An exhibit of the fiery American realist painter Joe Jones opens at the Saint Louis Art Museum Oct. 10, including a restored piece of a 44-foot mural “The Struggle of the South” owned by the UALR Archives.
The exhibit in St. Louis , which runs through Jan. 2, includes 83 paintings, mural studies, drawings, and prints — Jones’ representations of life in the American heartland driven by his commitment to proletarian causes and his identification with the working class.
“It is the first exhibition devoted to Jones’ important role as an American modernist and social critic, working amid tumultuous times of economic and racial strife,” said Andrew Walker, assistant director for curatorial affairs and curator of American art. “This exhibition focuses on the most defining years of Jones’ career; spanning a 12-year period from 1930 to 1942, when Jones emerged as a major artist and burst onto the national scene.”
Jones lived from 1909 to 1963 and worked amid the poverty of the Great Depression. His vibrant paintings achieved national acclaim in the 1930s and showcase the heart of American struggle — urban and rural, black and white, rich and poor.
Jones began as a modernist painter, but came to admire the Communist Party’s commitment to improving conditions for the working class. He eventually joined the party in 1933. Jones increasingly turned his attention to the indictment of social injustice, and his dramatic paintings and prints addressed racial and class issues, condemning the horrific practice of lynching and promoting the cause of an empowered and racially integrated proletariat.
In 1984, the UALR Archives purchased the 44-by-8-foot mural in 29 pieces known as “The Struggle of the South” painted in 1935 while Jones attended Commonweath College in Mena, founded by socialist followers of Eugene V. Debs.
The mural imagery depicts sharecropping, coal mining and lynching and was described in news accounts of the day as representing “The Struggle in the South.” In 1984, the mural painted on masonite existed in 29 pieces. It was salvaged out of an old house south of Fort Smith, Ark.
From 1985 to the present, the mural has been stored in the UALR Art Department in the Gallery Permanent Collection storage area. In 2009, representatives from the Saint Louis Museum of Art contacted UALR Gallery Director Brad Cushman to inquire about the mural’s existence and condition.
The curatorial staff from the museum visited Little Rock in 2009 and immediately began to discuss including the piece in the upcoming Jones exhibit.
“The condition of the mural would not allow this to happen, but the museum agreed
to restore a section of the mural for the exhibition at its expense,” Cushman said. “The newly restored section measures 92 inches by 91.25 inches, leaving about 37 feet remaining which still need to be restored.”
Cushman and Cheryl Hellman, director of University TV are collaborating on a documentary about the mural and the restoration project.
“It is the largest example of the artist’s work in existence and the UALR Art Department has kept watch over this mural for 25 years,” Cushman said. “Thanks to the generosity of the Saint Louis Art Museum, a portion of the mural has been restored. The next step will be to secure funding to restore the remaining sections of the mural.”
Admission to the exhibition is $8 for adults, $6 for students and seniors, $4 for children 6 to 12, free for children younger than 6, free to Members every day and free to all on Fridays. Tickets will be available at all MetroTix locations. Charge by phone at 314-534-1111 or online at metrotix.com. Tickets will also be available in person at the Museum.