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The original article is accompanied by a captioned photo of the partially visible grave marker which reads: “Almost completely hidden by weeds, grass and brush, Frank Jones’ grave is marked with a temporary metal cross designed and erected by Houston artist, William Steen. Times photo by Wanda Bray.” The process of securing a copy of the original article and photo has begun; it will be posted as soon as it becomes available. A second hand report gives the date of the article as June 28, 1990. The Clarksville Times P.O. Box 1018 Clarksville, Texas 75426 Phone: 903-427-5616 Fax: 903-427-3068 firstname.lastname@example.org "Prison artist's legacy remains unawarded" by Wanda Bray The gravesite is located near the banks of the meandering creek that borders the ancient Hebron Cemetery outside Clarksville city limits. The grave is easily overlooked, overgrown as it is with Johnson grass, wild vines and weeds. Isolated...lying in the gloomy shadows of the brush and trees lining the creek, the resting place of Frank Jones is but a sad testament to a life of loneliness, sorrow, destitution and human cruelty. Frank Jones was born in Clarksville. He grew to manhood here. But he died in prison where he spent much of his adult life. That was the home that Frank knew-a small cell inside a guarded building, behind prison walls. And when he died, with no one to mourn him, they shipped his naked body back to Clarksville. He was buried over 20 years ago in the black cemetery with only a small marker bearing his name, date of birth (1902) and death (1969). No tombstone, no monument to testify to his worth on this earth. But one man cared. One man alone has spend countless hours and expense trying to right the wrongs he feels that Frank Jones endured in life--and in death.
William Steen, Houston artist and member of the conservation staff of the Menil Collection (an important museum in Houston), first became aware of Frank Jones when he saw Jones' drawings in his art professors’ offices when he was a student at Sam Houston State in the late ’60’s. "There was something really special about his work, and I wanted to bring it into the foreground," Steen says. Steen began researching Jones' life more than two years ago. He believes without doubt, after speaking with many friends and relatives who knew Frank, that Jones was incapable of the crimes for which he was imprisoned. "He was a simple, honest...gentle man. Some felt he was retarded," Esterlene Coulter, Frank's second cousin, said. "My grandmother, Frank's Aunt Willie, raised us together." "Frank wasn't retarded. He was child-like, uneducated...maybe slow...he just didn't know how to defend himself against the charges," Esterlene said. “I know in my heart, he wasn't guilty of none of those things." Along with horrifying facts of Jones' life, his alleged crimes and imprisonment, Steen has unearthed 175 drawings done by Jones while he was confined in the "Walls" Unit of the Texas Department of Corrections in Huntsville. The drawings--done with red and blue leaded pencil nubs and scrap materials--feature fantastic buildings, called “devil houses” by Jones, winged spirit figures, and symbols and images common in black folklore. Jones was born into adversity--born into a world at a time in mankind's history when to be black was a stigma one could never overcome. He was born with a "caul over his face", a sure sign to the superstitious women attending his mother that he had the power to see into the spirit world, where ghosts of the dead linger to meddle in the affairs of the living. Frank believed in his power and those "haints” all of his life.
Frank remembered the stories his grandmother, his Aunt Willie and a neighbor woman, Miss Della, told him about his mother, a mixed race creole with long black hair. When Frank was three years old, she walked him downtown and left him, never to return. His father, a Clarksville butcher, refused to care for his son, so Frank's grandmother, Aunt Willie and Miss Della raised him. In 1935, Jones took in a little three year old black girl abandoned by her mother, and with his Aunt Willie's help, raised her and put her in school. The girl's mother eventually returned and charged Frank with rape when he refused to return the child. "She whipped the little girl until she said she was raped," Jones always said. He was found guilty and eventually served time in Ramsey Unit State Penitentiary. At Ramsey if an inmate misbehaved, the guards threw him into a boar pit where the wild animal would tear him apart. Another practice was to make an inmate run, then use him as a target. It was in this environment that Jones learned to adapt and survive. After parole, he returned to Clarksville, where in 1949, Della Gray--the woman who helped raise Frank--was murdered. Jones was implicated in the crime by his stepson, James Earl Culberson, who was also arrested for the murder. Jones was sentenced and sent to prison. Released on parole in 1958, Jones again returned to Clarksville where he was once more set up on a rape charge. Prison during his third and last term was different for Frank. The Texas Department of Corrections had become a model prison in the early 1960's. In this humane, more liberal atmosphere Jones began a series of revealing drawings--his devil houses, inhabited by his own inner devils. Frank felt a compelling need to externalize these devils so that he could, in his words, "clear up everything." During a 1964 Prison Art Show, a panel of art professors recognized Jones' talent. Soon after the show, his art was displayed and sold at a major art gallery in Dallas. Jones won several national juried art exhibitions and was considered a giant in the field of primitive art at the time of his death. His drawings which sold for $30 to $50 in the '60's now sell for between $2,000 and $4,500.
William Steen also learned in the course of his research that before Jones' death, he named his Dallas art dealer, Murray Smither as executor and trustee of his estate, which consisted of approximately 150 drawings. According to his will, the drawings were to be sold with the proceeds to be used to establish a Frank A. Jones scholarship fund, which would award $200 annually to a deserving high school graduate in Clarksville. In a letter which he wrote to Smither in November, 1989, after discovering the executor's failure to establish the scholarship fund, Steen informed Smither that he had consulted with an attorney "about two matters: your failure to provide a gravestone for his [Jones'] cemetery plot and your failure to use the funds remaining in his estate to establish a scholarship in his name." Steen also mentioned in the same letter the possibility of a law suit if Smither did not fulfill his obligations. A copy of the letter was sent to Dr. Gary Wilkins, superintendent of Clarksville ISD. This May at commencement exercises, a Frank Jones Scholarship was awarded, even though Smither has yet to establish a scholarship fund. The fund was financed by an anonymous donor. Smither, however, has met with representatives of the CISD in the last several weeks, and both parties are in the process of negotiating a trust agreement, according to spokespersons for the school district and Murray Smither. Eric Wayne Hayes, Clarksville senior, was the recipient of the $200 scholarship. Ironically, he plans to attend Stephen F. Austin University to major in criminal justice and art. And yet...the grave in Hebron Cemetery remains untended. The head-high weeds and dense grasses completely obscure the five foot temporary marker placed there last fall by William Steen. And those who seek justice wait still.