— by Mellany Armstrong, Associate Director of Communications

Above: Anna Russell Jones '24 with a portrait of herself in her U.S. Army uniform, circa 1987.

Anna Russell Jones: The Art of Design, curated by Huewayne Watson MFA ’18, is now on view at the African American Museum in Philadelphia.

Anna Russell Jones '24 was the first Black graduate of Philadelphia School of Design for Women, now known as Moore College of Art & Design. Jones was given the honorary degree doctor of fine arts from Moore in 1987.

Watson, an instructor in African and African American Studies in the School of Social Transformation at Arizona State University in Tempe, AZ, talks about his interest in her life.

"The idea for the Anna Russell Jones exhibition started with research I began conducting as a 2012 Institute for Museum and Library Services fellow at the African American Museum in Philadelphia," he said. "I was introduced and given an opportunity to take a look at her collection spanning 17 linear feet of archived material, which, at the time—during a moment of an uptick in digital and virtual interfacing— seemed to be in danger of becoming antiquated.

"I am inspired by Anna Russell Jones’ critical will to think, act and work in the defense of art as a viable path in life," said Watson. "From her early years, she had a vision and an aim in life—to be an artist. As a Black woman in the United States, she resisted and transcended some of the most egregious limitations placed on Black people in the Americas while still maintaining her genuine appreciation for, affinity to, and commitment to the advancement of the arts."

The exhibition covers details from Jones’ family and early life, including photographs and ephemera; details from her time at PSDW, including a list of coursework as well as originals and copies of archived documents such as awards and correspondences; original rug, carpet and wallpaper designs and archived documents and correspondences from her time as an in-studio designer and freelancer for James G. Speck Studios and other carpet and rug companies. 

The exhibition also features sketches, drawings and paintings from her time with the Work Projects Administration in Philadelphia, and correspondences and outlined art programs and projects for partnerships and collaborations with Black/African American schools in the mid-Atlantic region. And there are sketches, drawings, paintings and schematics from her time with the U.S. Army, including her actual uniform with badges.

Jones was born 1902 in Jersey City, NJ, and died at the age of 93 in 1995.