Fonda recently answered some questions for Vogue about her extraordinary collection, including what first attracted her to these pieces, how they relate to our current Conversation and why now is the perfect time for her to part ways with them. : How did you first start collecting the work of Black Southern artists?
Jane Fonda: at , I met the late art collector and art historian Bill Arnett who introduced me to what he called “the black vernacular self-taught artist of the American South,” and I was blown away. For decades I’ve been collecting American plein air painters of the ‘s, mostly women and native California painters. These are the landscapes I grew up with. I had just parted ways with Ted Turner and was drawn to the audacity and whimsy of this art in a way I hadn’t realized before.
What attracts you to these artists and their works?
The artists that fascinated me, especially Thornton Dial and Lonnie Holley, were raised in violence and poverty. Dale worked at a steel mill in Birmingham, Alabama, carving the mill’s slag. He destroyed most of his early work—he feared that the black worker would be murdered if the white boss thought he believed he was an artist, which was unthinkable for black people in the Jim Crow South. What fascinates me about these artists is how they find ways to express themselves and their lived experiences: unique, bold and vivid. One of the Dial pieces hanging in my house is a six foot piece called Taking Cover. It’s made from bedspreads and tablecloths as well as plastic flowers, stuffed dinosaurs, and other found items. Bill told me Dale expressed his belief that women need to hide their powers (like hiding under the covers) in order to survive or risk being destroyed (like dinosaurs).
What was the first piece you got and what impressed you about it?
My first piece was the one Bill Arnett showed me, Charleston Gardens. It was black slaves who created the wrought iron grates that adorn wealthy homes and cemeteries in Charleston. However, they cannot be buried in those cemeteries, nor can they relax in those gardens. The almost three-dimensional artwork represents ironwork around the cemetery. There is a snake crawling under the iron border, representing that black people, despite their racism, will find a way out in due time. Perhaps the bright yellow sun rising in the corner represents that era.