been part of change.   

First, I grew up on Clark Street, and a few houses down the way lived Walter and Mary Thompson with their two boys, Wright and William. The Thompsons fostered and encouraged the two key, intersecting parts of my life that would ultimately become the building blocks of my vocation: southern literature and southern politics. Walter was a political activist in the Mississippi Delta—mainly a red state of the Reagan era—and the first Democrat I ever knew. Despite various threatening acts by white supremacist groups that went as far as burning crosses in his yard, Walter progressively and relentlessly fought for civil rights among the races and for women. A key political fundraiser for Clinton, Walter believed in a united, colorblind America, one of unity and diversity. Mary was my high school English teacher and encouraged voracious reading, journaling, and accessing material that “made you think.” It was Mary who first introduced me to Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, not just in text but also with sound via a spinning 45 record. Listening to the speech in an all-white classroom at Lee Academy (yes, named for the Confederate Robert E. Lee) of the upper class, I found it sensory, compelling and life-changing.  

 Bruce Roberts, KKK Burning (Rural, North Carolina, gelatin silver, 11 x 14", signed, VINTAGE 

Bruce Roberts, KKK Burning (Rural, North Carolina, gelatin silver, 11 x 14", signed, VINTAGE 

Second, the construct of my immediate family must be noted, too. My father owned a furniture company whose customer base, for the most part, was made up of poor blacks who had to finance everything from a stove to a sofa. My father and I spent every Sunday together, driving to Memphis along Highway 61 for gymnastics and lunch. I made a catty remark late one Saturday afternoon that he should pick up a bed that the buyer could not pay off. During our trip to Memphis, he detoured down an unmarked road and knocked on the door of a tenant house. Stray dogs lurked in the clean yard, with two large oak trees accented by a tire swing. The lady, Josephine, was tidy and dressed in her best church clothes—a lilac cotton dress with shiny pearl buttons. Her home was modest but well kept, and I couldn’t help but notice the hogshead that she had been slicing next to a tiny yellow coffee pot, just big enough to serve a cup or two. I also noticed the stacked beds through a cracked door and her children on the floor nearby. My father and Josephine visited for a few minutes before he hugged her, and then we continued our travels. He said little on the rest of the ride, except, “There will always be those with more. There will always be those with less.”  

It was a turning point for me and has been a visual reference for many years. I felt spoiled with lack of understanding. I felt out of touch with the hard facts of the socioeconomics of the Mississippi Delta and how race is a large part of it. It was the first time I had seen poverty so blatantly. But I felt proud of my father and saw his kindness in a powerful way. He seemed saintly that day.  

Third, While I was studying at Ole Miss, I purchased a book on Ernest Wither’s Negro baseball players. That launched a curiosity that translated into many visits to his studio on Beale Street, unbeknownst to my mother. His studio was located in the heart of downtown Memphis, a less than safe place for whites, particularly women walking alone. But I spent many hours with him, sifting through photographs into the wee hours. I made key purchases that would remain a major part of my archive. Ernest Withers was one of the only African American photographers to document the civil rights era, mainly in Memphis. His most famous work, “I Am a Man,” captures sanitation workers protesting for better pay and equal rights. The march instigated a lot of trouble and lured Martin Luther King Jr. to Memphis, where he was shot a few days later at the Lorraine Motel downtown.  

 Ernest Withers, I am a Man, gelatin silver, 11 x 14", signed 

Ernest Withers, I am a Man, gelatin silver, 11 x 14", signed 

To have studied and explored the archives of renowned civil rights photojournalists has been a lifetime’s privilege. I have been allowed the honor of sifting through thousands of contact sheets, work prints, mounted photographs, notes, and magazines still marked by fingerprints and inscriptions by the artists' hands. Although I have never met many of the photographers, I have come to know the greatness of the men and women revealed both by what he/she recorded and by what was left unsaid.  

Over the course of my career, there has been a plethora of Civil Rights images to mine, as the 1960s marked the heyday of the great photography magazines, providing working photographers with the opportunity to capture the spirit of the time in elaborate, multi-page spreads with big images. Civil rights leaders embraced the medium both as a vehicle to inform and educate and as a means to document their momentous journey. Magazines were hungry to print images from the front lines. Despite the dangers for journalists, photographers were drawn to the drama of the civil rights story and bore valuable witness to the demonstrations, arrests, riots, and burnings.  

The photographs in this particular publication present images by selected photographers--James Karales, Bruce Roberts, Bob Adelman--and exemplify assignments that photographers undertook in the years 1960 to 1965: Nonviolent Passive Resistance Training in Atlanta in 1960; the SCLC Convention in Birmingham in 1962; KKK Burnings in rural North Carolina; an intimate series of the King family at home in Atlanta in 1962; and Dr. King and Reverend Ralph Abernathy’s campaign in Birmingham in 1962, which includes pictures made in the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, with the Reverend C.T. Vivian, Rosa Parks, and other leaders in attendance. The Civil Rights story apexes with a selection of images documenting the Selma to Montgomery March for Voting Rights in 1965, which provided the culminating and iconic images of a movement that had become so personal for so many photographers, both professional and amateur.

In early 2000, I found and delved into the luring and meticulously preserved archive of Civil Rights photographs by James Karales.  Archived here in Charleston,  I first immersed myself in these treasures in preparation for the exhibition “1968: Controversy and Hope/Iconic Images by James Karales,” organized for the Rebekah Jacob Gallery in the spring of 2009.  Woven throughout his oeuvre of photo essays is his trademark compassion for social injustice and eye for political upheaval during the turbulent years of the civil rights movement. The civil rights story offered rich material to mine for a various projects because the modest Karales had only occasionally printed his work and rarely presented it in exhibitions or publications beyond its initial assignment.  

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With several cameras slung around his neck and a cigarette in hand, Karales focused his intense gaze on one of the most challenging issues in our nation’s history. He balanced the job’s requirements with his own aesthetic to find a different story, one of tenderness and triumph. Within the crowds, his discerning eye discovered heroic portraits of individuals, such as a teenage boy who proudly challenges the viewer under the weight of a massive, hand-stitched flag or a youth with “Vote” emblazoned across his forehead. 

Arguably the most critical work of this time comes from Karales’s close access to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other key civil rights leaders. Being one of very few photographers to enter King’s home, Karales’s portraits of Dr. King went beyond the expected to portray quiet, telling moments. In one image, Karales reveals the fatherly angst of Dr. King as he painfully breaks the news to his young daughter that she is forbidden to visit an amusement park because of her race (plate 24). The caption in the February 12, 1963 issue of Look reads: “I told my child about the color bar.”  

 James Karales, MLK and Child, gelatin silver, 11 x 14", signed 

James Karales, MLK and Child, gelatin silver, 11 x 14", signed 

Despite the passage of time, or perhaps heightened by it, we are able to see the integrity and clarity of by these photographers' visions, against the backdrop of a crucial juncture in our shared history. Their work continues to compel us to remember both what divides us and what unites us. It is my hope that these images--and RJG's curatorial projects--reveal previously untold moments in this pivotal era of American history.  

Onward. 

JAMES KARALES:  CIVIL RIGHTS 

ART HUNT: EGGLESTON'S MISSISSIPPI

EGGLESTON'S MISSISSIPPI:  RED CEILING

I left New York and set forth to unload the biggest monkey off my back—my father’s furniture company.  It was time to make the life and business decision to sell the Mississippi-based enterprise and move forward.  It was an emotional time as my fondest memories correlated with daddy at his desk.  I watched him leave the house every morning with a high level of commitment, innate joy, and determination. He loved his company and “worked himself to the bone,” as my mother described.  I don’t remember him taking vacations or buying nice things for himself.  I remember him mostly in his store, hustling the floor, devising paperwork, and counting money.  I remember marveling that there seemed to be such freedom in owning and running your own gig. (My mother often quipped that Daddy sang me lullabies about entrepreneurship and independence in my crib.)  

Small town lawyers are often dynamic with their clients, often serving as advisors, surrogate parents, and North Stars.  Attorney Lee Graves was that for me, particular after my father died.  Mr. Graves is dapper, masculine, and strong—a pure bread southern gentleman.  He is wonderfully bright and intensely committed, as well as gracious.  Legend has it that he once represented a local farmer in exchange for a bag of apples, respecting that the man was too proud for have anyone assist him for free.  

Spring in Mississippi is often locked in as a part of memory.  Gardens bloom, and people come back to life; the rivers and lakes are more fished, and the rains are heavy and pure.  Fields ablaze killing back crop residue.  That one spring day in Lee Grave’s office was a turning point for me.  I had made the decision to remain in Mississippi or to sell our family company and move on with my life. 

In part, I felt saddened that I might defy my father, deny his request to carry on the company, and on many levels, forget him.  But most of me knew in the depths of my soul that I was unloading liability, geography, and commitment to an enterprise that wasn’t exciting.  Certainly, the sale of the company was a a ghost with which I would wrangle for many years; and in some odd way, that ghost would bring me incredible energy and drive to continue growing my own enterprise, the Rebekah Jacob Gallery.    

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That life decision and action opened up space and time—I found my way to Southside Gallery in Oxford, Mississippi as an associate while simultaneously earning a Masters in Art History at Ole Miss.  Southside Gallery was a progressive, white-walled shell in the heart of the Oxford Town Square, filled with works in various mediums by emerging and established artists from the American South and the Caribbean Isles. The roster included southern greats like Eggleston, who was scheduled to visit late one spring afternoon.  

That morning after an early art history class, I darted home as quickly as possible to work in a quick run—a prayerful, meditative action that is also still a stress reliever for me. (I had not studied yoga at this point.) I then dressed in the gallery garb that is still a template of my professionalism today: a black turtleneck, leather pants, red stilettos, and red Chanel lipstick, with my hair pulled back in a low ponytail. Then I headed to the gallery.  The stress and rush of the preparations felt like those of a wedding.   I scrambled to tidy the space, patching any holes, vacuuming, and arranging fresh flowers from a client’s yard. The client, Miss Polly, was an avid gardener with lots of southern charm. An avid art collector, she arrived at the gallery with two baskets filled with fresh flowers, greenery, and bourbon. “Here y’all are,” she said graciously as she set the baskets on the counter. “Let me know if you can think of anything else. I must go…”  “Why the rush?” I asked.  “Because all this cash and jewelry in my bag is hurting my shoulder,” she laughed.

It was the kind of nostalgic spring day in Oxford when girls skip class and exercise in packs, noting their tribes with Greek letters; when writers flood Square Book’s balcony; and the locals take longer-than-usual, unorthodox lunch sessions. Mr. Eggleston arrived true to his reputation. A southern aristocrat, he was dapper, wearing a high-end sports coat, buttoned shirt, and slacks. He was polite yet mercurial. He walked in with a small stack of photographs and placed them on a positioned table. He seemed to be magnetized by the piano, another mastered medium and passion. His innovative arrangement of classical music, played by memory with no score, echoed throughout the space so that few words could be heard, but our eyes were in sensory overload.

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There it was: “Red Ceiling.” Eggleston rarely titles his work, so “Red Ceiling” is more of a derivation than a formal notation. The photograph, which I had only seen in books before that day, was taken at the home of his dear friend T.C., a dentist by profession and drug lover by recreation. The house was located on the outskirts of Greenwood, down an unmarked Delta highway. In one version of the photograph, T.C. is naked, his walls covered in graffiti. Another version—and the masterpiece for which I hunted—depicted the ceiling only. Eggleston snapped the picture while lying in bed with T.C. and his wife. Eggleston noted once that “‘Red Ceiling’ is so powerful, that in fact I’ve never seen it reproduced to my satisfaction. When you look at the dye it is like red blood that is wet on the wall.” Subsequently, in ensuing years, its dweller was brutally murdered, and the house burned to the ground. A sinister connotation? Perhaps.  

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This photograph carries so much. Beyond the technical masterful approach, there was something gothic and dark about it. Similar to Toulouse Lautrec’s underground subjects, this photograph depicts a part of Mississippi that few ever know: a synthesis of whiskey, drugs, women, and guns. It’s a far cry from the nostalgically depicted aristocratic Delta life of antebellum homes, black servants, and debutante parties. The photograph is radical, pornographic, apprehensive, and almost disconcerting. It radiates with dark forces and presents uneasiness and emptiness. 

“Red Ceiling” by William Eggleston is arguably the artist’s most famous image. The color is key—the ceiling and walls a deep, blood red. Eggleston uses the corner—the intersection of two walls and the ceiling in the low center of the shot—to create a sense of space. Just above the corner, slightly left of center in the image, is a light fixture with a bare bulb and an on/off chain. Three white extension cords plugged into the fixture and stapled to the ceiling lead out to the walls and sizzle against the ceiling color. Eggleston remembers shooting the image while lying in bed with friends, talking (that they also had been doing other things is implied), and the bottom edge of a poster depicting the positions of the Kama sutra in the photograph amplifies the sexual atmosphere. “I think red is a very difficult color to work with,” he said in an interview with the BBC. “I don’t know why. It’s as if red is at war with all the other colors.”

 “Red Ceiling” would become my most sought-after trophy as an art dealer.” Though a small format, at 12 x 19 inches, it would carry an intense, voodoo-like spell over me. When I began my career in the art business in 1999 at Southside Gallery, I (naïvely) vowed that my professional pinnacle would be to access and broker the “Red Ceiling.” It was a promise and obsession that would take me to pockets of the world to seek and view certain prints; it dominated my dreams, perpetuated and dictated extensive travel, caused sleepless nights, and ultimately set the course for a professional journey of twenty years or more that I could have never predicted.  

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The task would become increasingly arduous, risky, and sometimes defeating over time, as this photograph would prove to be the one of the rarest and most sought-after images on the worldwide platform. As I advanced in my career, I began to understand the significance of Eggleston, not only as a southern photographer, but also as a global photographic force. I learned that for any serious art educator, rare photography lover, or collector of photography, in order to build a significant collection, it’s an imperative to acquire works by Eggleston—if one has the means. Very few “Red Ceilings” were ever printed, and at least two are locked up in the Metropolitan and Getty Museums, so few have ever been available for sale. It would be a rare window of opportunity for top-bidding collectors if I could actually find the photograph.  

My first attempt to broker the photograph was 2013.  A dealer from Washington, DC messaged:  “I have the photograph ‘Red Ceiling.’ Edition 4 of 12. Do you have a buyer?”  Within twenty-four hours, I boarded a flight for the US capital, binders and Apple gadgets filled with research of market comps, articles, and all-things “Red Ceiling.” After viewing the photograph and lengthy conversations, I agreed that I would consign the photograph for my 2013 photography exhibit “Somewhere in the South,” which blended southern masters with southern contemporaries, all working southeast of the Mississippi and south of the Mason-Dixon line. 

Laymen would be appalled at the works we ship via FedEx. In the early spring of 2013, “Red Ceiling” arrived in Charleston, and we securely installed it on the wall, “locking” it for security purposes. The press buzzed with excitement and plugged accolades. Viewers gawked. I was elated. My team and I strategized about how to sell the photograph. We devised mailing lists, pitched stories to the press, ran advertisements in strategic publications and on web platforms. I rubbed rosary beads as frequently and with as much prayerful thought as a Franciscan monk.  I eventually returned the photograph to the owner, unsold.  

During this time-frame, I traveled to New York City to view “At War with the Obvious: Photographs by William Eggleston,” installed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Gotham City’s skies were crisp and blue, rectangular shapes cutting the horizon like a puzzle. As I wove through the maze of rooms, I was touched to see the commonplace subjects of my southern/Mississippi roots exhibited inside one of the highest levels of art exhibition in the world. Also, when viewing “Red Ceiling,” I noted Eggleston’s referral to the photograph’s red color and its parallelism to classical music: “It was like a Bach exercise for me because I was intensely and now impatiently waiting on the crescendo and finale.”  

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So, it’s the goal I have not accomplished—yet. I have not sold a “Red Ceiling.” But the hunt continues with the same level of aspiration and focus to find the photograph and be lucky enough to have a buyer. Stars must align, as we often preach and know well in this cynical business. I continue to sift through upcoming auction inventory, keep in close contact with dealers I suspect will come across a “Red Ceiling,” and travel globally to view the photograph when it comes to market. In time, I will earn that trophy with a full heart...and much relief.  Despite setbacks and disappointments, the obsession to broker "Red Ceiling" does not wane; instead, it's kicked into full gear.  

Onward, with passport in hand.  

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ART HUNT: YANKEE WANDERING & NEW YORK CITY

YANKEE WANDERING & NEW YORK CITY

My Alabama-born mother called my twenties “an era of discernment and Yankee wandering.”  

Raised in the wide-open spaces of the languid Mississippi Delta, with expansive porches and enough two-lane highway mileage for big dreaming, I grew up believing that words and art, as vehicles to see the world, were the jet engine. They could move ideas, meaning, and reality faster than anything. As an English major, my Ole Miss education of bourbon-soaked conversations at the City Grocery in Oxford, often involving romantic analyses of Ernest Hemingway’s Havana or Walker Percy’s New York City, propelled me to seek a definition of myself that seemed somehow larger than my current surroundings in small-town Mississippi would allow.  

So, I migrated to New York City to become an art dealer. It was time to leave Mississippi, a cradle of love and predictability. Despite the turmoil in New York following the 9/11 attacks, I boarded a plane in Memphis with two red, tapestry suitcases, heading for an intrinsically challenging city. It would, at times, be navigational warfare to survive and conquer.  

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No doubt, it was in New York where I sharpened and learned the craft of Art Dealing.  Art gallery owner—and true southern gentleman—Hollis Taggart spotted me in a vintage gold coat at one of his openings and, after an instantly inspired first conversation, hired me on the spot. I let myself become fully engaged in the epitomizing New York City arts and culture scene. I spent time refining hustle and ambition, learning to understand the subtleties and sublets of art and the deals that follow. And at the other end, I found myself with a different, yet perhaps more complicated grasp on the complexities of the written word, fine art, and all that lies between.  

I arrived at JFK and grabbed a cab as helicopters hovered in the Gothic skyline. I made my way to Bedford Street, a quaint tree-lined street in the West Village. My apartment was in a typical prewar building, and my room held a twin bed with a large, curtainless window that oversaw the only thing green in that part of the city: a church steeple. 

The apartment was a destination off the ground entrance—a six-floor walk-up with no elevator. It had a grand mahogany door with small brass mailboxes, the keys so miniature they were hardly larger than needles. The iron stairwell had a modest décor, with lanterns that had been rewired in the ’30s but were still original to the design. The apartment offered architectural solutions for a modest space likely once lived in by immigrants. It had two airplane-sized sinks with little hot water. The makeshift shower occupied the closet. It was here that I would learn the art of modesty.  

 New York City was sensory overload with a new map of life on the subway. I was in constant angst over how to navigate the underground world—not just the numbered colored trains but also the filth, the crowds, and the bums, many with nondescript dogs. I was sick constantly with some kind of cold. In the first few months, I was robbed--twice.

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My roommates—more like surrogate sisters—were two Mississippi gals, Sarah and Mallory. And sisters are masters at shared space, concessions, diplomatic moments, joy, and sorrow. The combination of stories and life experiences—and all that it entailed—was unique. It’s from my time in that apartment that I understand what those clichéd stories of two or three people on a raft implied about survival. 

In time (a cure for so many things), I adapted to this new life with the help of my fellow Mississippians. Sarah, with strawberry hair and freckles, had a laugh as large as her heart. A voracious reader, she was skilled with words and quick-witted humor. A philosopher at heart and a thinker to be reckoned with, she was both tender and hilarious—the truest friend and the most deadly of wine drinkers. Mallory, a petite blonde with a fierce giggle, was spunky and kind and always seemed to have advice gleaned from “simple wisdom.” She rarely overthought things and was always the perfect lunch date. Sarah never had a plan, but life somehow always worked out for her. Mallory longed to marry well, have three daughters, and give them the names she had scrawled on a napkin long ago in elementary school.  

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 It took concerted effort to make our little family thrive in such a small space. We decorated our apartment and added fresh coats of paint. We bought a trivia board and collected quarters, dimes, and nickels for laundry, tuna fish, Baked Lays, and jugs of wine. Living there was like playing ping pong, so we scheduled shower times and more. Sarah respectfully promised to go to the rooftop to smoke. Mallory needed her plugs for coffee and curlers by 7:00 a.m. I stayed up all night reading art books so preferred to sleep in until around 8:00 a.m. Gallery life didn’t start till mid-morning. 

There were large windows almost floor to ceiling in every room, so we always felt connected to the heart of the village. The pedestrian conflicts or laughter seeping in through the cracked windows, buzzing cabs, and barking dogs were poetic wonderments. Sarah always said the windows helped us dream bigger and better. We had escaped the prison of small-town Mississippi. We were all on chances, hoping some type of God heard our prayers.

In time, I mastered the subway, transportation that freed and connected me to life in the West Village and to the Upper East Side, the quadrant for most high-end galleries, museums, and Hollis Taggart Galleries. With my first iPod, outfitted with white earphones, I would hop on the train and follow its “etiquette:” One never looked anyone in the eye. Artists with instruments always got seats, and so did aging men and women. One always wore deodorant and perfume inside the collar; if the smells were too strong, you could always muffle your nose in fabrics and rest your senses. Always have something to read; it could be an unpredictably long ride.  

Rest was an alternative word in that city. It was there in New York that I began tweaking my craft, attending New York University to earn an art appraisal license and visiting as many museums and art exhibitions as time allowed. I also learned how to face many life and work challenges, like the type-A, cold-hearted bitches intent on climbing fast to the top, throwing knives at my back at every turn.  

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In the Mississippi Delta, I had known few fiercely independent and enterprising women, as most were dedicated to a more conventional life. One exception was Almyra, my tap and ballet instructor and a true go-getter, blessed with money, wealth, independence, and power. She was also wonderfully brilliant and had spent her 20s in New York as a dancer. Built like a typical dancer, she was five-foot-six and thin as a rail, strictly limiting her intake of food. Her morning “fuel” was perhaps disproportionate: one piece of toast to unlimited coffee and cigarettes. Her long fingers were always finished with bright red polish, exactly the color of her lipstick, and her rings were so big I often thought they would break her tiny bones. Her hair was so black it was a little blue, and her eyes were kind and determined. She always wore black turtlenecks and white cotton bell-bottoms to teach. She was a graceful, energetic, and kinetic masterpiece. She embodied her own treatise of life, which she shared with me often: “Think like a man. Work like a dog. And always be a lady.”  

 Newspaper publication of Almyra Jackson, Greenville, Mississippi 

Newspaper publication of Almyra Jackson, Greenville, Mississippi 

Until this day, I still considere New York and its art world a great shaper of my life, particularly in navigating volatile personalities. Hollis’s gallery was elegant and quiet, but it would teach me the art of hustle. It was there that I met Vivian, who would become a great teacher, my fuel to achieve excellence, and a reminder that hard work gets you a lot of places at the top of the Art World.  

Vivian, part Cuban, was wonderfully attractive—dark skin, well-coiffed hair, red nails.  She was also tough, militant, and a bit dramatic. (Unlike Hollis, who was gracious, calm, and wonderful still Southern, despite his time in New York.)   Vivian moved at a fast pace, ordered the gallerists (on any level) to perfect their jobs, and pushed until we reached a height we didn't know existed.  

I haven't seen or spoken to Vivan in over twenty years, but I learned my best lessons from her—such as not to be intimated by anyone, hire great people who are smarter than you, and allow staffers the freedom to grow. I also took away the thing I liked about her most:  black leather pants. So anytime I am feeling low (regardless of the season), I sport those tight, hot bottoms and go kick some ass, remembering Vivian at the center of my passionate climb.  

God, New York was phonology and culture war, applicable in all New York worlds, particularly its art scene. Molly was also an associate at the Hollist Taggart Galleries.  She had Rapunzel-like hair, curly and dark. She was gregarious and wonderfully funny. She knew all the gossip and all the trashy love stories happening on the Upper East Side. She helped navigate the personalities and taught me the ins and outs of gallery dealing, auction dealing, and real life New York. We have remained friends and supporters for many years.  

The sun always seemed greedy in New York City, choosing one side of the street to assault with sporadic bolts of light. In the winter, with long workdays, subway travel, and a dark return to a cramped apartment, it would be days before I’d see the sun. There were heat lamp treatments and tanning beds to help me through. It was a fault of mine to believe that every word and every motion had logic and fit into a neat, organized agenda. In New York, unpredictability ruled, and randomness became the norm.  

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I continued my mission to learn everything I could about fine art and photography. Weekend days, I would arrive at the Met early and stay until it closed, having lunch at the café and studying one section at a time. I love being around beautiful objects and learning the history and literature that go with them. I knew the guards and the staff. I was entranced by the black-and-white photographs by the Greats who had traveled the South, their oeuvres presented in THE Met: Walker Evans and Robert Frank, among others. As a student, I was given access to pull prints, and I was stimulated and in awe, pulling print by print in the photography room, abiding by the rules I so often break now (wear white gloves all the time, no lipstick, no candy, and pencil only). I’m such a rebel in this way. It was here that I first saw a vintage Robert Klein photograph—rich in color, dark in tone, and magical upon sight. In years to come, it would be the first photograph I would sell over $50,0000, an art dealer’s milestone. I also studied painters who had spent time in the South but made it in New York: Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, and Romare Bearden, among others. My feet—perpetually clad in leopard print boots with a short heel—would ache from standing and looking at art for hours on end. The only essence of a clock was when the janitors flooded into the museum, entering rooms after closing hours.  

After some time in New York, I felt like I had exhausted my continued education in the visual arts.  And on one particular night, smog veiled the canvas of stars, and the moon hung like a Christmas ornament in the center of the sky. It was an oddly quiet night in our tiny apartment, which seemed scaled to our small sizes. It was like a cocoon. I put down the book I was reading—it had grown cold inside—and then Mama called. Back in Mississippi, it was an appropriate spring day. My nephew Jacob was climbing trees, and my sister was gardening her hydrangeas.

Nestled in that tiny apartment, sipping bourbon and inhaling the moon pies Mama had been shipping in bulk while the spring snow continued to fall, I could no longer deny that the unsettled chill looming in my bones was more than unfriendly weather.  I began to journal, rolling out the shadows of life, loss, and why I wanted to go home.  

I shed New York like an old coat.  

I returned home to Mississippi—forever the jewel in my heart. I arrived—and departed—with two tapestry suitcases, their contents from the beginning of the journey to the end the same. I came. I saw. I conquered. And I often think of that city, and my life there, in much the same way as the subway sign on Bleaker Street that read, “New York City: Comedy. Drama. Romance. Electrifying.”  

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Selected images by Garry Winogrand, Women are Beautiful series.  

ART HUNT: OLE MISS, SACRED GROUND

OLE MISS, SACRED GROUND

There are decisions and circumstances in our lives that are true turning points, the yes and no so delicate that they lead us into a river flowing so aggressively in on direction that we can’t turn back.  Two key decisions for me:  not to marry a college sweetheart and not to pursue running my father’s furniture company, Jacob, Inc.  To chart my own course, I had to make these choices about marriage, family , and career early.  To think differently and do differently than many of my contemporaries was direct and conscious yet uncertain.  These decisions were my tickets out yet would also raise many question marks and create some regrets over the years.  I left the tribe and did not realize the impossibility of ever really returning.   The circumstance?  My father died.  

Looking back over my shoulder, so much of the procurement in my life occurred in the compacted time of my senior year at Ole Miss and it has taken me years of couch sitting in my SueBella’s therapy office to process so much of it.  That time is undoubtedly when my life shifted and my career as an art dealer began.  

I was born and raised (with no margin for anything different) to attend one of the pilot schools—University of Mississippi or Mississippi State—and default into a top Greek house with large columns and grand doors.  Marrying well was not discouraged.  Rush started mid-high school and so much focus was on the right Greek house with rules like no drinking, sex, and dating the “wrong boy.”  On weekends, we attended Ole Miss football games and rush parties at selected sorority houses on Sunday mornings, nibbling cheese straws and sipping lime punch from silver monogrammed cups.  

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 Tri Delta House, Chi Chapter, University of Mississippi, Oxford 

Tri Delta House, Chi Chapter, University of Mississippi, Oxford 

Upon initiation, we were expected to wear white dresses and DDD pins (often accessorized by a sorority sister or dear friend of its sisterhood) and required to take courses on “manners and Southern behavior.”  We learned how to set a formal dinner table, sit appropriately with ankles crossed and straight stiff backs, proper language when receiving a phone call.  We also were handed a rule book noting that Tri Deltas were required to achieve a certain CPA and smoke sitting down, were prohibited from table or stage dancing (rules broken by most), and could not bring boys beyond the foyer or parlor (again, rules broken by most).  If a boy and girl were to stay overnight together, may the two be married or forever hide her DDD letters.  

Most rules seemed non-applicable on football weekends, as our housemother Ms. Julia took time away from the house to garden (and she didn’t want to be woken all hours by drunken stoppers and Hotty Toddy cheers).  The Tri Delta house was a short stroll to the Grove, a tradition if not sacred ground for tail gating and Ole Miss talk and debauchery.  Red solo cups were discorporate of liquor and mixers, no ice necessary and grabbing a needed chicken wing from a stranger’s table is acceptable.    

 Ole Miss Grove, photographer unknown 

Ole Miss Grove, photographer unknown 

 Coach Billy Brewer with is Ole Miss Rebels 

Coach Billy Brewer with is Ole Miss Rebels 

 Ole Miss Grove, contemporary, photographer unknown 

Ole Miss Grove, contemporary, photographer unknown 

I don’t know exactly how I flourished creatively in such a predictable and sometimes limiting environment.  It was at times a seemingly rigid structure and a conventional circle of friends.  Although I thrived and enjoyed much of my life as a Tri-Delta, I found most of my joys in my schoolwork—newly discovered art history classes, creative writing classes, English literature classes, and periodic painting class by the notable Mississippi painter Wyatt Waters on weekends.  These were not only a source of sanity, but also a corridor to new worlds awaiting exploration.  

This particular spring day, the Tri-Delta house held anxious sorority sisters as we prepared for the fall formal, typically celebrated on a steamboat on the Mississippi River.  We would go by bus to Memphis and board there off the ramp downtown, viewing the bridge as we boarded.  (In time, Tri Delta was banned from parties on the steamboat thanks to a sister having sex on the rooftop.) 

The March day was intensely beautiful so most of us had our windows open.  The breezy air, filled with the scent of honeysuckle and nearly bloomed blowers indigenous to Mississippi soil, whirled through the house, carrying the conversations more fluidly and expansively than usual.  In most rooms I passed, sisters were walking around in their sequined or chiffon dresses, barefoot and unmade up—a dress rehearsal of sorts.  A neurotic, academically charged student programmed by Daddy to attend law school after graduation, I had just dredged through one of my most intense test weeks.  Having come out with all A’s, I was tired but glistening at my accomplishment.  I couldn’t wait to share my success with my parents, gleaming on the other end of the telephone.  

That phone call was a game changer, the shift.  News from my camp was positive; new from home was devastating.  Daddy was sick with cancer.  Through the reassurances that he would be okay, I knew it would be a brutal and perhaps long fight.  Not only was the emotional toll a heavy, and, at times, unbearable weight, but my set of responsibilities shifted dramatically.  Overnight, I morphed from a college student focused on studies, sorority, LSAT preparation, and fashion picks for parties into my father’s rock and operation of business matters, family duties, death preparations, and medical bills.  I’m often refereed to as an “old soul,” but the truth of the mater is that my twenties bought clarity of real life and real matters.  It was the first time I realized the power of that cliche phrase “life or death.” 

Yet through this time, I learned the art of unwavering focus and deception.  Having read and article about Bill Clinton teaching himself to sleep only four to five hours a night, I began to trick my body into operating under the same deprivation.  I learned to compact studying into the block of time between hospital visits and class.  I also learned that tragedy projects uncertainty, heavy sadness, and fatigue so intense that you sleep in your clothes.  I said no to a lot of experiences at Ole Miss, like parties and hangouts. I spent most of my time in libraries, hospitals, and my father’s store—a tripartite mix the was means to survival and keeping my family together. I still managed to make straight A’s—that small success would become a cornerstone of my life’s accomplishments.  No matter the circumstances, my work and my mind are steadfast.  I can always achieve and control there.  

 Lyceum at Ole Miss during the Civil War Era.  During this time, the building served as the University of Mississippi School of Law.  

Lyceum at Ole Miss during the Civil War Era.  During this time, the building served as the University of Mississippi School of Law.  

 Lyceum at Ole Miss during the John F. Kennedy Era (1962).  On loan from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.  

Lyceum at Ole Miss during the John F. Kennedy Era (1962).  On loan from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.  

Certainly, there have been moments, particularly in the low times, when I questioned passing by men during that era of coming into my own.  I have envied those with the big house in the suburbs, platoon of children, fancy cars with wood-grain dashboards, layered diamond rings (passed down generations), and country club memberships.  But then it all seems so homogenized, and I think, had I chosen that, the only sanity—and one that would have eventually killed me—would have been large doses of bourbon. 

In the next few months, doctors ran out of options, and we settled into the fat art Daddy wold die.  That’s a hard bullet to bite for little girls who love their daddy, who grow up believing their daddy is invincible.  My father and I spent a cold, rainy afternoon in early January, constructing his funeral, song by song, including scripture, guest list, and his suit and tie choice.  He would have two services:   the funeral at the Baptist church and the x in the Catholic Church.  A rarity in the Southern Baptist services, an operatic Ave Maria was sung, and it’s the only thing I remember about the funeral.  Ina. Clear indication of the level of respect the community had for my father, the local floral shops were so depleted that many gardeners allow their friends to choose for their foliage.  Additional plants were shipped in from nearby Oxford, Mississippi and Memphis, Tennessee.    

I buried my father on a Sunday; I was back in class on Monday, per my mother’s demand and my expectation of self.  I walked from the Tri Delta House with my best friend Sarah to our creative writing class taught by the great writer, Larry Brown.

Larry Brown was a powerful voice in my final year year at Ole Miss, teaching me in creative writing class and Son, Joe, and Big Bad Love, a long with countless short stories.  Had I not know Larry, my life would have been much different, and I don’t know if I would have had the courage to embrace my love affair with my career, my story, this book.  During this trying and dark time, Larry’s class was an escape of sorts through reading assignments, writing short stories, and being among so many creatives who always saw the world in shades of grey.  But I was also learning the tools to construct and devise a long piece of writing, a skill set that would help me cope with my reality, then and later on.  

Larry’s class was a critical experience that had lasting and monumental impact.  He always believed—and practiced in his own mastery of the craft—that you should write what you know, put trouble on the front page, and write (long I) like you talk.  Every day of class, he walked in a leather jacket, white T-shirt, and worn boots still dirty from the red soil…. —typical attire for a writer but not necessarily an academic.  (His office on campus was a phone wrapped in its cord.  “So nobody will bother me,” he smirked.”  

He smelled of sweet, fading bourgeon and cigarettes (class started around 4:00 p.m.), went to the board, and book a piece of chalk to his liking, and wrote “S-T-O-R-Y.”  Then he turned to the class and said, “If yo udon’t have the guts to show your guts, get out.”  In the first few writing assignments, not noted my inability to do this.  

Larry, with a mere high school degree, wasn’t fond of an academic setting, so most of our classes were held at the City Grocery bar on the Oxford Square.  Larry spent a lot of time at bars, as that’s where he “to most of his material.”  “People act more natural to themselves in a bar,” he suggested.  There, my classmates and I (many who have tone on to become acclaimed writers) talked about books, shared our stories, and, in many ways, learned to understand that our lives are, in their truest essence, stories. I set out to create and live mine.  

MARTIN J. DAIN:  OXFORD, MISSISSIPPI (1961)

By, Rebekah Jacob:  Owner & Founder of the Rebekah Jacob Gallery & Vedado Gallery

#ArtHunt #TravelDiaries #Wanderlust #ArtOfTheDeal

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ART HUNT: RED DIRT ROADS

RED DIRT ROADS

My mother’s hometown of Jemison, Alabama never offered a sense of place but certainly a sense of safety, wonderment, and creativity.  Positioned on a hill, my grandmother’s brick craftsman style house had a back full of art supplies, a sewing machine, and few rules.  In the summers, my mother would ship me off, and I would be entranced and free with my grandmother for days at a time.  In her “backroom,” which was a large bedroom, she would bring a folding table from church (a short walk from her house) and lay out fabrics, colors, paints, paper, and more.  She let me cut tissue patterns from her use oeuvre and use her swing machine to make clothes for my dolls.  My mother’s home was tidy and sparse; Nunnie’s was a treasure-trove of stuff, which my mother dubbed “pure junk.”

 WILLIAM CHRISTENBERRY,  CHURCH (SPROTT, ALABAMA), BROWNIE, 3 1/2 X 5", SIGNED 

WILLIAM CHRISTENBERRY,  CHURCH (SPROTT, ALABAMA), BROWNIE, 3 1/2 X 5", SIGNED 

 “Nunnie” was what we called our grandmother.  She was “healthy,” which meant she was slightly overweight, with a quiet strength, dignity, and the strength of a true Southern woman.  I remember her mostly at her stove, preparing homemade biscuits and frying up a lot of bacon, salted lard in a jar nearby for quick and easy prep.  Her hands were plump and her nails long for stitching quilts—and also for good back scratching when her grandchildren couldn’t sleep.  Nunnie was kind and independent and had the street smarts to raise five children after he husband died young on low paying wages and government assistance.  A great woman of faith, it was noted at her funeral and upon her death that she had attended Oak Grove Baptist for ninety-four years, rarely missing a Sunday service.  Do the math.  

In her den, which blended into the kitchen, she always kept something crafty progressing:  a cloth-covered paddle that read “Nunnie’s spanking stick” in puff paint or funky Christmas tree ornaments made out of safety pins and beads.  Every season, she hosted a craft sale on her expansive lawn, holiday goods strewn across folding tables with prices hand-written on masking tape.  A sign read, “If you brang (sic) a baked good for the church, purchase discounted.”  If a friend missed the event, she would come by and let herself in the back screen door, leaving an appropriate amount on the dining table by the baked good.  

 WILLIAM CHRISTENBERRY,  COCA-COLA, BROWNIE, 31/2 X 5", SIGNED

WILLIAM CHRISTENBERRY,  COCA-COLA, BROWNIE, 31/2 X 5", SIGNED

But I think mostly about Nunnie’s quilts.  Meticulously curating materials of various colors, prints, and textures, she would stitch tiny knots.  She was so patient and astute at feeding the needle in and out—like a trained surgeon at work—that sometimes she could finish a whole section while watching an Auburn football game, eyes fixated on the television.  Those quilts, in addition to their beautiful artistry have became even more meaningful over time.  Their weight and warmth signaling security and safety, their scent triggering an immediate sense of connectedness to her home and to her.  As I have traveled and moved in my art career, I have always kept a curated drawer of her quilts,  wrapping in them on many nights until my eyes and body grew so heavy they felt like lead.  And peacefully, I have rested.  

 WOMAN HANDING MASTERFUL QUILTS ON LINE (GEE'S BEND, ALABAMA), PHOTOGRAPHER UKNOWN, C. 1930

WOMAN HANDING MASTERFUL QUILTS ON LINE (GEE'S BEND, ALABAMA), PHOTOGRAPHER UKNOWN, C. 1930

The small, red brick church with double front doors and a conservative steeple marked the turn to Nunnie’s house, just down he blacktop road in Jemison.  The small rural town of several thousand was a six-hour drive from Clarksdale to her house, exploring back, rural roads.  My mother usually drove us alone, as my father did not like to leave his work.  We would leave as the sun set in Mississippi, migrating at a descent speed to Alabama.  Mama liked to drive at nights so my sister drifted to sleep and my mother pressed the pedal, she would sing to me. I would trace the patterns on the foggy windows, dreaming of travel and faraway places.    

But in one early spring, the trip was different.  Her brother Charlie drove her from Clarksdale to her childhood home, to die.  Nunnie’s small brick home, once known as a place of solitude and creativity, as well as one of love and bustling family gatherings, morphed into a den of death and a sanctuary of grief.  This is where my motor spent her last days.  

It was a glorious day in Charleston, where I had been living for some time and had recently launched my company, Rebekah Jacob Modern.  I received a phone call from Lee, an African American man who helped Mama around the house and delivered her paper, biscuit, and coffee every Sunday morning at 8:00 a.m., sharp.  The car was in the driveway, and the light were flicking int he morning sun, but here was no answer at the door.  Fearful of a “colored man” invading the house with predictable consequences, my friend Dina, broke a window and climbed through two find Mama disoriented, curled in bed with headaches amid a disastrous, unkempt house with medicine strewn all over the kitchen counters.  I flew home to Mississippi immediately.  

Doctors diagnosed her with melanoma, anther illness would be short-lived—four months or less.  It was a painful and complicated death sentence, so she moved back to her Jemison home for her final days.  Nunnie and my aunts would act as primary caregivers, facilitating doctor’s visits, medicine distribution, and trips to thrift stores speckled along the Alabama highways.  I would remain in Charleston, attempting to keep my burgeoning art gallery growing—at least in tact.  

If there is a gift of facing death head on, it's the art of conversation.  Mama and I had conversations without constraints and edits, about life, family, future, expectations of my sister and me taking care of the other.  (This is foreshadowing, see future chapters of life.). We bantered about funeral arrangements, laughed at warm memories, cried in the face of reality.  I knew it was one of her final chapters one cold spring day at Nunnie’s.  As vegetable soup simmered on the stove and the television streamed local news, Mama handed me all her jewelry and her wallet.  The next day, her significant decline began; as so many cancer patients’ families experience, the stripping of her dignity would be at the saddest to watch.  The final hours challenged our patience as my sister and I watched the monitor slow graph by graph.  Mama hadn’t spoken or moved in many days, so we prayed she could hear us in the final hours.  Upon her final breath, one tear inched down her cheek and stopped at her lip.     

She was buried in the church cemetery adjacent to Nunnie’s land.  Contrary to daddy’s burial of which the casket was elevated so that the damp, clay Delta soil could set.  Otherwise, the casket would sink, in time. My mother gardened that plot late afternoons with the red bird circling at dusk.  The casket was immediately lowered into the dry, sandy red soil, shoveled over, then a John Deer tractor cleaned up the top of the soil.  She was gone and would be now separated from my father, buried in Delta of Mississippi.  

 WILLIAM CHRISTENBERRY,  NEW GRAVE,, BROWNIE, 3 1/2 X 5",, SIGNED 

WILLIAM CHRISTENBERRY,  NEW GRAVE,, BROWNIE, 3 1/2 X 5",, SIGNED 

On Nunnie’s porch, which spread across the front of the modest Craftsman-style house, her swing was her resting place, and now min.  After my mother’s funeral, Nunnie sat in the swing, crying and prayin’ and making assumptions.  “I know Jacque is happy that the casket is wide and comfortable.  She hated to be cramped.  And I sure am glad we bought her beautiful lace things.  She would have never wanted anyone to judge her underwear as she floated through the sky on her way to the Holy Gates on Rapture Day.”  “Beverly, did you iron them?” Nunnie beckoned.  “Yes, mother.  I DID,” she responded emphatically.  I’m so glad her casket was covered with fresh flowers.  She always hated faked (sic) magnolias.”  

As I listened that night after the funeral, Nunnie’s quilt was my cocoon, catching tears, warming my heart, and comforting me from a pain that was otherwise unbearable.  As the stars erupted in the night sky, I recognized so many patterns I had found in the car while driven to this place as a child.  I felt as though that night sky was signed just for me.  I finally felt like there was a map of some sort-some science and answer to a quagmired universe. 

I knew that whatever happened I had my work, and Rebekah Jacob Gallery would continue as not only a personal venture, but as a tribute to my parents, now both gone.  

By, Rebekah Jacob:  Owner & Founder of the Rebekah Jacob Gallery & Vedado Gallery

#ArtHunt #TravelDiaries #Wanderlust #ArtOfTheDeal

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ARTHUR ROTHSTEIN:  GEE'S BEND, RURAL ALABAMA (1937)

ART HUNT: LULA

LULA:  THE FREEDOM TO DREAM & CREATE

For me, the freedom and space of the Mississippi Delta perpetuates and incubates creativity.  

The Mississippi Delta skies seem infinite, canvasing small towns connected mainly by two narrow laned highways:  61 and 49.  As Eudora Welty wrote in Delta Wedding, “And then, as if a hand reached along the green ridge and all of a sudden pulled down ... the hill and every tree in the world and left cotton fields, the Delta began ... The land was perfectly flat and level but it shimmered like the wing of a lighted dragonfly.”  This landscape, so particular it cannot be mistaken or defied, is the visual cornerstone of most photographs I exhibit, curate, and broker.  

 Maude Schuyler Clay, Pink House (near Tunica, Mississippi off Highway 61),      c-print, 11 x 14 inches, signed; private collection

Maude Schuyler Clay, Pink House (near Tunica, Mississippi off Highway 61),      c-print, 11 x 14 inches, signed; private collection

Lula was a place of freedom for me to dream and create as a child—far away from the rigid methodological schedules set by my mother and instrumented by my maid, Ms. Virginia. Set near Moon Lake, a subset of the great Mississippi River, Lula is a small, rural town my first best friend Natalie and I explored mostly on bikes, barefoot, with no respect to rusting stop signs, some hung upside down.  Natalie, who had long, dark hair always tied in ribbons cut angular at the end to prevent fringing, would sit countless and patient hours with me as we wrote and drew stories at the kitchen table.  Her help Mae-Mae would then craft and bind the 8 x 10 sheets of paper with rainbow yarn then place the "books" in the china cabinet as preciously as a piece of 18th century heirloom crystal.  Natalie's dog Bingo, a black lab with grey whiskers, always by our side, licking our toes.  

Lula seemed a million worlds away, although mapped out, it is a stone’s throw from Clarksdale.  While driving  backroads through the Delta, I once asked Natalie’s mother, whom we dubbed “Mama Joan” how far Lulu was from home.  A tiny thing, she had propped me on two Clarksdale phone books in the middle, front seat; Natalie positioned on the front right.  "Well, child, perfect timing for my permanent to set if I am driving nine five miles an hour,” she said with a big jovial smile then slapped the steering wheel.  If one were to go by Johnny boat via the Mississippi River which connects the towns, “a short hour’s troll,” fishermen would claim.  

Mama Joan always drove so fast (often with license revoked due to so many speeding tickets) that the trees blurred and the swamp setting seemed even more neon.  The state trooper would just wave her by and flash his flight lights twice, as a warning and as a hello.  “I send him a Christmas card every year,” she bragged, “with cash.”  

 Kathleen Robbins, Belle Chase Plantation from the Flatland Series, archival pigment print, 30 x 30 inches, signed, private collection 

Kathleen Robbins, Belle Chase Plantation from the Flatland Series, archival pigment print, 30 x 30 inches, signed, private collection 

Lula was the antithesis of my mother’s rigid world, with early morning risings, tasks around the house, and superbly ironed clothes (dresses, socks and underwear inclusive).  There in Lula, our mothers Joan and Jacque were less than concerned about us, and perhaps child services these days would issue warrants.  Natalie and I rose languidly on Saturdays and approached the day with patience and wonder, her father Mr. Michael having already pumped air in our bike tires.  Breakfast was all things chocolate from the town “totsum” (store) owned by Chinese immigrants Mr. and Mrs. Lee.  Mrs. Lee always greeted us with a large smile that seemed disproportionate to her small, delicate frame.  Her beautiful hands recorded our purchases “on account” with exquisitely and carefully applied Chinese Sanskrit.  “Are you drawing broken trees?” I once asked incredulously.  Natalie and I would wave farewell to Mrs. Lee then the field hands breaking for a game of cards under a sign that read, “No Loitering.” 

Freedom in Lula also translated to Natalie’s father’s farm.  When our mothers did not want to fuss with us, particularly on Saturdays, and the help dictated we had to get out of the house, we would jump in the large silver diesel run truck with Mr. Michael and head just outside Lula.  There, he would crank the large-scaled Impala and Cadillac out in the fields, prop us up on pillows or phone books and we would drive for hours as far as the next town over, Hollywood.  (Hollywood later became immortalized for its eponymous restaurant in Marc Cohn's song "Walking in Memphis".)  If we ran out of gas, Mr. Michael would bring us more in a red tin can from the diesel tank more typically used for combines and tractors.  

Perhaps these childhood experiences of freedom and joy among the consistent Delta settings are why I hold the photographic oeuvre by Mississippi-born photographer Kathleen Robbins so dear to my heart and RJG inventory.  For example, “Dad’s Cadillac,” in a square format depicts a white Cadillac parked in a barren cotton field, with an austere white-boarded church in the background.  Raindrops on the windshield and the barren, grey Delta skies indicate winter.  Without sap or nostalgia, Robbins depicts the Flatlands as they were, are, and will forever be.  

 Kathleen Robbins, Belle Chase Plantation from the Flatland Series, archival pigment print, 30 x 30 inches, signed, private collection

Kathleen Robbins, Belle Chase Plantation from the Flatland Series, archival pigment print, 30 x 30 inches, signed, private collection

To this day, when I am feeling creatively limited and have the burning desire to break through, there is nothing more cathartic and enrgizing than a good road trip under the watch and magnitude of a large, empty Mississippi sky—a cotton field in view.  Lula—its indelible and sweet memories—flickering as cinematically as a band of fireflies on a hot summer night.   

By, Rebekah Jacob:  Owner & Founder of the Rebekah Jacob Gallery & Vedado Gallery

#ArtHunt #TravelDiaries #Wanderlust #ArtOfTheDeal

 

WILLIAM EGGLESTON: THE MISSISSIPPI DELTA, IN COLOR

ART HUNT: THE FLATLANDS

THE FLATLANDS OF MISSISSIPPI

My childhood was rich. I was raised in a secure family, dwelling in the nostalgically beautiful southern town of Clarksdale, Mississippi, which sits on the Sunflower River, a small tributary of the Mississippi River, the widest river in the world and arguable the most aggressive.  This majestic entity—and its parallel levee—has appropriately been the setting for masterpieces by the literary Greats:  Mark Twain, Tennessee Williams, Walker Percy, among others.    

My neighborhood, one of the oldest in the Delta, is picturesque, with wide streets, large oaks and antebellum homes and boasting expansive porches.  Throughout time, Clark Street has attracted acclaimed politicians, artists, poets, lawyers, and eccentrics.  Sundays were quiet as most magneted to the local country club for swimming, tennis or golf.  Always, whiskey.  

 Historic images of Clarksdale, Mississippi c. 1920.  Photographer unknown.  

Historic images of Clarksdale, Mississippi c. 1920.  Photographer unknown.  

My childhood in the Mississippi Delta taught me almost everything I needed to know about creativity.  The Delta’s open skies were a canvas for dreams, the local librarian held reading circles presenting books on faraway places as well as Mississippi’s indigenous and seemingly exotic Seminole Indians,  the school nuns at St. Elizabeth encouraged the written word and pretty penmanship, and all the Mississippi storytellers always, by default, could find an audience.  

My mother could have written a manual on introducing one’s children to art and books.  She was often juggling a full-time job and motherhood, always hauling me off to dance lessons, piano lessons, or art lessons, even if that meant late at night or early in the morning before school bells rang.  My heart would flutter like a jackrabbit at the anticipation of engaging in that world of creativity, strategically packing my red backpack the night before with selected sheet music, pens, books, or paints.  For me, the extra circular activities were a barometer of well-achieved academics, as straight A’s were required in order to engage in the after-school activities.  Also, sometimes I got the feeling that my mother’s love and pride for me depended on how much I excelled at these art forms.  

My mother, a great reader of books, would orate to me every night until, by the young age of four, I could read on my own.  I, in my childish way, applauded her wizardry with the English language and her empathetic renderings of words to make the stories come alive.  Sometimes, she would pause and challenge me on a spelling word, still a challenge as I see many letters backwards and upside down.  My older sister Rachael, who could not keep her eyes open past sundown, quietly nested beside us, a closed-up bottle of fireflies often by our antique, quilted bed.

Rachael’s hair is “so dark that it’s blue,” as my mother would describe; her eyes the color of a Caribbean sea.  She has never been as intuitively interested in art or academics and has always been most concerned with maternal achievements, exactly like my mother. 

My mother would sign me up for me various art classes to not only explore creativity but to “eliminate my shyness.”   A quiet, loner of sorts, strange and people filled rooms were—and still are—challenging.  Feisty and gregarious, Rachael would care for me and guide me as her baby sister, walking me through long corridors and into these rooms, remaining present until I nodded “okay to leave.”  

My mother also loved the art of candid photography, and a camera was ever present in our homes and lives.  She was known to have two or three cameras strapped around her neck at dance recitals, graduations or casual family outings.  Her archive is a detailed series of images of the Jacob home and our progress as a family.  Her style direct and documentary, her camera varied from RCA video cameras to polaroid cameras.  They are still in my archive.  

My mother had a smile that could knock out a room and that’s what I remember most about her.  Raised in small town Alabama, she had a southern drawl of long i’s and spoke in contractions as much as possible.  Mama’s hair was dark black with a small patch of grey on the right side, a defiant Baptist, she always believed “that’s where an angel kissed her.”  She was a corridor to kindness and the template of a virtuous woman, the practice of which she lived; the verses in Proverbs 31:10-31, highlighted and underlined in her Bible.  She was the temple of Goodness and her gift was giving.  Her eyes were crystal blue like a clear sky and danced in the rhythm to her deep-hearted laugh, which was constant.     

However, kindness and graciousness did not completely trump her rigidness, formidability, and sternness.  She would “crack the whip,” as my sister Rachael recalls, if we challenged house and family rules.  Mama obsessed with cleanliness and order, could scrub the house down herself, top to bottom (even dusting the top of the ceiling fan blades), and then call the maid, Ms. Virginia to “redo.”  The only “messy part” of my room could be my art table filled with an array books which were juxtaposed to stacks of crayons, markers, paints, fabric and string.  My secret world?  A collection of scurried books underneath my bed, hidden by the white lace bedskirt and protected from my mother’s view as she had crickety knees.  At night,  I would read with a flashlight past designated bedtime, defaulting into stories like Black Beauty often juxtaposed with pictures.  I once checked out a book by Judy Bloom but then became hysterical that women were dying from bleeding vaginas.  That’s when my sister, three years older, explained the menstrual cycle and described a tampon.   

My art table was one of the first pieces of furniture I bought and I made the deal with the antique seller with my babysitting money.  One Saturday afternoon, my mother took me to the estate sale of a wealthy Delta family, the Peacocks.  I selected an antique Duncan Fyfe table and a small mahogany side chair with carved roses on its rail and a needlepoint cushion with mirrored design.  Preaching and insisting the furniture was nice and expensive, my mother had two sheets of glass cut to protect the table’s surface.  A quiet, contemplative child who never was keen on a lot of friends or busy activity.  I spent endless hours creating words at that art station by painting and writing.  All the while, a red-headed woodpecker nesting outside my window and sometimes flying inside to rest on my encyclopedia stack.  Every time I go home, he seems to greet me.  “Woodpeckers have special spirits,” my father once claimed, “and legend has it that they live to be 100, often nesting in the same tree until death.”  

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My mother could be utterly demanding, rigid, and complicated—her way or the highway.  Despite ice storms, sick days, travel, et cetera, we never missed Sunday church, and I had perfect attendance at school during most of my formative years.  I was always expected to be five to seven minutes early, by her watch, which was already prompted ten minutes ahead.  Honor roll was expected, and the letters on my report card never noted anything other than A.  When angered, she could slam a phone so loud it would reverberate to Kansas.  We lived on Clark Street, about two blocks from our Catholic school, St. Elizabeth, where I was trained on the piano two-three times a week by Mrs. Tavoletti.  One cold morning, moving at a sluggish speed, I had forgotten my piano books.  Mama was so mad, she drove me home all the way down Clark Street in a rant — backwards.  

I mastered the piano, dance, and writing, erring the weight that she was difficult to please and experiencing the disappointment when I failed to please her.  Mama was a perfectionist about our appearance.  As most children rolled their hair in sponge rollers for Sunday church, my sister and I had ours “done up” every single night.  Our clothes (sock and underwear, too) were always ironed, and we rarely wore the same dress twice to fancy functions where we were to be photographed.  Those expectations have manifested and perpetuated in my adult life, thus defining me to some degree as a artist of sorts, workaholic, over-achiever, and might I add, a fashionista of well-ironed attire.  

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While my mother kept the house moving to her delight and high standards, my father mostly worked, departing before daybreak and arriving after sunset.  My father, owner of a furniture company, located only a few blocks from my house in the business district.  It was a world of sofas, couches as well a cash registers and large bound hand-written ledgers.  

Daddy is still the hardest worked I have ever known.  His work ethic was instilled in me early, and I still compare my progress to his unsurmountable success early in life.  I don’t remember a day that he didn’t reflect and engage in his company, constantly “feeding the organism,” as he would say. 

My father was sort of a miracle.  He was tall, dark, and handsome and alway walked with a confident swagger.  One of seven children of French descent, he was the only one to inherit green eyes, which shifted in colors to grey or blue, depending on the light.  His eyes, set deep and expressive, said everything about his current state—stress, joy, concern, contemplation, and more.  I am often reminded of his eyes—and their honest translation of thought and emotions—as I wear them myself.  “Genetics are a funny thing,” my mother would suggest.  At work, he was conscious of his appearance (yes, slightly vain), so my mother always saw to it that his khakis and long sleeve shirts were pressed with “triple extra starch.”  Sometimes it would seem as though his garments were standing up on their own. I “inherited” the same trait.  If I am not dressed to the nines at work, I am clearly having a nervous breakdown.

Though full of love and admiration for us, my mother could be emotional, irrational, high-strung, rigid, and complicated—the antithesis of my father.  He was wonderfully tender when it came to his two daughters.  He was gentle and kind, with a diplomatic and graceful approach to life and work.  I never remember hearing him raise his voice and he tucked us in every night.  He left us encouraging notes in our lunch sacks and later, when we were in college, mailed cards and notes to say hello and to remind us that he believed in us.  He always signed off, “Dear Ole Day.”  

I shared equal love for my parents, but I was a carbon copy of my father’s personality, political interests, brain power, intellectualism, and entrepreneurial pursuits.  My mother encouraged the arts, and my father, business and financial independence.  I have perhaps magically become a hybrid of them both.

 

BILL STEBER & ADAM SMITH:  MISSISSIPPI DELTA 

By, Rebekah Jacob:  Owner & Founder of the Rebekah Jacob Gallery & Vedado Gallery

#ArtHunt #TravelDiaries #Wanderlust #ArtOfTheDeal

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AR HUNT: INTRO

WORDS WERE MY TICKET OUT OF A CONVENTIONAL SOUTH, ART MY WAY BACK HOME

There is no formula or blueprint for becoming an art dealer or for the discipline, creativity, and business style that one pursues.  It has been a long and, at times, treacherous journey, but one filled with thrill, adventure, and the unexpected.  The art hunt has been my obsession, my all. 

Perhaps my work has been a combination of fragments driven by my love of the South and the Caribbean, imagination, social justice, politics, and the burning determination to succeed, no matter what.  The art world, for me, has been place of mythology, unpredictability, cynicism and exploration instead of exactitude.  When my mentor, Hollis Taggart, first hired my in his eponymous gallery in New York City, I naively asked the question, “What is an art dealer’s career really like.”  Darling, he said in his dissipated Southern draw while staring me straight in the eyes, “you better damn well strap in.” 

To be frank, I’ve been writing the story of my life for years, through the visual arts, recording in my handwritten journals most of what I’ve seen, brokered, exhibited, and related to in one way or another.  They say an art dealer’s style and selection of artwork to exhibit and broker is a direct derivative and translation of who she is within the visual arts canon and/or what he/she intuitively wants to search out and explore.  My autobiography has been my theme, and at times, my dilemma and obsession, as I’ve tied to tell my story, document my travels, and express my ideas about politics and social justice through my work—all while mining material from exquisite and rare inventory from my two beloved homes and celebrated cultures:  the American South and the Caribbean Isles, particularly Cuba.  

To distill, write, and collate this series of writings, I did two things I swore I would never do:  I journeyed home to Mississippi for an extensive period, and reread my journals—over ten thousand pages of entries dating to as early as age ten.  The two quests were not necessarily parallel but complementary, and it was these two monumental actions that propelled this creative project into a working, malleable formation.  Word by word, mostly in long hand, I filled legal pads, writing my story within the construct of this life theme:  words were my ticket out of a conventional South, art my way back home.  

 Image:  Bill Steber;  Freshly plowed field on the Stovall Plantation, Mississippi Delta  (1993); gelatin silver; image (14 x 14"), paper (16 x 20"), signed; open edition   Note:  Muddy Waters was living on Stovall Plantation outside of Clarksdale when he recorded for the library of congress in 1941.

Image:  Bill Steber; Freshly plowed field on the Stovall Plantation, Mississippi Delta (1993); gelatin silver; image (14 x 14"), paper (16 x 20"), signed; open edition

Note:  Muddy Waters was living on Stovall Plantation outside of Clarksdale when he recorded for the library of congress in 1941.

It was significant to go home to live among Mississippi’s ghosts; to interview friends, family, and teachers about certain instances in my life; and to revisit sites like Ole Miss and my father’s grave as reference points of place, some bringing great joy and others great sorrow.  Like returning to an old love, I also needed to reconnect with the familiarity of the Flatlands—their wide open skies as canvas to dream, their wide muddy river symbolic of the decisions in our lives that are turn turning points, do delicate that they lead us into waters flowing so aggressively in one direction, we can’t turn back.  

I dredged up every journal I could find from lockboxes, storage units, and my gallery drawers.  I sometimes laughed hysterically at my many adventures around the world.  I sometimes wiggled with discomfort, confusion and sorrow as I read, line by line, of their leather-bound contents.  This was important not only as reflection and reference (memories can be so tricky and malleable) but also as a means to cope with the painful and sad times.  I wanted to be honest and raw, not to veil the pain or repress those emotions that could hinder me—or this project—in any form. 

My first love is the written word, and by default—and sometimes the necessity of blanket and poignant communication—I am a passionate journal writer.  For me, the written word is the purest form of truth-telling, particularly when documented in my own handwriting.  This project includes excerpts of journals, some photo copied and archived; most never before shown. So much of what I have wanted to say about my life and career has been in the dark—until now.  

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As my father, Leslie Charles Jacob, was dying in 1997, he devised a business treatise of sorts, outlining “how to run a business,” adding notations about inventory, cash flow, marketing strategy, and more.  In handsome, clean, and all-capitalized penmanship (reflective of an architect’s lettering style), perhaps the most applicable information would concern off-course moments and methods on how to redirect a ship’s pattern.  This treatise, more than anything in my career, has been a resource and a cornerstone for growth.  

During my studies at Ole Miss is when so much of the procurement of my art dealing craft and life began.  Certainly, I wasn’t bumping into a plethora of art dealers (if any) in a condensed Grove saturated with bourbon and false hopes of a game win.  Honor roll students with insatiably curious minds, by Mississippi standards, applied to and tackled law school.  Most defaulted to marrying her high school and/or college sweetheart and pursuing a conventional Southern life of garden parties and babies, also directed to continue such traditions.  I knew in the deepest seed of my soul that I wanted to be journalistic in life, burn a trail, set out on adventure, and change the world-art dealing became my vehicle.  

First, an avid runner, I would depart the Tri Delta house interim day classes and late night study sessions, and head to the Oxford square.  In the twilight of early evening, some writers, mostly drinkers, would condense balconies as the sun set near Proud Larry’s, a haven for local music lovers.  I would pause and gawk at the art through the large glass windows windows at at Southside Gallery.  Its crisp white walls and minimally hung space of regional and local painters and photographers were undeniably intriguing and visceral.  Once on a night run with my friend and former Tri-Delta Sarah, a strawberry blonde with big smile, and confirmed, “This is what I want to do-own and direct an art gallery.”  It all starts with a wish, they say.  

 Martin J. Dain, Oxford Square, gelatin silver, 20 x 16", signed 

Martin J. Dain, Oxford Square, gelatin silver, 20 x 16", signed 

Second, an English major, I was deep into the studies of Southern writers—such as Richard Ford, Josephine Humphreys, William Faulkner, among others.  Most poignantly, I discovered Mississippi’s treasure Eudora Welty, whose text juxtaposed with her pictures were art treasures of an authentic and sincere Mississippi in the 1930s.  Also, I discovered “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men” with Walker Evans’s extraordinary photographs preceding the text of James agee.  Agee, along with the photographer Walker Evans, had been sent to the South to investigate the situation of tenant cotton farmers—the sort of subject that was common for Fortune during the Depression. 

 Eudora Welty, Strollers (1935), gelatin silver, 17 x 10", signed 

Eudora Welty, Strollers (1935), gelatin silver, 17 x 10", signed 

Third, Larry Brown was a powerful voice in my final year at Ole Miss, teaching me in creative writing class. Larry is one of the South’s most celebrated writers, having published award-winning books like Dirty Work, Father and Son, Joe, and Big Bad Love, along with countless short stories. Had I not know Larry, my life would have been much different, and I don’t know if I would have had the courage to embrace my love affair with this book.  

During that time, my father was dying and Larry’s class was an escape of sorts through reading assignments, writing short stories, and being among so many creatives who always saw the world in shades of grey between black and white text.  But I was also learning the tools to construct and devise a long piece of writing, a skill set that would help me cope with my reality, then and later on. 

Larry’s class was a critical and conforming experience.  He always believed—and practiced in his own master of the craft—that you should write what you know, put trouble on the front page, and write like you talk.  The first day of class, he walked in in a leather coat, white T-shirt, jeans, and boots—typical attire for a writer but not necessarily in an academic environment.  He smelled of sweet bourbon and cigarettes (class started around 4:00 p.m.), wen to the chalkboard, book a piece of yellow chalk to his like, and wrote “S-T-O-R-Y.”  Then he turned to the class and said, “If you don’t have the guts to show your guts, get out.”  In the first few writing assignments, he noted my inability to do so.  

Larry, with a mere high school degree, wasn’t and of an academic setting, so most of our classes were held at the Cit Grocery  bar on the Oxford Square.  Larry spent a lot of time at bars, as that’s where he “got most of his material.”  “People act more natural to themselves in a bar,” he suggested.  My classmates and I (many who have gone on to become acclaimed writers) talked about books, shared our stories, and in many ways, learned to understand that our lives are in their truest essence, stories.  

 Image:  Larry Brown by Hubert Worley Jr. of the  Oxford American

Image:  Larry Brown by Hubert Worley Jr. of the Oxford American

In 2016, I took the most counterintuitive action for a progressive, forward thinking entrepreneur like myself and I stopped.  I left art dealing for some time and I sabbaticaled from the day to day grind of the trade.  The biggest challenge was dissing technology, but I turned off all three phones, i-pads, and computers and dismissed emails and social media feeds.  If I wasn’t galloping through the Caribbean, I was in intense therapy at least once a week, looking back at my life and work, trying to discern the balance and imbalances of both.  I mainly took this time to write until my wrists and fingers felt like they would break.  As this sabattacle came to a close, I missed my work, clients and all-things-gallery life, both good and bad. I stepped back into the Art World with a new found energy, heightened connoisseurship, and roaring passion I had not felt since my early twenties.  

I do not want to be self-righteous and offer advice, so how about a mere suggestion.  Live your life so you have something to tell.  A story, any story.  My story can be traced through the “art hunt.”  And I’ve charted my course through my career.  I have visited thousands of artist’s studios all over the world, hopped on and off European trains to explore, flown on Russian planes in Cuba, and driven thousands of miles across American soil to mine material.  Perhaps my work has been a combination of fragments, completely drawing my imagination, unpredictability, and cynicism.  In this book I will write the truth as best as I can remember it, one travel excursion and one art deal at a time. 

 

EUDORA WELTY & WALKER EVANS :  1920-1930

By, Rebekah Jacob:  Owner & Founder of the Rebekah Jacob Gallery & Vedado Gallery

#ArtHunt #TravelDiaries #Wanderlust #ArtOfTheDeal

ONWARD!

By Rebekah Jacob 

Published on the blog of Skirt! Charleston 

Passion and courage fuel the creative entrepreneur to move forward, innovate, and take risks that others wouldn’t dare. Passion and courage fuel us to believe in ourselves to do our best as our lives unfold. As Albert Camus wrote, “Life is a sum of all your choices. Large or small, our actions forge our futures, hopefully inspiring others along the way.”

Passion is energy, an emotion that must be channeled and there is no better time to hone that energy than now. In my own life and profession, sure a top-notch curator/dealer requires academic training, apprenticeships, travel, and a hard-drive of information and images; but most of all, I need the ever-burning passion and boldness to be in the game, no matter what.  Because in the freedom fight, more times than not, you get your ass kicked.

I also think of passion in regard to establishingand developing the RJG brand, a living organism. With full hearts and intense focus, everything we have tried to do is steeped in quality, ethics, humanity, and artistry. I hope that the brand’s touchstones and the source of our pride are respect, dignity, compassion, community, responsibility and authenticity. No matter what I have always been proud of the passion that our artists and our staff have spurred in their hearts, while venturing along this never ending, sometimes unpredictable, journey that honors the past while reinventing the future.

In life and our careers, there are moments when we summon the courage to make choices that go against reason, common sense, and the wise counsel of people we trust. Despite all risk and rational argument, we search deep, lean forward, and believe–no matter what–that we are choosing the right and best thing to do. We refuse to be bystanders, even if we don’t know exactly where our actions will lead or if we have the skill-sets to follow them through. We become innately intuitive, holding our own counsel and putting one foot in front of the other, determined to scale the intimating mountain to reach the summit.

I  also think of boldness in regard to the innovation and creativity of  our brand, particularly through technology.  In my own business, innovation is about rethinking the nature of a brand and also its relationships, not just about retaining products. RJG has strived to build our technology so that  we receive a lot of traction from established and  new online social networks.  In our journey into the virtual world, we have worked hard to get on the front end and better understand / capitalize on the power of the web at large. Having learned from both established and new clients, our website  has evolved into more than a one-way suggestion box;  it can  has become a genuine opportunity to connect–and buy. There is no doubt that in a creative business, an online social media presence, versatile web based platform, and online marketplace cannot be discounted.

When runningmy own gig, mediocrity will not do. I have put in 10,000 hours and I am ready to put in 10,000 more.  Iam busy every hour of every day, ushering in deals, launching new projects, realigning staff, solving problems.  It can be overwhelming.  There is no time to waste, and I am often running gains against the clock. Running your own gig is a balancing act by which we will survive our crucible and thrive behind it, with heads held high but feet firmly planted in reality. Ladies, thisdelicate balance of passion, boldness, and innovation is key, as this is how we win. #Onward

 

Rebekah Jacob on Civil Rights Photography (1960-1965)

By Rebekah Jacob

To have studied and explored the archive of the renowned civil rights photojournalist James Karales has been a lifetime's privilege.   In early 2000, I was allowed the honor of sifting through thousands of contact sheets, work prints, mounted photographs, notes, and magazines still marked by his fingerprints.  Although we never met, I have come to know the greatness of a man revealed both by what he recorded and by what was left unsaid.  

I first immersed myself in these treasures in preparation for the exhibition 1969:  Controversy and Hope / Iconic Images by James Karales, organized for the Rebekah Jacob Gallery in the spring of 2009.  Karales was a lifelong and avid photographer.  Woven throughout his oeuvre of photo-essays in his trademark compassion for social injustice and eye for political upheaval, whether on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, in Vietnam, in the integrated mining town of Rendville, Ohio, or during the turbulent years of the civil rights movement.  the civil rights story offered perhaps the richest materials to mine for a book.  

 

The modest Karales only occasionally printed his work and rarely presented it in exhibitions or publications beyond the initial assignment for which it was created.  delving into his meticulously preserved archive, I worked to share Karales's voice with a larger audience, focusing on the period 1960-65.  Together with Julian Cox, we spent two years editing and sequencing more than 2,000 images to arrive at a final selection of 93 plates.  A modest percentage of the images included in this book were published in Look magazine, and some have since been reproduced in books and magazines, but the majority have never been exhibited or published.  Our extensive research also included the study of vintage prints in museum collections, the Karales Archive in the Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library at Duke University, and a thorough review of the Look archives at the Library of Congress.  Photographs consigned from the Howard Greenberg Gallery and the Rebekah Jacob Gallery in Charleston, South Carolina, were also vital resources.  Recollections shared by Karales's contemporaries Tony Vaccaro, Bob Adelman, Steve Shapiro, Matt Herron, and Paul Fusco added an invaluable human dimension to the project.  

 

The 190s were the heyday of the great photography magazines, providing working photographers with the opportunity to capture the spirt of the time in elaborate, multipage spreads with large images.  Civil rights leaders embraced the medium as a vehicle to inform and educate the general public and as a means to document their momentous journey.  Magazines were hungry to print images from the front lines.  Despite the dangers for journalists, photographers were drawn to the drama of the civil rights story and provided valuable witness to the demonstrations, arrests, riots, and burnings.  

With several camera slung around his neck and a cigarette in one hand, Karales focused his intense glaze on one of the most challenging issued in our nation's history.  He balanced the job's requirements with is own aesthetic to find a different story, one of tenderness and triumph.  Within the crowds his discerning eye discovered heroic portraits of individuals, such as a teenage boy enveloped by a massive, hand-stitched flag, or a youth with "vote" emblazoned across his forehead.  

Arguably the most signifiant work at this time comes from Karales's close access to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and other key civil rights leaders.  One of only a few photographers to enter King's home, Karales crated images of Dr. King that go beyond the expected to portray quiet, telling moments.  One photograph reveals Dr. King's fatherly angst as he painfully broke the news to his young daughter that she was forbidden to visit an amusement park because of her race. The caption in the February 12, 1963, issue of Look reads:  "I told my child about the color bar."  

The photographs in this book, Controversy and Hope:  The Civil Rights Images of James Karales, present the range of civil rights assignments that Karales undertook in teh years 1960-1965:  nonviolent passive resistance training in Atlanta in 1960; the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) convention in Birmingham in 1962; an intimate series of the King family at home in Atlanta in 1962; Dr. King and Rev. Ralph Abernathy's campaign in Birmingham in 1962, which includes pictures made in the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, with Rev. C.T. Vivian, Rosa Parks, and other leaders in attendance.  The story concludes with a selection of images documenting the Selma to Montgomery March for Voting Rights in 1965, which provided the culminating and iconic images of a movement that had become so personal Karales.  

Despite the passage of time, or perhaps heightened by it, we are able to see the integrity and clarity of Karales's vision against the backdrop of a crucial juncture in our shared history.  His work continues to compel us to remember both what divides us and what unites us.  It is my hope that this publication reveals previously untold moments in this pivotal era of American history. 

Preface by Rebekah Jacob, published in Controversy and Hope:  The Civil Rights Photographs of James Karales, published by the University of South Carolina Press, 2013.  

Reflection of a Decade

I am a seeker.  Born from hundreds of scribbled legal pad pages, plus blood, sweat, tears, and a generous supply of bourbon, Rebekah Jacob Gallery celebrates a decade of searching out the socially charged, aesthetically progressive artwork on which we have built our national reputation.  The path has been far from easy, but after twenty years in the art business, I know that if you stay in it long enough, you get to the truly good stuff.

Everything starts with the art.  We choose artists and estates from the American South and Caribbean Isles based on instinct, creativity, breadth of work, price point, and attitude. We aggressively mine and exhibit enlightened work that evokes the modern age of these two regions riddled with complexity and never-ending exploration, and which deeply connected via indigo, cotton, and slave trade.  Whether emerging or experienced, these artists expand the conventional definitions of their medium including paintings, works on paper, photography and video.  

Growing up in the Mississippi Delta, I was wholeheartedly seduced by the art of the American South both for its stunning visuals and for the great divides it addresses.  Many Southern fine art photographers deeply engage in the essence of place, visually examining the relationship between past and present to make sense of the peculiarities of Southern identity. I seek out artists who stay true to their Southern roots not by solely focusing on the beauty of the landscape but also by exploring the conundrums of the place we call home.  These issues of poverty, race, and inequality have become a driving point of interest for me, strongly evident in my affinity for documentary photography, whether vintage or contemporary, as it relays a strong, intricate narrative that extends beyond the place where words end.  Bringing the work of Civil Rights photographers like James Karales to the forefront likewise highlights the need for continued discussion on issues that continue (unfortunately) to remain relevant today.  My favorite WPA authors/photographers like Eudora Welty and Walker Evans traveled the Carolinas, capturing in words and images this land of elegant decay, still struggling to heal from the Civil War. Similarly, many contemporary photographers like Richard Sexton poignantly capture and document fading structures and archetypal characters in a way that still entrances me.

In a parallel construction, I believe that there is no more magical place on earth than Cuba. Since my early twenties, I have made it a personal mission to share the rich visual vocabulary of Cuban artists and photographers informed by centuries of cultural and political discussion.  Revolutionary greats like Roberto Salas, Caralse, and Alberto Kordo helped incite the revolution in Fidel’s Cuba and made phenomenal exhibitions in my home state.  Later, having become well-versed in the emerging art scene, I had the opportunity to juxtapose the work of the two regions and have curated several exhibitions of Southern and Cuban artwork in Havana and throughout the Southeast.  Over the years, I have seen many of our monumentally-themed gallery projects––both exhibitions and publications—take on their own organic forms, becoming a voice for thousands who sacrificed to change the world.  

After years of diligent research and honing my skills, I at last opened my dream gallery in early 2004.  Rebekah Jacob Gallery began in a modest thousand square foot white box in the quiet, quaint area of lower King Street in downtown Charleston.  The odds were not in my favor; at this point, neither contemporary art nor photography had a strong foothold in the Charleston market. Yet I persevered, bolstered by the entrepreneurial spirit of my father, Les Jacob, whose voice I would often hear reminding me to put my head down and get to work, no excuses.  We not only survived, we thrived, and as the economy rebounded, we decided to triple our inventory and our space. Progressive art requires a progressive neighborhood, so we headed north to upper King Street, an area at the heart of the city’s creative culture renaissance.  The large walls of this sexy 3,000 square foot Chelsea-like gallery were necessary to keep up with the increased production from my artists as well as the increased demand from our clients.  A progressive but also an ardent preservationist, I was attracted to the traditional design by a Charleston architect that was flexible enough to allow for the modern edge instilled by my designer William Bates.

However, I failed to forecast how the mercurial rise of internet commerce and the radical redirection of marketing towards social media would dramatically affect my business. Technology trumped square footage, so I downsized our footprint and invested in our internet platform. Our physical location on Broad Street is secondary to our online presence, where the majority of our art is now sold to buyers around the world.  Instead of print media buys, we focus our energies on creating an e-commerce experience that is attractive and secure. 

My father said that success happens when preparation meets opportunity. I have spent my life preparing through academic training, apprenticeships, professional networking, and global travels.  As Rebekah Jacob Gallery turns ten, I think he would have been proud to see my diligence has turned into a legacy.

- Rebekah Jacob

On Eudora Welty

 Eudora Welty

Eudora Welty

I confess only one regret as a Mississippian:  that I never met Ms. Eudora Welty, the great writer and photographer whose words and images have offered me consistent, generous inspiration.  As I was reminded during a recent visit to her home at 1119 Pinehurst Street, Jackson, a failure of courage deprived me of a chance to have the privilege of knowing her. I have since tried mightily to rectify this misjudgment by immersing myself in her photography, learning about the person posthumously through her lens.  

Engrossed in my Southern Literature studies at Ole Miss back in 1997, my mind was full of Ms. Welty’s words and images as I drove to Jackson for a wedding garden party.  With the bravado of youth, I parked in front of Ms. Welty’s home at 1119 Pinehurst Street and telephoned my then-beau for a last-minute pep talk. Instead, he chided me for the southern sin of dropping by unannounced.  The sound of rapid-fire pecking on a typewriter echoed through her open window as I drove away.  I still hear that dirge nearly two decades later.

 Eudora Welty; ' Chopping in the Field'  1936

Eudora Welty; 'Chopping in the Field' 1936

Since then, I have been honored to appraise, consult, and broker various portfolios and loose prints of Welty’s photographs through Rebekah Jacob Gallery.  My deep desire to address her work with the appropriate respect led to copious (perhaps obsessive) research as my team and I have chased down every possible scrap of information.  We have diligently sifted through thousands of images and supporting texts and re-read every essay/book she ever wrote. The more I slipped into her photographic world, the more I started to see how the eloquence of her written narratives was also present in visual form in her photographs.  

The upper crust of Delta life that we both grew up in was such a dramatic juxtaposition to the images she shot alone on assignment for the WPA in the 1930s, way down back dirt roads.  Suffering and proud, everyday Mississippians were imbued with the politics and economics of this complicated land when seen through her compassionate lens.  From the images—supported by many discussions with Welty scholar Suzanne Mars—it is clear the gentle, cautious hand she took when approaching her fellow Mississippians for these photographs.  No pose was forced, no intimidation used.  Instead, Ms. Welty led with respect and the result was poignant portraits of strength and dignity.  Then she tightly trimmed her kitchen-sink prints using the same critical eye with which she edited her stories.  

This intense study has only fueled my quest to get to the source of her work and to share it with others who share my respect for her oeuvre.  The negatives from 1930-1950 are lovingly preserved at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History with rare portfolios (sometimes just a loose print, others as a full unit) elusively showing up in galleries and auctions. As scholarship builds, as more new photographs are revealed, interest in Welty’s photography continues to rise.  Given the current market, I think that Welty’s body of work on WPA-era Mississippi is one of the most compelling photographic studies of the American landscape available.  There is no doubt that  Ms. Welty’s work is now considered a must-have for any true Southern photography collection.

I will continue, like so many others, to gravitate towards my North Star of 1119 Pinehurst Street where I firmly believe her legacy lives on.  There is little doubt that she will continue to inform and inspire with words and images to tell the story of our mutual homeland with grace and dignity.  Transcending her time, Ms. Welty continues to be Mississippi’s most treasured documentarian and ambassador. 

In the meantime, I am eager to tackle yet another portfolio box of gems  that just arrived at my doorstep, ready for discovery anew.

- Rebekah Jacob 

 

The Rare William Eggleston: Red-Ceiling (Greenwood, Mississippi), 1973

“For any serious arts educator, rare photography lover, and collector of Southern photography, to build a significant Southern photography collection, it’s an imperative to hopefully acquire works by Eggleston, if one has the means.” says gallery owner Rebekah Jacob.

Jacob –– an expert in Southern photography and an Old Miss-educated curator of specific Southern genres — describes the photo as “powerful and intense.” This rare and famous dye transfer portrays a cross of white cable leading to a central light bulb mounted on a ceiling painted red. It was taken in the guest room of one of Eggleston’s dear friends in Greenwood, Mississippi in 1971.

William Eggleston emerged in the early 1960s as a pioneer of modern color photography, especially portraying the vernacular of the Mississippi Delta.

“Very few Eggleston "Red Ceiling" photographs were ever printed,” explains Jacob, “and at least two are locked up in the Metropolitan and Getty Museums, respectively. Few have ever been available for sale, so this is a rare window of opportunity for top-bidding collectors.

‘’I grew up along the Delta, mainly in Clarksdale, Mississippi, so Eggleston's subject matter is innately and intensely familiar to me,” says Jacob. “I visited the Metropolitan Museum in NYC last week just to view his current exhibition, ‘At War with the Obvious: Photographs by William Eggleston.' It was touching to see the commonplace subjects of my Southern roots exhibited inside one of the highest levels of art exhibition in the world."

“Art dealing is truly an art form in itself. It is a long process of experience, credibility, smart business, and ultimately the invitation to participate." says Jacob. "Gratefully, my formal education, masters degree, apprenticeships with top photography dealers, certifications, and incessant world travel to curate rare works of art, I have mastered my eye and advanced my level of connoisseurship for top-quality pieces. The invitations to represent elite photography transactions are now trickling into RJG consistently." 
 

  Radio City is the second album by the American rock group Big Star. Released in 1974, Radio City was recorded during 1973 at Memphis' Ardent Studios

Radio City is the second album by the American rock group Big Star. Released in 1974, Radio City was recorded during 1973 at Memphis' Ardent Studios

Framing Artwork: 101

#1: Invest wisely. Create a budget proportionate to the artwork, and do the math up front. Basic frames cost about $10-$13 per foot, yet more exotic woods, metals, and gold-leafed materials cost between $45 and $110 per foot, or more. Be sure to invest in UV protective glass or plexiglass to filter harmful sunlight; otherwise, the art may fade. If you frame your art well the first time, and preserve the work with the proper filters, this will prevent you from having to invest in framing again down the road.

#2: Have your art professionally appraised. Unless you know precisely what it is worth, it is difficult to budget for framing. Then, invest a day or an evening visiting an art museum and a few fine art galleries. Take notice of how their frames look on their walls, which are usually in a setting similar to a home or office. A frame shop can be a confusing place to begin the process, simply because their walls are covered in thousands of framing samples. 

#3: Use a reputable frame shop. (We love Havens Fine Framing in Mt. Pleasant) Ask gallery owners and fellow collectors for recommendations. You're looking for shops that handle, store, and secure artwork properly. And if something unlucky should happen, say during shipping, their business insurance is sure to cover the damage.  

#4: Select a frame that complements your home's interior, your life, or your workplace. When selecting a frame, how it interacts and works with the art must work in your life or profession. For example, a white mat and black frame on a black and white photograph may be visually harsh for the room. Alternative finishes include natural wood, white wood, or even a dark walnut, maple or acacia. Consider the colors of your wall, your flooring, perhaps the upholstery of your favorite furniture, and especially how lighting affects these colors during different times of the day or night.

Frame shops have infinite samples of frames and matting you can sample. Ask if you can borrow or purchase samples to take home or try out in the actual room and wall you plan to display the art. Remember to look at the frame in various lighting before taking your art back to the frame shop for a final decision.  

#5: Add value. As I explain to RJG appraisal clients, once artwork is framed attractively and properly, its value may increase significantly for two reasons: First, constant reframing can damage or decrease the value of your artwork, simply from excessive wear and tear. Second, because expert filtering safeguards your artwork, it extends the life of the piece. Akin to fine automobiles, jewelry, even real estate, that which is built to last is certainly more valuable. Never "nickel and dime" the framing process. And frame it so you love living with the art work on a daily basis. 

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Open Editions and Cuban Photography

The editioning of prints and photography was not widely practiced or expected of photographers before the 1960's, especially in Cuba. Therefore many vintage Cuban photographs have uncertain/unknown edition numbers (open editions). However due to the thin fragile negative paper and humid climates in Cuban, negatives were rarely capable of preservation after around 50 prints. The negative paper themselves often became far too fragile to use further. In addition, without a photography studio or dark room, and in the turmoil of the Cuban Revolution photographers such as Korda, printed their work in bathtubs and sinks. The printing paper available to Cubans was limited until the 1990s. Therefore differences in paper, pigment and photographs are all relative to and indicative of the given political & social status of the Cuban government at the time the photograph was printed.