Frank Albert Jones
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  • Frank Albert Jones (1900–1969)
  • Huntsville, Texas
  • c. 1964–1969
  • Colored pencil and pencil on paper
  • 30 x 40 in.
  • American Folk Art Museum, gift of Chapman Kelley, 2003.21.1
  • Some communities are unexpected, such as the community that evolves from prison life. Prison systems develop into places where prisoners are both colleagues and adversaries to one another, where relationships are established based on power, love, money, and time. Within the environment of prison life, unlikely artistic expressions have flowered over time and over cultures. Tattooing is perhaps the most commonly known artistic expression in prison life, but there are numerous examples of more fully developed arts, which are often allowed to mature in the gray environment of incarceration.

    In 1964, Frank Jones was serving a life sentence for murder at the Texas state penitentiary in Huntsville when he began to salvage red and blue accountants’ pencil stubs and discarded paper from the prison office where he worked. With this limited palette, he rather quickly developed his singular forms and subjects, architectural structures constructed from barbed-wire-like shapes. He called them “devil houses” and peopled them with “haints,” or ghosts. Each creature smiles, so as, in the artist’s words, “to get you to come closer . . . to drag you down and make you do bad things.” Some of his drawings recall the architecture of a penitentiary. The codes of communal prison life—the cell, the barbed wire, the clock, the dehumanized creatures—are evident everywhere. Jones signed many of his drawings with only his prison number, further marking the community and the culture from which this artwork was born.
  • Photo by Gavin Ashworth