The Writing on the Wall

"Time to Unite" at 41st and Drexel. Photo by Isaac Dalke

In the dim and cozy gallery, visitors to the South Side Community Art Center congregated for “Images of the Past,” a commemoration of late artist Calvin B. Jones. While snacking on crackers, cookies, and other delectables, those who knew him well mingled with those who only knew of him, and friends shared their memories with anybody who would listen. In the background, a duo of musicians played African drums, setting a lively and joyous mood that seemed to evoke the jolly Mr. Jones himself.

Born on January 7, 1934, Calvin B. Jones proved to be a gifted artist from a young age, exhibiting such talent that the Art Institute of Chicago offered him a full scholarship. While Jones initially worked in advertising, after seventeen years he left the commercial arena and devoted his talents to fine art. His work deals explicitly with social issues, especially race. From charcoal drawings to paintings, the exhibit at the South Side Community Art Center demonstrates Jones’s versatility as an artist. Slide shows and videos wowed viewers with the bright colors and sharp forms that are a trademark of Jones’s work. The abstract nature of Jones’ work drew everyone present at the memorial together, creating a sense of community in their appreciation for powerful and emotional art.

But Jones’s most treasured masterpieces cannot be found within the confines of a gallery. Instead, one must travel the streets of city’s South Side to behold the artwork that propelled Jones to the height of his fame. The first and perhaps most well-known example sits on a wall located at the corner of 41st Street and Drexel Avenue: a mural that reads “A Time to Unite” in bold, marigold yellow against a collage of scenes from African-American history. When shown at the reception, “A Time to Unite” was greeted by nods and murmurs of approval not only because of the mural’s vibrancy but also because of Jones’ message–the need for solidarity among the African-American community.

“Jones had a lot of pride,” a close friend of Jones’ declared in an address about the artist and his art, “He had a lot of pride in his community, his surroundings, and his roots. If you looked at his work, you would know the man because he painted his soul.”

Described as “strong” and “bold,” the art pieces displayed at the memorial reflected Jones’ desire to unite African-Americans through art, and to create a sense of togetherness that permeated his surroundings. Jones’ contribution to art, though many pieces are decades old, is still greeted with the utmost respect and admiration from the South Side community. In honor of Jones’ vision, the Art Center’s reception brought together guests with music, libations, and personal accounts from people who were close to the artist. Laughter and smiles filled the room as anecdotes about Jones’ teasing nature surfaced, injecting energy and life that diffused through the entire Art Center.

However, the memorial made it clear that Jones’ message to African-Americans was not limited to the concept of unity. Progress through love and compassion characterizes Jones’ ultimate goal, with his art depicting every aspect of it. As the South Side Community Art Center director, Diane Carr, proclaimed to her audience while quoting Jones, “Our history is great, but our future is greater.” From the caring and kind atmosphere that made up the memorial, Jones’ legacy can be seen everywhere, even in the smallest of brushstrokes.

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