Anna Russell Jones: The Art of Design

This exhibition focuses on Anna Russell Jones within the wider visual domain in the twentieth century whereby dispossessed African-descended people in the U.S. created visual cultures—invoking real and imagined lineages and ancestries—through life-long study and work in the arts.

Anna Russell Jones’s singular approach to the theory, practice, and study of the art of design expands our knowledge of the limits and odds contended with by black women artists throughout the majority of the twentieth century. Through a visual language that tested the limits of modern American identity, critically, she communicated what it meant to live in spite of race, class, and gender subjugation. As Anna Russell Jones often proclaimed, “You see, I had three strikes against me: I was a woman, black, and a freelancer.” This exhibition shines a spotlight on her collection and expands our knowledge of what it meant to forge “a way” as a woman working in twentieth century design.

The Art of Design

From 1924-1928, Russell Jones worked as an in-house rug designer at the James G. Speck Design Studio in Philadelphia, PA before setting out to establish her own studio—a tremendous accomplishment—and selling design sketches to leading rug and carpet manufacturers throughout Philadelphia, New York and Canada. Described as having a “versatile mind,” her unique and original, hand painted sketches incorporated Persian, colonial, and modern styles as she experimented with various techniques to create designs with tweed effects, self-tone, contrasting colors and other modern trends.

Praisesong for a Pioneering Spirit

Anna Russell Jones: Praisesong for a Pioneering Spirit (USA, 1993, 26 min) Meet Mrs. Anna Russell Jones, a textile designer in the1920’s and 30’s, a WAAC during World War II, and a nurse in the 1950’s- a professional career woman ahead of her times. Produced by Marlene G. Patterson. Narrated by Toni Cade Bambara. Music by Warren Oree and the Arpeggio Jazz Ensemble.

About the Guest Curator

Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Huewayne Watson is a fine and conceptual artist who mobilizes concepts of “the ancestor” to activate practices of archival research, writing, documentary photography, and printmaking as methods for attending to the multiple literacies present within various communities throughout the Americas. His work explores the culture and politics of public life as it relates to claims of autonomy and practices of memorializing past connections.

He is an Instructor in African and African American Studies in the School of Social Transformation at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona. In 2012, he was an Institute of Museum and Library Services, (IMLS) Fellow for Museum Practice at the African American Museum in Philadelphia. He now returns to guest curate Anna Russell Jones: The Art of Design.