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The New York Times, Monday, May 29, 1995

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Black Collectors' Heritage in Art

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Associated Press

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books. Mrs. Kelley trained as a docent at the San Antonio Museum of Art. Mr. Tibbs enjoyed his assignment. "One of the things I liked about working with them is that they read," Mr. Tibbs said. "They are serious collectors. They're not just after pretty pictures."

Even so, there were mistakes. At first the Kelleys were interested only in oils on canvas, which to them were the only great art. Once they bought what they thought were drawings by William H. Johnson, an abstractionist of the W.P.A. period, from an art dealer in San Francisco, but the works turned out to be forgeries. (They were able to get their money back.) They also leaned more toward the gentle, traditional portraits and landscapes of the 19th century, passing up opportunities to buy bolder, more modern works, by Lawrence and Douglas, for example, which the Kelleys' younger daughter, Jennifer, liked. "If I had listened to her I could have purchased things in 1987 at a lot better price," Dr. Kelley once ruefully told an interviewer.

Soon, the walls of their three-story Georgian house were covered. There were portraits by Joshua Johnson, a 19th-century Baltimore artist; landscapes by Grafton T. Brown, the first well-known black artist on the West Coast, and by Mitchell Bannister, a noted Rhode Islander; still lifes by Charles Ethan Porter, Mrs. Kelley's favorite, and rural images like Hale A. Woodruff's "Sharecropper Boy," which reminded Dr. Kelley of his youth when he worked in his father's cotton field in central Texas. 

"Maybe we let some things slide and devoted our time, energy and money to this," Mrs. Kelley said, explaining how they were able to amass the collection. "If we were to start now, we probably wouldn't be able to do it. Suddenly, there is sort of a renaissance of interest in these pieces."

The Kelleys said that collecting had also brought intangible rewards. They feel they are supporting contemporary black artists. They have sparked an interest in art among their friends. They have even inspired one friend, Anthony Charles Edwards, to begin painting himself; he has work in the show. Mrs. Kelley said that the decision to plunge into the world of collecting had been "scary" and had forced them to face up to their own lack of knowledge. But she said that others who want to follow their example should not feel daunted.

"You need to have a sense of purpose," she said. "Decide what you want to do, have a plan and buy the best you can afford. A lot of people just want something on the walls real quick. But you really have to do research and put your time in it, just like you would any other investment."
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