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BEFORE SETTLING IN ATLANTA in 1968, Richard A. Long (1927-2013) visited Alain Locke’s home and viewed his art collection, sat for portraits in Paris with Beauford Delaney and directed the College Museum at Hampton Institute. In Atlanta, where he essentially became dean of the black arts community, Long founded the African American Studies program at Atlanta University and retired from Emory University where he was the Atticus Haygood Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies in the Graduate Institute of the Liberal Arts. A Fulbright scholar and true renaissance man, he traveled the world and over the course of his career taught English, French and linguistics, curated art exhibitions and wrote about dance. At home, he entertained James Baldwin, Romare Bearden and Maya Angelou, with his prized art collection hanging on the surrounding walls.

Artist and professor Amalia Amaki spent many hours in Long’s art-filled home. She recalls meeting him with her father at the annual Atlanta University art exhibition founded by Hale Woodruff. It was the late 1960s and she was nearing the end of high school. After her father passed away and she was pursuing a Ph.D. in 20th century American art and culture at Emory, she says Long was “like a father” to her. Last year, Long died on Jan. 4, 2013.

Tomorrow, the Oct. 9 African American fine art sale at Swann Galleries will feature Long’s art collection as commissioned by his estate. Amaki, who was curator of The Paul R. Jones Collections at the University of Delaware, Newark, and the University of Alabama, wrote the introductory essay to the sale catalog. She likens the auction to a kind of memorial service, a final opportunity to acknowledge Long’s passing and set about documenting his legacy. Amaki spoke to me by phone about Long, the art collection, and his culturally rich life and the many artists he befriended along the way.

swann 10-9-14CULTURE TYPE: Richard A. Long often gave his Emory University graduate students tours on the first day of class, bringing them to his home to view his art collection. What were they like?

AMALIA AMAKI: He taught a lot of seminars in his later teaching years and because it would be a small group of graduate students, for the most part, he could accommodate them in his home. The classes would be held in his living room where there were all these things confronting you. It was very informal. Sometimes the “tours” were just on his main level. Sometimes, depending on the interest, he would walk you through things on the main level and upstairs. The majority of the Haitian things were upstairs and on the wall leading upstairs. One of the things that I think impressed most people was that for practically everything that was in that house he had a personal story. That is what made the art seem so much more accessible. He had wonderful stories not just about [Romare] Bearden, but people like Charles Sebree and how he had acquired this beautiful William Artis head, this sculpture piece.

So what is the Bearden story?

I think their initial meeting where they had a meaningful conversation occurred on the island of its either St. Martin or St. Martine. I can’t remember which side of that island because there is a Dutch side, and then there’s the other side. I know that by the first time Richard came to Atlanta, which I believe was in 1968, he and Bearden already had a pretty good relationship. A lot of people who subsequently became friends of Bearden in the Atlanta area, like Dr. Hammond, that friendship was the result of Richard’s introduction. [His Atlanta residence is now the Hammonds House Museum.] He introduced them and they just took off and had a friendship all their own. He also played a role when Bearden was brought in for a residency at Spelman.

I know he was the point person in making a contact between [art collector] Paul Jones and Bearden. Paul got into Bearden very late. It was the result of Richard saying, “You know Paul, you should really have a Bearden in your collection.” Richard was a conduit for Bearden and a lot of people in Atlanta.

Long owned a number of Beardens. There are 14 lots in the sale. What did he say about Bearden’s art?

He thought that Bearden was a critical figure in African American art, both as an artist and as someone who, not so much as a historian, but someone who brought some very interesting conversation to the table about African American art.

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Lot 33: ROMARE BEARDEN (1911 – 1988), “Odysseus Suite,” 1979 (6 color screenprints on wove paper) | Courtesy Swann Galleries

How did Long approach collecting? Was he drawn to particular subjects, mediums or styles or was it most important to him to know the artists whose work he owned?

Some of it had to do with relationships, especially with people like [Beauford] Delaney and Bearden. But in some cases, there were situations where he got to know the artist or had some contact or relationship with the artist after he had acquired the work. For example, I know he had this paper collage, a three-dimensional piece that was done by Sam Gilliam that he acquired through a purchase opportunity with CAA [College Art Association]. He very much liked that piece and if I remember correctly, he made a comment about being excited about getting the piece in a communication he had with CAA and they passed it on to Sam Gilliam. That’s what opened up a dialogue with Sam and that happened on occasion. Also, I am trying to think of the young man from Tennessee he had a very good relationship with…

Jonathan Green?

Jonathan. Yes. Jonathan Green. He would even attend art events with him and sometimes it involved travel out of town to openings and other art exhibits and festivals. He had a very good personal relationship with the local painter Freddie Styles. In fact, we used to have a standing joke that if there were art events in Atlanta and even if it was in someone’s home, like a reception after a lecture, you could pretty much be assured that Richard and Freddie Styles would be the last to leave because they tended to hang back and exchange these humor stories.

Was he friendly with any women artists?

He had a very close long-term relationship as a collector with the late Mildred Thompson. Mildred was pretty much an abstractionist—very, very bright woman; very smart; had a close association with Germany. She had done a good bit of study and lived in Germany for very long stretches of time. She and Richard would talk about what that was like living in those environments, Richard having experienced that not only in France but also in South America. They had some very interesting conversations about being young African Americans living in Europe. That’s one of the geniuses of Richard. Richard could have a conversation in detail with almost anyone he came upon on any subject that bonded the two of you. Anything you had in common and he could speak very intimately on those subjects and that’s one of the things that just amazed me about him.

“[Mildred Thompson] lived in Germany for very long stretches of time. She and Richard would talk about what that was like living in those environments, Richard having experienced that not only in France but also in South America. They had some very interesting conversations about being young African Americans living in Europe.” — Amalia Amaki

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Lot 8: WILLIAM E. ARTIS (1914 – 1977) “Vernon,” circa 1946-50 (Terra cotta, mounted on a wood base). | Courtesy Swann Galleries

There are 47 works in the auction. What portion of his art collection does this represent?

You know, it’s hard to say. Because he had quite a bit of Haitian art in his home and I know that Haitian pieces are not a part of this auction. I would guess maybe half, maybe a little more than that.

What are your feelings about the auction?

This auction is very important, so that we can get about the business of doing some things. I am talking about those of us who are interested in seeing more concrete things done to address Richard’s legacy. When this is done we need to get to work. There needs to be a well-researched, well-written piece on Richard’s life and the voices of all of the different areas of his life need to come into that. It may take more than one I am going to use the word publication. There is the story of the educator, the story of the incredible traveler. I always tell people Richard’s a traveler. He was never a tourist. The story of him, not just as an art collector, but an art collector, who was really a true friend to artists. There’s Richard the humorist. He was one of the funniest people I knew. You never left Richard—not matter what the situation—you never left that time with him without feeling upbeat. At some point, he is going to get you to do that belly laugh. You are not just going to chuckle.

So you see the auction as sort of a wake up call?

This auction is stirring in some of us that this isn’t something we will continue to put off. A lot of artists are being affected by the auction in ways that the public may never know. The auction for some artists, especially artists who were not in Atlanta, not in some other places where memorial type of things were done for Richard, the auction is sort of the funeral. I don’t think that’s obvious to people who aren’t artists. But I think the artists are definitely feeling some degree of that. That he’s really gone.

“A lot of artists are being affected by the auction in ways that the public may never know. The auction for some artists is sort of the funeral.”
— Amalia Amaki

Given what you’ve said, what do you think about the collection being auctioned as opposed to being kept together, housed in one place to help preserve his legacy and tell his story?

I believe that was his wish, that things should be sold. So I don’t have a negative feeling about it. I think it’s just fulfilling his wishes.

When he was alive he emphasized teaching and sharing and publicizing art and exhibitions and showing his collection to others so it seems like he might have posthumously wanted to continue that in some way

You know, there is something about Richard, even though he cherished his collection in a very unique way, at the end of the day, Richard was not a materialistic kind of person. That was his fundamental nature to not hold on in that way. He was probably aware there was some… that he could benefit or gift in other ways that would be financial based on what his art could generate.

Long visited his friend Beauford Delaney in his Paris studio in 1964 and 1965 and sat for two portraits by the artist (top of page). The portraits must have held particular significance for Long. Do you recall how he talked about or described them?

He didn’t put it in those terms. He just talked in general about what it was like. There was a lot of excitement, not so much in those sittings, but he did experience a lot of excitement with that first visit to Delaney’s studio. The impression that I got was that they bonded, became friends very quickly. It was an easy transition from being introduced to developing this friendship. Richard remembers when they met it was like one of those experiences where it’s like you’ve known each other all of your lives. The two of them really understood each other’s nature and sensibilities. That was sort of the key.

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Lot 24: ALMA W. THOMAS (1891 – 1978), “Untitled (from the Space Series),” circa 1969-72 (watercolor on cotton batting). | Courtesy Swann Galleries

You really got to know and spend more time with Long while you were getting your Ph.D. at Emory.

During the Emory experience, it became routine for me to have conversations at his house. Sometimes he would just call and say, What are you doing?” And I would tell him projects I was involved in. He would say, “Before you finish that project, you need to come talk to me. What are you doing now?” [We had] impromptu visits at his house and we’d sit there and, I’m not a wine drinker, but he would sip his little wine, and usually he had juice or something for me. We’d sit there for hours and talk about Alma Thomas.

“[We had] impromptu visits at his house and he would sip his little wine, and usually he had juice or something for me. We’d sit there for hours and talk about Alma Thomas. — Amalia Amaki

How did your interactions with Long evolve when you started working in the same field as him?

Shortly after graduating from UNM I was introduced to Paul Jones and started working with the Jones collection. Richard was always kind of on the sidelines. I would put shows together for Mr. Jones and sometimes before I would finalize those projects, especially early on, Richard would critique what I did. He would say, “Next time, it would be interesting to focus on either the African American art or African art, not try to do both until you know more about them.” Little things like that, which was very important information for me at that time. He was a voice in my ear, especially in those early years.

What other kinds of advice from him stands out?

He made me very conscious that if you value what you’ve done in the field, if you think you’ve made some contribution, you may not be Picasso, but you can still be important to the story. If you feel that way about yourself, the things that you have kept that verify your history, you need to decide at a young age, when you are rational, and not so passionate as you become when you get older. He said as you get older, you become sentimental about things that maybe you shouldn’t be sentimental about.

He got me thinking about that pretty early on, so right now a good number of my papers are already at Emory in their African American archive. His thing was it’s not so important where you leave them. Everyone is going to have access to everybody’s stuff at some point. His thing was put them somewhere where they will be taken care of and they’ll be there for what we hope will be perpetuity. I probably would have thrown some things away if he hadn’t heightened my sensitivity to the need.

You said Long thought it was important for people to make decisions about their papers and things early on and I know some of his papers are at the Atlanta’s Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American History and Culture. What did he discuss with you about his art collection, about his papers, about how he wanted to be remembered in general for all of his work and pursuits?

He didn’t. I don’t think we ever had the discussion specifically along those lines. He did say that he thought the Auburn Library was a good…he really saw the Auburn Library as being a resource location for scholars of the future. He didn’t use this phrase, but you got the sense that he was saying it will probably be like the Schomburg of the South.

Really interesting.

Very important, especially in the context of African Americans and particularly people who have done important work who have lived in the Atlanta area or who have some, what he calls, Atlanta connection. He was extremely respectful of that place. Actually there are a few things from Paul’s collection that were placed there. After I made the decision to give my things to Emory, he said, “You know, find a section of your history that you will also leave at Auburn.” I am in the process of doing that.

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Lot 44: AMALIA AMAKI (1949 – ), “Blue Billie,” 1992 (cyanotype printed on cotton canvas). | Courtesy Swann Galleries

You had great relationships and connections professional and personal with two older men—Long and Paul R. Jones—collectors who led somewhat parallel lives in Atlanta.

This I will say. They had a mutually respectful kind of relationship. They did not socially interact a lot, but of course, being interested in objects in the way that they were, they would often interact at art-related things. It must have been the late 1990s or 2000, somewhere around there, Paul actually hosted a kind of appreciation dinner for Richard Long in his home. Their conversations would get to be very interesting. The vast majority of things in Paul’s collection he had contact with the artist themselves. That was his basic approach to acquiring art. In that respect, he was the only person I knew who could go toe to toe with Richard in terms of telling those kinds of stories. They were interesting to watch.

One of the works for auction is your “Blue Billie.” It that something you gave Long or did he select and buy it. How did he come to own it?

Richard was very good at dropping hints, so I was aware that he wanted something from what he called “that Billie stuff.” That’s how he always referred to it. When I finished at Emory that piece was a thank you to him and I was very touched by his reaction when he received it. He thought that was some of my signature work and he was very grateful. Very grateful. I was surprised. It was a gift to answer your question. CT

This interview was condensed and edited.

TOP IMAGE: Lot 14, BEAUFORD DELANEY (1901 – 1979), “Portrait of Richard A. Long,” 1965 (color pastels on cream wove paper). | Courtesy Swann Galleries

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Lot 45: SAM GILLIAM (1933 – ), “Untitled,” 1997 (color lithograph, handmade paper, and chine-collé). | Courtesy Swann Galleries

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Lot 46: RADCLIFFE BAILEY (1968 – ), “Until I Die/Georgia Trees and the Upper Room,” 1997 (color aquatint with drypoint and burnishing, xerography and chine collé on cream wove paper). | Courtesy Swann Galleries

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Lot 47: FREDDIE STYLES (1944 – ), “Untitled (Owl),” 1998 (acrylic on gessoed Lenox 100 Rag paper). | Courtesy Swann Galleries