When Larry James ’74 was approached in 1987 about assuming the role of board president of the King Arts Complex, a culture and arts center in Columbus, Ohio, devoted to preserving and promoting the cultural expressions of African Americans, the arts community joked that what the attorney knew about art could fit in a teaspoon. But they were confident he was “trainable.”
Strongly encouraged to accept the leadership role, Larry felt he couldn’t refuse, and over the course of 35 years, he not only grew to love and appreciate Black art, he and his spouse, Donna, amassed a significant collection, including more than 60 pieces now on display at the Columbus Museum of Art. Many of the pieces in the exhibit Forward Together: Promised Gifts from the Collection of Donna and Larry James will become part of the museum’s permanent collection through a bequest by the Jameses.
After marrying in 1989, the couple created an art budget, and various mentors in the art community helped them decide which pieces to purchase. Archie Listenbee Sr., co-owner of The Listenbee Collection in Chicago, has been a significant influence from the beginning. Listenbee would introduce him to a piece of art and “from there it just blossomed,” Larry says.
“The relationship with the arts community was such that the artist would come to you.”
A managing partner of Crabbe, Brown & James LLP in Columbus, Larry initially chose pieces that were “striking to the eye.” He began looking at oils on canvas, watercolors, then sculptures.
“Once your taste and your appetite gain a little bit of sophistication, your eye adjusts,” he says. “Then you reach that point of affordability, and your span is much more open.”
Forward Together features prominent Black artists such as Elizabeth Catlett, Jacob Lawrence, and William Carter, as well as local artists Aminah Robinson, Smoky Brown, Levent Isik, and Omar Shaheed.
According to Nannette Maciejunes, executive director and CEO of the Columbus Museum of Art, the Jameses are promising nearly 60 works by 28 artists. Eighteen of those artists are currently not represented in the museum’s collection.