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November 09, 1990 - Image 79

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1990-11-09

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The DIA's Nancy Jones
has personal and
professional ties to
the art of Mexico.


Special to The Jewish News

struggling with, which she
had been raised to feel she
should choose. "I loved the
humanities — art, music,
literature. And that's what
I'm good at."
She picked a course, almost
at random, from Wayne's
catalogue; it fit in with her
babysitter's schedule. Art
history, Italian Baroque. One
week and she was hooked.
After graduation, by this
time divorced with the two
children to raise, Ms. Jones
landed a job at the Detroit In-
stitute of Arts. She was stuck
at a computer, endlessly
cataloguing the museum's
collection. During this grim
period she dreamed of chuck-
ing it all and moving to
It was 1985, Linda Downs,
head of the education depart-
ment at the museum, was
putting together a retrospec-
tive of painter Diego Rivera.
Ms. Jones did some transla-
tion for Ms. Downs, since
much of the correspondence
was in Spanish. The women
worked well together; Ms.
Jones had an encyclopedic
knowledge of the museum's
collection, a fluency in
Spanish, and an intellectual
rigor which made her perfect
for the job. She also had a
warmth and out-spokenness
which was a nice foil for Ms.
Downs' cool reserve.
It was a good partnership.
Ms. Jones was transferred to
the education department.
She canceled the move to
Patagonia. "I thought I had
died and gone to heaven."
There is something about
Nancy Jones that acts as a
magnet for people's interest
and admiration, although if
you point this out, the look
you get is skeptical. Never-
theless, when she was in Mex-
ico, where she was sent to get
loan forms and authoriza-
tions signed by individuals
who were lending works to
the Rivera show, she made
some good friends and
remarkable acquaintances.
Manuel Alvarez Bravo is
the grandaddy of Mexican art
photography. The DIA has

Ms. Jones browses through a catalogue from a
recent show.

some wonderful examples of
his work. He was one of the
individuals Ms. Jones was to
"I had not been able to
reach him by phone. I could
not find his number. I only
had his address. Fernando
(her driver) and I drove to
Coyoacan, and found the
street, a gorgeous, very an-
cient part of Mexico City. I
knocked on his door, and the
"muchacha," the employee,
came to the door. The houses
are closed in by walls so you
can't see the house behind the
She announced herself, and
the door was closed again.
She found herself waiting in
the street. "I didn't know if he
was home, or if he would let
me in. I had no idea."
Finally, she was admitted.
"I was led through this tiny
little yard and into the house,
which was, honestly, like
entering a black and white
photograph. Alvarez Bravo

photographs mostly in black
and white. The house was at-
mospherically very black and
white and gray.
"Even when there was col-
or in the house, it seemed to
become a shade of gray. It was
an extraordinary environ-
ment, like being in a
Alvarez Bravo was drawn
to her and they spent a very
long time talking, before they
even got to the loan forms.
"He was delightful, an oc-
togenarian very alert and
bright-eyed and naughty." He
insisted that she come back to
be photographed by him, and
she did. He took many
photographs, and although
she's never seen them, still,
"it was an extraordinary ex-
The artist Juan Coronel,
Diego Rivera's grandson, has
become one of Ms. Jones'
dearest friends despite an in-
auspicious beginning. It was
arranged that he take her to

meet his father, Rafael Cor-
onel, who was a donor.
She was a little nervous as
she waited for him in the
stark atmosphere of the
former home of artist Frida
Kahlo, one of Diego's wives.
"Juan came in very formal,
although he looked very
sleepy and a little dis-
gruntled. You could see he
was very well trained to be
polite and do his duty, but I
could just read in his de-
meanor, 'Who is this
gringa?' "
Ms. Jones was eager to see
Rafael Coronel's remarkable
collection of Mexican folk
masks. "His house was a
studio he designed himself, a
huge space, with windows
Ms. Jones was entranced.
"There were over 6,000
masks. They were hanging on
the walls from floor to ceiling.
They were on every flat sur-
face, every table, every chain
Rafael must have lived in
seven square feet. In order for
all of us to sit down, we had
to move some of the masks.
"I remember being stupe-
fied walking into someone's
house and seeing that it had
been taken over by these very
powerful images. You can
barely see the individual
masks for the whole
cacaphony of masks. I
remember saying to Rafael,
`At least you don't get lonely
here,' and he said, 'Yes, but
they're very noisy at night.' "
Hundreds of these masks
are now in New York for an
exhibition. In December, they
will travel to the Cranbrook
Museum of Art in Bloomfield
Hills for an exhibition conti-
nuing through February
In the fall of 1985, Ms.
Jones returned to Mexico
with a DIA delegation. When
they left, she remained
behind to tie up loose ends for
the Rivera retrospective. On
Sept. 15, 1985, at 7:19 a.m.,
Nancy Jones was asleep on
the 11th floor of a 12-story
building. She awoke to the
realization that the building
"was moving back and forth,

like an upside down pen-
dulum." An earthquake.
"The sound was unreal, a
rumbling, groaning, primor-
dial sound that seemed to
come out of one's heart and
envelop you. The hanging
lamp was swinging back and
forth, smashing into the ceil-
ing with each swing.
"I expected to die. I thought
of my kids immediately, and
I realized how absolutely im-
potent we ultimately are in
terms of what we can do for
our children. I couldn't be
there to help them go on with
their lives. I prayed that
they'd. have enough inner
resources to get on with their
lives, and get over the loss of
their mother. Then I realized
there was nothing more I
could do for them."
It took her two days to get
out of Mexico, but she quick-
ly returned. "If it hadn't been
for my children, I wouldn't
have left. I'm a very crazed
person in a lot of ways. I left
not knowing if my friends
were safe. I needed to get back
to see that life was continu-
ing. I just needed to, in a way,
so that I could get on with
mine." And she needed to
make sure the Rivera retro-
spective would take place. It
was to be a memorial to all of
those who died in the

"Art history is such a broad
field. When you are studying
it, you are studying
everything because art is
everything. It reflects all
aspects of human experience,
from social organization to
economic systems, to very
personal kinds of expression.
If you want to talk about and
explore art, nothing is taboo.
It reveals parts of my humani-
ty and everyone's humanity
constantly. It's a constant
"Precious Legacy" was an
exhibit of Jewish artifacts
from Czechoslovakia which
had been preserved by the
Nazis for "a museum of a
dead race." When it came to
the DIA, Ms. Jones was in-



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