Arts & Culture

Grace Visits: Natalie Barkely Brown Jones

Natalie Barkley Brown Jones is petite and has an elegant bearing; her soft, modulated intonation belies the strength and perseverance essential to her journey through the multi-faceted worlds she has inhabited. She has faced a vortex of challenges and has achieved goals once considered unattainable in an era when women were meant to be wives and mothers to the exclusion of anything else; she grew up constrained not only by society’s racial strictures but by deeply held religious and family traditions. “A woman is to be a complement to her husband,” was an oft-repeated mantra.

A delicacy of compassion and empathy toward her fellow beings has always been an underlying ethical component of Natalie’s life, from the early years in the 1960s and 1970s as the wife of the distinguished Reverend William A. Jones Jr., pastor of the Bethany Baptist Church in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, raising their four children, to becoming Arts Administrator for AT&T, managing one of the largest, most diverse corporate art collections in the country. Her involvement with visual arts continued post-retirement when she worked from 2004 to 2009 for the Brooklyn Arts Council’s Literacy Arts Programs to increase literacy in Brooklyn public schools, and for the past twelve years as an assistant working at the June Kelly Gallery, in Soho, New York City.

Despite a whirlwind of professional activity, Natalie has always found the time to fulfill her own passion to draw, paint, or write children’s stories, often based on her childhood growing up in segregated Louisville, Kentucky where the family lived above her father’s portrait photography studio. Although her father was a college graduate, because of segregation he found no classes or mentors to help hone his craft, so he taught himself, exhibiting a resilience and fortitude that his daughter inherited.

When she was 18 years old, Natalie married a Southern Baptist Minister whom she describes as a “fearless civil rights activist who later marched with Dr. Martin Luther King in the Birmingham and Selma protests, and helped to register Mississippi voters during the time when Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney were murdered.” During these periods of intense anxiety, Natalie stayed home with the children, acutely aware of the danger and hatred scorching the country. “I was scared stiff whenever he went away, slept with my two children . . . huddled together in my bed. It could be days before I knew his welfare.” The difficulty of communicating over the phone with her husband at a crucial time in American history galvanized Natalie into a period of fertile work, art being a source of courage and a way of working through her angst.  She would go downstairs in the middle of the night and begin to draw and paint, wrapping herself tightly in a cocoon of beauty, allowing the art process to express both the exhilaration and bewilderment of the unknown.

“STRANGE FRUIT,” 40 x 30 inches , acrylic, sand and dental floss, ca.1964– 68.

STRANGE FRUIT (ca. 1964–1968) is a mixed-media painting that penetrates the underbelly of the nation’s psyche where evil is rooted in a boiling caldron of malevolence. The title comes from Billie Holiday’s song—“Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze/ Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees”—Sand is clinging to the all-white “hanging tree,” applied like a bandaged dressing for the weeping wounds of the lynched young men dangling from its branches.

 

“SHE WHO WAS THE PREACHER’S ONCE -YOUNG BRIDE,” 20 x 14 inches, graphite on paper, 1975.

SHE WHO WAS THE PREACHER’S ONCE—YOUNG BRIDE (1975) depicts a woman whose features are an amalgam of three generations—Natalie, her mother, and her maternal grandmother—a female line of descendants looking through a generational window to the ascending rows of church pews, a gentle breeze blowing a diaphanous curtain of changes from the past into the present.

Join the conversation

  • Stephen Davis March 11, 2017 at 5:50 pm

    While I admired her husband so very much for his dynamic leadership thru some very tough times in our nation’s history, we have had many black ministers in our country’s history. For me, it was always the black women of those ministers and other leading/not so leading men that was the backbone of a seismic permanent changes in all of American society. There was a time they took care of the family, community sometimes at the cost of their own development.. But Natalie Barkley Brown Jones helped to break the mold!

    Seems to me, being the wife of a nationally prominent minister is all consuming in itself. So, for her find her artist voice in such a brilliant paintings as her “Strange Fruit”, go back to school to be in art, become THE curator of one of the most extensive and art collection in the world for one of the world’s largest American corporation at the time…all the while being black, raising a wonderful family and being so humble was just… so”cool”. It was like Ginger Rodgers doing the same moves as Fred Astaire…only backwards! Her children carry on the dual legacies of two very accomplished parents with style and grace. Why? Natalie’s sensitivity, kindness, grace have shone and continues to shine through her involvement in art, whether through teaching, adminstrating, selling or admiring. It’s prime example of why “art in all schools” is so very important and must be properly funded along with music. There is another Natalie Barkley Brown Jones out there and we need to find her! Great article…

    Reply
    • Grace Graupe-Pillard March 23, 2017 at 8:20 am

      Thank you very much.

      Reply
  • Gwendolyn Carmichael March 10, 2017 at 3:00 pm

    Natalie, I found the article we spoke of earlier. Don’t know how I missed it. It was like being introduced to my own sister. I knew your love of Art, and even knew of the challenges you were faced with over the years. But Grace Pillard in the article, Redefining Life after Forty, helped me see and appreciate even more not only your artistic ability but the motivation and drive that you pursue even to this day. A beautiful story of your life, and how at different times you were able to express the reality of it all through your Art. Very inspiring. Thank you Grace Graupe-Pillard.

    Reply
    • Grace Graupe-Pillard March 11, 2017 at 1:53 pm

      Thank you for your thoughts, Gwendolyn. Appreciated.

      Reply
  • Jean Marquis,Ph.D. March 6, 2017 at 6:32 pm

    I am elated that Grace Graupe-Pillard has written such an insightful review and recognition of Natalie Barkely Brown Jones as artist and woman for she has not only recognized Natalie’s artistic talent and achievements, but also her beautiful life story. I had the good fortune to meet Natalie in the early seventies. As I entered her beautiful, decorated home, I was received by this charming, petite, beautiful woman who embraced and welcomed me. She was like a work of art, so dainty and demure with that lovely way of speaking and surrounded by two beautiful children. I knew at that moment she would be my friend.

    Throughout the following years, I saw her as a caring, loving mother and devoted wife. Her family was her first priority and so her artistic yearnings and development were given short shrift because she was first and foremost wife and mother par excellence .And her pot roast was to die for. I remember how happy I was to see her one day on the campus of Brooklyn College where I was teaching. We embraced and she told me she was in the art department taking courses. I was thrilled to see that finally she had the opportunity to pursue her dreams.

    Her art work exemplifies her persona and personal obstacles she has faced in her life as exemplified by Dare I Believe in Myself. Despite everything, she has always remained Natalie, someone whom you can depend on and who remaines socially active and committed through her participation in voter registration and other community based activities. Not only was she always there for her family, but also for her community.

    Although we don’t see each other often, we are only a phone call away when we need each other for support, encouragement and a few laughs. Thank you Natalie for being there for me, always uplifting. Thank you Grace Graupe-Pillard for your insightful article which so aptly describes Natalie Barkely Brown Jones as artist and as an phenomenal woman .

    Reply
    • Grace Graupe-Pillard March 8, 2017 at 10:33 pm

      Jean Marquis – Thank you so much for your comments which really wanted me to taste that “pot roast.” But in all seriousness, I am in agreement with your characterization of Natalie. Much appreciated.

      Reply
      • Jean Marquis March 8, 2017 at 11:42 pm

        My pleasure. I hope some day that you will have the opportunity to taste that pot roast. You will not be disappointed.

        Reply
  • Joyce Coates Tyson March 5, 2017 at 5:59 pm

    Through more than 70 remarkable years of friendship, I have learned to love and appreciate the intrigue of Natalie’s artistic expression. Her early 1950’s superb sketches from the window of Bon Ton – a women’s clothing store where we were allowed to purchase but not try on in segregated Louisville, Kentucky – were as precise and detailed as the works that she painstakingly created over the ensuing decades! With deepest admiration and respect for her craft, I have seen Natalie turn to and often bury herself in art during times of crisis and challenge as well as in times of joy. All children who were fortunate enough to be part of her life – (her own, their friends and their pets) instinctively learned to maneuver around around her canvases and supplies. As an artist, her many acts of kindness to children included casual museum,gallery and studio visits for all !
    Natalie’s artistic expression has always reflected strength and courage. Her early examples were set forth by the guidance of her soft-spoken mother and her pioneering, creative photographer father.
    Thank you, Grace,
    Joyce Coates Tyson

    Reply
    • Grace Graupe-Pillard March 8, 2017 at 10:34 pm

      Thank you Joyce for your comments. Lovely.

      Reply
  • Natalie Barkley Jones March 5, 2017 at 4:52 pm

    The Brief Time I Have Known You As A Facebook Friend Has Been Glorious….You Are A Woman Who Has been And Continues To Be On The Front Line Of The Struggle….I Just Recently Found Out About Your Gift As A Artist…Great Work….Continue Your Journey….You Make Us Proud….Blessings. (Iris Robinson comment on Natalie’s timeline)

    Reply
    • Natalie Barkley Jones March 5, 2017 at 5:27 pm

      Thank you, Iris Robinson…I, too, am enjoying our Facebook conversations.

      Reply
  • Henry L. Jones March 5, 2017 at 2:14 am

    I enjoyed reading about Natalie and seeing more of her striking images. I’ve longed to see more. Grace, your well written article enabled that. Plus, I learned more about Natalie which inspired me more. We’re very proud of her contributions and dedication to the arts and beyond.

    Reply
    • Grace Graupe-Pillard March 8, 2017 at 10:35 pm

      Henry L. Jones – I am gratified that you enjoyed the article. Thank you.

      Reply
  • Deborah Field March 4, 2017 at 8:22 am

    A visual “roar” full of light and color encouraging and guiding rather than intimidating and shutting down! I had the pleasure of working with Natalie during those Brooklyn Arts Council Book Arts projects and to read some of her personal stories. This knack for encouraging others to find their voices, even within large groups of clamoring demands, and her own exquisite telling of difficult experiences with the sensitive use of light, color, voice and delicate lines, and her willingness to stop and listen, make Natalie one of my cherished mentors. Her active voice today keeps me inspired and motivated to stoke my own vision and voice. Thank you for writing this article to give more people the opportunity to know her and potentially feel the encouragement to live their own noble life!!

    Reply
    • Grace Graupe-Pillard March 4, 2017 at 8:32 pm

      Beautifully conveyed. Thank you Deborah Field.

      Reply
  • Devonne Cain March 4, 2017 at 5:46 am

    This is a wonderful and well deserved article. I have benefited from Natalie Barkley Jones creativity in more ways than one. She has always shared her gift so freely ( from hanging pictures, suggesting locations, correcting disasters lol …) and I am grateful. Loved watching her as a child sit on her chair ( that Now sits in my kitchen) and create masterpieces! Love you!

    Reply
    • Grace Graupe-Pillard March 4, 2017 at 8:33 pm

      Lovely. Thank you.

      Reply
  • Carolyn McClair March 4, 2017 at 3:56 am

    What a fabulous article on Natalie Barkley Jones! She and her work are mighty voices for art, for women and all people. Thank you for touching my heart.

    Reply
    • Grace Graupe-Pillard March 4, 2017 at 8:34 pm

      Natalie has been an inspiration — thank you.

      Reply
  • Suzan Globus March 3, 2017 at 12:55 pm

    Natalie Barkely Brown Jones’ journey and art resonate today. Thank you for your beautifully written description of her remarkable life.

    Reply
    • Grace Graupe-Pillard March 4, 2017 at 2:17 pm

      Thank you for commenting Suzan

      Reply
  • Tracey Butler March 3, 2017 at 9:04 am

    Such a powerful artist, wife, mother, grandmother. As I read about the life and loves of this remarkable woman, I feel. I feel her fears, I feel her pain, I feel her passion and I feel her joy. Thank you for sharing Mrs. Jones’ story. I feel…

    Reply
    • Grace Graupe-Pillard March 4, 2017 at 2:18 pm

      Thank you for your words

      Reply
  • Margo McKenzie March 3, 2017 at 7:24 am

    Loved the artwork and the story behind each one.

    Reply
  • Mari Moss-Yawn March 3, 2017 at 6:18 am

    Natalie Barkley Brown, I love your art work. It is thought provoking and inspiring. I am amazed at all that you have been able to do throughout your life. What a legacy and a journey. – Love

    Reply
  • Virginia March 2, 2017 at 1:28 pm

    I am honored to know this amazing woman and artist.

    Reply
    • Grace Graupe-Pillard March 4, 2017 at 2:18 pm

      I am too.

      Reply
    • Natalie B Jones March 6, 2017 at 2:47 pm

      Thank you, Virginia Manuel. I so appreciate your comment as well as our friendship.

      Reply
  • patty niebling March 2, 2017 at 8:11 am

    beautiful write-up about Natalie, makes me sorry I don’t know more about her…..

    Reply
    • Grace Graupe-Pillard March 4, 2017 at 2:18 pm

      Now you do. Thanks.

      Reply
    • Natalie B Jones March 6, 2017 at 2:48 pm

      Thank you for the most gracious compliment, Patty Niebling….

      Reply
  • Seitu Jemel Hart March 2, 2017 at 1:42 am

    This article is Great – I love the spotlighting of our modern day sheroes

    Reply
    • Natalie B Jones March 6, 2017 at 2:51 pm

      Thank you, Seitu Jemel Hart, Grace Graupe-Pillard adds light to my life. I very much appreciate her finding my 78 year journey worthy of her putting fingers to the computer keys.

      Reply
  • Jennifer Austin March 1, 2017 at 9:06 pm

    Grace, thank you for telling Natalie’s story and sharing her work. Her story is truly inspiring, and her artwork is visually captivating, especially when you appreciate the emotions out of which it was born. Wonderful to know the impact her life has had and continues to have on so many people.

    Reply
    • Grace Graupe-Pillard March 4, 2017 at 2:19 pm

      Appreciate your words Jennifer. Thanks so much.

      Reply
  • Natalie Barkley Jones February 28, 2017 at 12:19 pm

    Thank you, Grace Graupe-Pillard for finding my life of interest about which to write. Your approaching me was indeed an honor. It has been a most rewarding near 78 years and I would say you most definitely captured my appreciation for and joy about the venues that comprise my journey. My children and grandchildren will find this account about their Mimi Ma most enjoyable. Again, thank you.

    Reply
    • grace graupe-pillard February 28, 2017 at 2:43 pm

      My great pleasure!

      Reply
  • Johanne Bryant-Reid February 28, 2017 at 11:44 am

    It is wonderful to read this story. I have not met Natalie Jones but her William Jones was my pastor. I know her children and help find jobs for her son. She is a wonderful force. Would love to get a chance to meet her and share stories.

    Reply
    • grace graupe-pillard February 28, 2017 at 2:42 pm

      Johanne- would be lovely to introduce two women who I have written about.

      Reply
  • APA February 28, 2017 at 10:38 am

    Thank you Grace for introducing us to Natalie Jones- an inspiring ,intelligent and talented woman. Love what she has done with her life

    Reply
    • grace graupe-pillard February 28, 2017 at 2:44 pm

      Thank you for commenting!

      Reply
  • Grace Graupe-Pillard February 28, 2017 at 7:48 am

    I am very honored to have had the opportunity to write about Natalie Barkley Brown Jones. Thank you Natalie!

    Reply