LOOK SOUTH : Rebekah Jacob on Curating Photography

As an art dealer and curator specializing in Southern images, it has been a dutiful exploration of my own heritage to exhibit photography that has captured the beautiful, sober accretion of a place geographically below the Mason-Dixon and east of Texas (inclusive, of course). I have worked to focus on photographers whose images chronicle a region that feeds our imagination and that we trust no matter what. For the curator and artist alike, numerous exhibitions are about a land of which we profess a fondness and continue to artistically explore.

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From the beginning of Rebekah Jacob Gallery, photographers — such as, Eudora Welty, Dorthea Lange, Walker Evans, among others — have been essential to our curatorial program. The South at the center point of these WPA-era artists’s oeuvres, their pluralism of Southern themes becomes a poetic documentation that encompasses—and exceeds—Southern borders.

Perhaps current selections in our flat-files are a microcosm of a long, planned and unplanned road trips: images of clapboard churches, bottle trees, dilapidated structures — all waiting on someone to arrive. There are also images of bar-b-q joints whose interior decorations sparkle with white tiled walls, stuffed deer heads, ketchup bottles and checkered table cloths. These artstists’ raw, unstaged material share imagination between the photographer and viewer, spurring questions like, “Is this ‘for real’ or a movie set?’”

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As a curator and broker over the past twenty years, I have been honored to sift through hundreds of thousands of images, working carefully to select photos that poignantly tell of the South, my South…our South. I mostly black/white images but color images, too, that tell of the region’s mythic terrain, African American heritage, and compulsiveness with religion (God Bless; Jesus Saves). Throughout countless projects, I am always reminded of the technical genius the artists’ concise eyes, inherent skills of knowing when to click the shutter, and undeniable patience for the subject matters. Studying these artists through their visual essays, I have come to believe that it their dedication to the medium, personal kindness, and genuine spirit that grants a fate of being at the right place at the right time.

To watch concepts doodled on a legal pad evolve into coherent, visual projects is a patient and often grueling, frustrating process. However, the labor and time of these projects always manifest themselves into a stunning selection of photography. And we at the the Rebekah Jacob Gallery hope viewers alike will experience the story of a place (below the Mason-Dixon), whose intrinsic complexities are at the root of Heritage and a place for which we are proud, no matter what.

Yours Truly (And Southern by the Grace of God):

Rebekah Jacob ; Owner and Found of the Rebekah Jacob Gallery

Raul Corrales : The Subtlety of Cuba

On an art hunt in the late 90s (during Cuba’s Special Period), I met the great Raul Corrales. He was wearing a straw hat, trunks, and flip flops and seemed as grumpy about the heat as he did visitors. In time, he warmed up to me and allowed the, in his words, “the only blonde on the island” to sift though his treasures. I spent a long, hot afternoon with the Great, and remember our conversations and his photographic treasures well.

Raul Corrales was Castro's official photographer from 1959 to 1961. While Korda tended to glorify the revolution and its leaders, Corrales's work was more subtle, reflecting the hardship of a small nation trying to find a new way. One example was a picture showing two pairs of legs outside a café, one wearing ragged trousers and barefoot, the other sporting crisp blue jeans, a leather machete sheath and fine laced boots - a telling reminder of inequality before the revolution.

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Caballería (or Cavalry), shows a ragged band of straw-hatted revolutionaries riding on to a plantation of the US-owned United Fruit Company plantation in 1959. The shot was actually taken months after the revolution, and showed Castro supporters re-enacting an 1895 battle in the Cuban war of independence. But Corrales and Castro were well aware of its propaganda significance.

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In terms of pure art, Corrales's photograph El Sueño (The Dream, 1959) is generally considered a classic. It shows an exhausted guerrilla asleep on a military cot beneath a framed portrait of a voluptuous woman wearing only a pearl necklace. With one arm resting behind his head, the man echoes the woman's pose, while his rifle, and his cap resting on his groin, add a subtle eroticism suggested by the photograph's title.

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Since Corrales was considered something of a national treasure in Cuba, biographies usually locate his birthplace in the province of Ciego de Avila, though some reports suggest he was born in Galicia, Spain, and brought to Cuba as an infant, when his father sought work on the sugar plantations. He himself began as an assistant in a photographic laboratory in 1944, and started taking pictures in the 1950s for the communist newspaper Noticias de Hoy and such magazines as Bohemia and Carteles.

Among his early subjects was Ernest Hemingway, who lived on-and-off between Key West, Florida, and the village of Cojímar, outside Havana, where he got the inspiration to write The Old Man and the Sea. The "old man" of the story was Anselmo Hernández, a fisherman and neighbour of Corrales, and the three men, along with Hemingway's yacht captain Gregorio Fuentes, became regular drinkers at the El Curro bar, on the Cojímar seafront.

While Korda made no shame in photographing to meet beautiful women, Corrales's pictures of poor peasants before the revolution reflected the popular ideals held by the guerrilla leaders. Commenting on Corrales's portraits of desperate sugar-cane cutters and banana farmers, Korda reportedly once told him: "When there's no longer misery in Cuba, Raúl, you're going to starve to death." To be fair, when asked years later to analyse his generation of Cuban photographers, he observed: "And then there's Raúl Corrales, who's the greatest of us all."

Buyers on the Art Hunt for Cuban Art Look to the Rebekah Jacob Gallery

Featured on the Vacation Idea Blog

Discovering, curating, promoting, and placing incredible artworks and photographs from the Southern United States and around Latin America in leading collections and prime locations around the world is the aim of Rebekah Jacob through her Rebekah Jacob Gallery. A passionate expert in the diverse art and photography seen in the South and Latin America, Jacob is one of the most trusted names in the field. Here's all you need to know about Rebekah Jacob and her ground-breaking gallery: 

- A Passionate Founder - With a B.A. in English, an M.A. in Art History, and a Certificate in Appraisal Studies in Fine and Decorative Arts, as well as art history teaching experience and a lifelong love and passion for art, particularly from the South and Latin America, Rebekah Jacob is a true master of her craft. A fully certified member of the International Society of Appraisers, Jacob formed her own gallery with a view to sourcing incredible artworks from her chosen locations and bringing these pieces to art lovers and collectors around the globe.

- Striving For Greatness - Jacob has used her extensive knowledge and experience throughout the art world to launch a gallery that really is making a difference. She has brokered, curated, and consulted on countless pieces of fine art and photography for many different collections and museums, working with both private collectors and cultural locations like big city galleries to find the perfect pieces for every party. Constantly striving for improvement, Jacob continues to curate, exhibit, appraise, and broker more and more artworks from all around the South and locations like Cuba.

- Art For A Cause - A big reason why Rebekah Jacob focused so strongly on art from the South and Latin America is the immense social and political influence many of these pieces had on their repsective regions. Many of the photographs and artworks she has curated and brokered from the South, for example, explored the Civil Rights Movement. She has also taken part in talks, studies, projects, and seminars regarding the importance of art and photography in civic and political movements through history.

Read more here, all the while planning your next dream vacation.


Rebekah Jacob of the Rebekah Jacob Gallery on an Art Hunt throughout Havana de Cuba. Photo credit : J. Kevin Foltz

Rebekah Jacob of the Rebekah Jacob Gallery on an Art Hunt throughout Havana de Cuba. Photo credit : J. Kevin Foltz


Rebekah Jacob on Curating Cuban Revolutionary Photography

Rebekah Jacob continues to curate rare vintage Cuban Revolutionary photographs via physical and digital platforms. Thankfully, many collectors, dealers, and institutions join our mission and lend key works to these projects — expanding creativity, developing scholarship, and increasing market rate.

The Cuban Revolution of 1959 was one of the most spectacular political events of the twentieth century. A dramatic chapter in the Cold War, the improbable overthrow of the dictator Fulgenico Batista by a ragtag band of young Communist guerillas and intellectuals occurred just ninety miles from the United States. Tracing the movement from the triumphal entry of the rebels into Havana on January 1, 1959, to the abortive Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962, these images show the tremendous influence of photography in recording and encouraging the revolutionary movement in Cuba. Among the most outstanding works in our collection of rare vintage prints are Alberto Korda's famous portrait of Che Guevara titled "Heroic Guerrilla" and never-before-seen images of Che's death in Bolivia in 1967. Our inventory features work from over thirty photographers, including important images of pre-Revolutionary Cuba in the 1950s by Constantino Arias as well as classic images by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Raúl Corrales, and Burt Glinn, among others. Cuba in Revolutionexplores everyday life in Cuba before and after the Revolution and considers the ways in which both Cuban and foreign photojournalists helped construct the image of the revolution abroad.


By Rebekah Jacob

"There is no doubt the these photographic projects make me a more well-rounded curator and dealer. As a gallery owner, I must delicately balance creativity, capitalism, and journalism in order to sustain my fine art enterprise. This I have learned over time and having made many mistakes. The Cuban Revolutionary photography projects have been a key case study in my career in three ways:
 
Creatively, through formal education, apprenticeships with top dealers, and global travel to curate inventory, I have mastered my eye and advanced my level of connoisseurship for top-quality, rare artwork — particularly of this genre. 
 
Advanced skill-sets are necessary and diversely applicable when curating exquisite rare photographs, such as those by Cuban Greats (Alberto Korda, Osvaldo Salas, Raul Corrales, i.e.). Through extensive travel the US, Europe and particularly Cuba, I have sifted through countless private collections, museum collections, and have worked with the most rare material to come from that period.  I still find the material alluring and magical.
 
Fiscally, the Cuban Revolutionary photography projects have been very large investments of time, money, and travel. Journalistically, I continue to be fascinated by motion makers; and over time, I developed a calling towards Southern documentary photography, Civil Rights Photography, and particularly Cuban Revolutionary photography –– timeless images that document those socially changing the world.

I have seen many of RJG’s projects –– both exhibitions and publications –– take on their own organic forms, becoming a voice for thousands who sacrificed to change the world. RJG continues to take on historical projects that explore monumental themes about social change.
 
I would argue that I have come to know the Cuban Revolutionary collections, photograph by photograph, more intimately than any other curator or dealer in the Art World today. As I leaf through boxes of inventory on top of my flat files, I am grateful for the opportunity to have worked with such rare and historical material.
 
I celebrate the success of  many Cuban Revolutionary projects.  And new piles on my desk await –– diverse collations of materials in preparation for the next Rebekah Jacob Gallery photography project. As always I'm excited to keep moving forward.”

843-754-0003 (RJG personal cell: fee-based speaking engagements available)

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In Photos, Eudora Welty Captured Life in 1930s Mississippi

By Matthew Sedacca for the New York Times

Photographs by Eudora Welty

Before her career as a distinguished fiction writer, Eudora Welty applied her short-form prowess to photographing life in Depression-era Mississippi. 

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Bursting from the fertile ground of Crystal Springs, Miss., an absurdly odd harvest blots out the horizon: a cottage-size tomato, drooping decorative leaf and all, perched atop a wooden shanty. Lured by the irresistible gravitational pull of this shrine to “The Tomatropolis,” a smiling woman poses for a photographer and offers scale, her fingers pointing childlike at the kitsch behind her.

Sure, the folks back home had to see this surreal homage to the city’s economic foundation. But even more unexpected is the photographer: Eudora Welty, the elder stateswoman of American letters.

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Before becoming famous for her short stories of comedic interfamilial strife and everyday adversities subtly imbued with issues of race and class, Ms. Welty used the camera as her vehicle to preserve life, ever-fleeting with all its joys, complexities and hardships, in the 1930s. Many of these photos were featured in “Photographs,” originally published in 1989, and recently reissued by the University Press of Mississippi.

A native of Jackson, Miss., Ms. Welty briefly left the South to attend the University of Wisconsin at Madison and, later, business school at Columbia University. She returned in 1931 to work at Jackson’s local radio station and contribute society columns to The Commercial Appeal in Memphis.

But it was in her stint as a junior publicity agent for the Works Progress Administration, which itself was famed for dispatching some of the country’s best photographers and writers to chronicle New Deal America, that she flourished as a photographer. Ms. Welty captured her fellow Mississippians in their daily routines, with each frame evoking the complications of everyday life, like children hauling unwieldy blocks of ice to dinner or a fatigued-looking nurse outside a clinic.

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“Poverty in Mississippi, white and black, really didn’t have too much to do with the Depression,” Ms. Welty said in an interview with Hunter Cole and Seetha Srinivasan at the beginning of the book. “It was ongoing. Mississippi was long since poor, long devastated. I took the pictures of our poverty because that was reality.”

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Prints from this period were featured in her two-week solo show at the photographic galleries of Lugene Opticians in New York in 1936, but the literary world proved more receptive to her work, with Manuscript magazine publishing her first piece of fiction that same year. Her photos were finally published for the first time in her 1971 opus “One Time, One Place: Mississippi in the Depression.”

Given her affiliation with the W.P.A., viewers might be tempted to draw comparisons between her images and those of renowned photographers of the time, like Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange, who worked for the Farm Security Administration. The differences between their bodies of work are clear, something she herself confirmed: Instead of the formalism or portrait work of Mr. Evans and Ms. Lange, Ms. Welty’s images show life as it unfolded before her, distilling the solemn quiet of a blind weaver at work or the warm communal embrace of women at a carnival.

“I was taking photographs of human beings because they were real life and they were there in front of me and that was the reality,” Ms. Welty said. “I was the recorder of it. I wasn’t trying to exhort the public.”

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Ms. Welty’s photography doesn’t extend past the mid-1950s, a fact she attributed to a combination of losing her camera in Paris and devoting the bulk of her creative energy to writing. Still, the decades spent documenting the world around her played a part in shaping her point of view in writing that people would eventually revere.

“Some perception of the world and some habit of observation shaded into the other,” Ms. Welty said about her dual passions, “just because in both cases, writing and photography, you were trying to portray what you saw, and truthfully. Portray life, living people, as you saw them. And a camera could catch that fleeting moment, which is what a short story, in all its depth, tries to do.”



William Eggleston : The C-Print (or chromogenic photograph)

Snapshots of the South

While many dealers and collectors chase and broker William Eggleston photographs of the dye-transfer medium, the Rebekah Jacob Gallery focuses mainly on his c-prints (or chromogenic photograph). A small, sweet format, the images are “snapshots”, created by Eggleston as he traveled along the Mississippi River throughout its Delta, exploring small, rural towns. RJG’s ongoing exhibitions create a platform for Eggleston connoisseurs to view these small formatted photographs that capture the people, places, and quirks of Eggleston’s beloved South.

SELECTED C-PRINTS (OR CHROMOGENIC PHOTOGRAPHS) :

Many of William Eggleston’s photographs have been processed as c-prints. The colour negative or slide is exposed to Chromogenic photographic paper (wet process paper) that contains three emulsion layers, each of which is sensitised to a different primary colour. After the image has been exposed it is submerged in a chemical bath, where each layer reacts to the chemicals to create a full-colour image. Because the chemicals are so complex, the image continues to react even after the process is completed. The chemicals are also extremely sensitive to water, light, and heat, making it difficult to protect C-prints from deterioration.

‘C-type’ was originally the trademark used by photographic company Kodak for the paper they used for making prints from colour negatives, but it is now standardly applied to all colour photographic prints.

James Karales : Photographs of the Civil Rights Era

Controversy and Hope commemorates the civil rights legacy of James Karales (1930-2002), a professional photojournalist who documented the 1965 Selma to Montgomery March for Voting Rights with a dedication and vision that led the New York Times to deem his work "a pictorial anthem of the civil rights movement." 

Equipped with ambition and a B.F.A. in photography from Ohio University in 1955, Karales headed to New York and found work as a darkroom assistant to master photographer W. Eugene Smith. Karales's earliest photo-essays had already come to the attention of Edward Steichen, curator of photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, which acquired two of Karales's photographs from his series on the Greek American community of Canton, Ohio. Another early photo-essay, on the integrated mining community of Rendville, Ohio, was featured in Karales's first solo exhibition, held in 1958 at Helen Gee's Limelight gallery in Greenwich Village. From 1960 to 1971, Karales worked as a staff photographer for Look magazine, traveling the world during a time of dynamic social change and recording the harsh realities he witnessed at home and abroad.

By the time Karales documented the fifty-four-mile voting-rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1965 he had already developed a strong relationship with its most prominent leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and had been granted unprecedented access to the King family. That connection translated into a powerful empathy in the photographs that still resonates for viewers today. 

The Village Voice described Karales's civil rights work as bearing "the weight of history and the grace of art." Controversy and Hope presents many of Karales's images from the era, including some photographs published here for the first time. Julian Cox, with the assistance of Rebekah Jacob and Monica Karales, has selected a bold representation of Karales's photographs, augmenting his visual legacy with biographical information and personal recollections. Civil rights leader Andrew Young, who appears in some of Karales's photographs, has provided a foreword to the volume.

Doris Ulmann : Appalachian People

Acting on her Humanist Beliefs : Kentucky, North Carolina, i.e.

In 1921, while divorcing her husband, Ulmann underwent major surgery for chronic ulcers. Friends noted that afterwards she was changed. Although she continued to make and exhibit her art photographs to critical acclaim, she devoted more effort to pursuing her longstanding interest in people "for whom life had not been a dance." 

In 1925, Ulmann began traveling in the southeastern United States where she photographed people in "primitive and pre-industrial" communities, including religious ones. She often posed people performing outdated tasks in antiquarian clothing. Names went unrecorded; people were important to her primarily as types. She wrote about the aesthetics of her subject selections, "A face that has the marks of having lived intensely, that expresses some phase of life, some dominant quality or intellectual power, constitutes for me an interesting face." 

The publication record of Ulmann's Appalachian photographs suggests that she became increasingly involved with organizations founded to celebrate the handmade object and dedicated to uplifting the makers of those objects. In 1928, her Appalachian photographs appeared in Scribner's Magazine in June and in Mentor in August. 

We shift our eyes on the South to Appalachia, the highlands where Doris Ulmann created some of her most prized photographs. After many years of rubbing rosary beads and staying on the Art Hunt, beautiful material has come from the sky. We are proud to present selected works - painstakingly curated- from several private collections that are from the root of the tree, Doris Ulmann herself.

In 1930 she displayed photographs in the first exhibition of the Southern Mountain Handicraft Guild in Knoxville where Allen Eaton saw them. Eaton was the leading advocate of American handicrafts and a representative of the Russell Sage Foundation that funded projects to improve social and living conditions in the U.S. Subsequently, Ulmann coordinated her mountain trips with Eaton's Foundation work. In 1932, folksinger John Jacob Niles began to assist Ulmann on her photographic excursions as he toured the same areas doing musical research and fieldwork, a collaboration that lasted even after her death. He included Ulmann's photographs in magazine articles he wrote, thus expanding the circulation of her work. 

In 1932, the feminist and social activist Southern Women's Educational Alliance commissioned Ulmann to photograph young people in rural Kentucky. Her photographs promoted discussions that soon led the organization to become the Alliance for Guidance of Rural Youth. In May 1934, four of her photographs illustrated the Survey Graphic article, "People of an American Folk School," about the Campbell Folk School and its cooperatives, most of them operated by women. These organizations provided practical and religious education as means of social advancement. 

At the same time, she depicted the culture of Appalachian mountain people, Ulmann also produced her best known and most artistic publication, the deluxe edition of Roll, Jordan, Roll (1933) by novelist Julia Peterkin. Visits to Peterkin's South Carolina farm inspired Ulmann to portray the life of the Gullah people of the Sea Islands, a unique vanishing culture. Peterkin's essays on the South accompany Ulmann's pictures from 1929 to 1933 of African-American workers on her farm. The portraits convey a haunting, supernatural element, as though the photographer was looking backward from the future.

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In February 1934 the Library of Congress exhibited more than 100 platinum prints of Ulmann's Appalachian subjects of which it later acquired 44. While photographing in Appalachia in July, she became critically ill and died on August 28 in New York at age fifty-two. On her death bed, Ulmann created the Ulmann Foundation at Berea School to further the work. Her Foundation also donated another 110 prints to the Library of Congress. 

When Eaton's exhibition and book, Handicrafts of the Southern Highlands, came out in 1937, Ulmann's photographs accompanied the text. Her pictures of the makers of folk objects sometimes appeared alongside the objects themselves. Through judicious publication and exhibition, Ulmann attained her greatest wish, "that these human records shall serve some social purpose."






Rebekah on Curating Southern Photography

There is no formula for becoming an art dealer for the 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.  To master my craft has been my obsession, my life’s work.

Perhaps my work has been a combination of fragments driven by imagination, social justice and politics, and mostly, my love of the South.  The Art World, for me, has been place of mythology, unpredictability, cynicism and exploration instead of exactitude.  When my mentor, Hollis Taggart, first hired me in his eponymous gallery in New York City over twenty years ago, 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.”  No doubt it’s been a wild ride.

I consistently craft and shape the story of my life and my eponymous gallery — the Rebekah Jacob Gallery — recording in my handwritten journals most of what I see, broker, exhibit, and relate to in one way or another.  They say an art dealer’s 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 who she intuitively wants to search out and explore.  My autobiography is my theme, and at times, my dilemma and obsession, as I try to tell my story, document my travels, and express my ideas about politics and social justice through my work — all while mining material from my two celebrated homes and cultures:  the American South and Cuba.

To distill and collate this visual resource — an online viewing room / platform — of photographic gems, I endeavor several tasks: I sift through my gallery journals filled with copious notes; journey to particular Southern spots for extensive periods and research ; and reference libraries and photography archives across the US and beyond.  The quests are not necessarily parallel but complementary, and it is these three monumental actions that propel this creative platform into a working, malleable formation.  

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To select and curate photographs to present to both new and seasoned collectors, I immerse myself in treasured private and institutional collections across the US and beyond.  To move among the archives of renowned photographers has been a lifetime’s privilege.  With my deepest gratitude to the beloved Masters themselves and the keeper of these archives, I am grateful to have been allowed the great honor of carefully sifting through thousands of contact sheets, works prints, photographs and notes — many still marked by the artist’s fingerprints. 

Meticulously preserved archives at the University of Mississippi (Oxford, Mississippi), the Library of Congress (Washington, D.C.), the College of Charleston (Charleston), i.e. —all have become invaluable resources.  I work diligently to select then share Southern photographer’s voices with both new and seasoned collectors, focusing from early 20th century - present.  I spend endless hours editing and sequencing images to arrive at the final selection of 30-50 photographs.  Some images included in the platform are published in various publications and news sources contemporary with the negative and since have widely circulated in print or web ; others have never been on public view. My diverse sources included vintage prints, estate prints, contact sheets, and publications. Anecdotes from contemporaries artists often add a human dimension.   

I have charted my course through the visual arts.  I have visited thousands of collections and 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 from my imagination, unpredictability, and cynicism.  And at the cornerstone these rare, rich, documentary images that tell the stories and complexities of land, my land — the Great American South.

Rebekah Jacob

Owner and Founder ; Certified Appraiser

Annie Leibovitz's Sumo Book

Annie Liebovitz’s SUMO SIZE BOOK

Taschen; 2014
Signed & numbered limited edition of 10,000
19.7 x 27.2 inches, 476 pages

A limited edition of 9,000 signed and numbered copies, the Annie Leibovitz SUMO presents some of the most famed actors, musicians, artists, writers, athletes, and businesspeople of our time. Available in four different cover photos, this at once intimate and iconic portrait collection is presented with a Marc Newson designed tripod book stand and a supplementary essay compendium.

Cover selects include the following: Keith Haring, New York City, 1986; David Byrne, Los Angeles, 1986; Whoopi Goldberg, Berkeley, California, 1984; Patti Smith, New Orleans, Louisiana, 1978

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: 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: 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