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An interview with Eugene Foney, conducted by Sarah C. Reynolds

First acquisition

I came to Texas Southern University in the 70s to pursue an MBA. In the process of making that decision, I was walking down the street in Chicago and looked into the window of a small shop that made cabinets and furniture, but in the front of this space [the owner] had a little gallery. I saw a picture in the window and went in and engaged him about what the picture cost. We went back and forth and he told me it was $15, which I thought was an incredibly high price to be charging for something of that nature—and I left. But I couldn’t get the picture out of my mind. A couple of days later, I went back. We continued our conversation and I told him what I was getting ready to do. I ended up putting the picture on lay-away and purchasing it, which kind of started a relationship. He told me that if I was coming to Texas, he had some materials—small reproductions—Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and others of that stature, that people in Texas had probably never seen, and that I could make book money while I was pursuing my degree.

So I came to Houston with an armful of pictures and the first person I met at Texas Southern was Professor Ron Bearden, who had been hired by the University to beef up the School of Business accreditation program. Me and Ron became friends at the University and I was his student assistant for a period throughout the program. I was selling these pictures on the side, and different people started coming to me asking how to get different pieces of art.

Eugene Foney. Courtesy of Eugene Foney.

First collection, fateful meeting

An old friend of mine in Chicago got a purchase order to put together a 30-piece art collection for the City of Chicago, at one of their branch libraries. And in there were a number of notable African American names: Jacob Lawrence, Romare Bearden, John Biggers—and she asked me, did I think I had the capability of putting this collection together.

Not really having any knowledge of how prominent these artists were, my first inclination was, “no problem.” So I went to the library—this is maybe 1977—and I got a book, a bibliography on African American artists, and started going through the list. And of course, I came to John Biggers’ name, and I looked and said, “Hmmm. He’s at Texas Southern.” I’m in the School of Business, which is at the far end of the campus, and the art department is at the opposite end. So there had never been any engagement between me and him, other than I had seen some of the murals on the wall. So I got myself together and went over and introduced myself to him, and I told him about the project that I was getting ready to do. He said no problem, that I could buy a couple of pieces from him and pay him down the line.

He went back and brought out a lithograph from the 50s entitled Cotton Pickers, and as soon as I saw that picture I got that same feeling all over again, that had brought me into this whole program. So we kind of cut a deal, and I was looking at it and feeling very good about the piece, and then upon close examination I saw a small triangular hole that was embedded in a piece of cotton. I queried Dr. Biggers about this and he looked at it, looked me in the eye and said, “Well, you know…I only did ten of those and that was where a worm ate through the whole edition. I think that probably makes it worth more money.”

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Source:  OpenStax, Houston reflections: art in the city, 1950s, 60s and 70s. OpenStax CNX. May 06, 2008 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col10526/1.2
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