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Watching Devil House

1965-1966
Origin: America, Texas, Huntsville
Primary Support: 19 x 24 7/8in. (48.3 x 63.2cm); Matted: 20 1/2 x 26 3/4in. (52.1 x 67.9cm)
Colored pencils on paper
Museum Purchase, Dr. and Mrs. T. Marshall Hahn, Jr. Fund
Acc. No. 2008.201.1
A drawing of a seeming cross-section of a building, with a tower-like configuration at the left side enclosing, at its top, a clock. A peaked roof tops a ruled-off configuration of six (three over three) "rooms" below, the roof falling short and not extending completely over the far right side of the structure. All of the spaces within the structure are open and filled with abstract designs and fanciful creatures, such as the jester that fills the lower right "room" and the Phoenix-like figure that occupies the space above him. The creatures are all contained within the structure except for three that pop up above the roofline near the structure's upper right corner. The lines of the structure itself are ornamented with tooth- or teardrop-shaped barbs. The entire drawing is executed in blue and red pencils but applied with varying degrees of pressure to create lighter or darker hues. A number appears at top center and a name at bottom center.
Label:From an early age, Frank Jones realized he could see spirits or devils (he called them haints) that were not apparent to others. Between 1960 and 1964, while imprisoned on a life sentence, he began executing a remarkable series of drawings, all of them created with colored pencils, discarded stubs gleaned while tidying the prison gym.
All of Jones's drawings represent a structural framework that some liken to a cellblock (but that Jones himself identified as a "devil house"). Despite the consistency of this organizational feature, however, Jones never repeated himself, and each design is distinctive. His earliest structures were empty and comparatively simple, but over time, they increased in complexity, and he began peopling them with an amazing variety of animated forms. His spirit creatures may look harmless, even friendly. But as Jones explained, they smile "to get you to come closer . . . to drag you down and make you do bad things." Perhaps rendering them gave Jones a sense of control over them. He signed many of his drawings, including this one, with his prison number, 114591.
Jones's earliest drawings drew more derision than admiration, but that rapidly changed. On July 30, 1964, the Texas Department of Corrections held its first inmate art exhibition, and a guard entered one of Jones's works, some say out of kindness, others say as a joke. General astonishment ensued when the drawing won first prize. Over the course of the next five years, Jones's innate design skills gained increasing recognition, and he won a number of distinguished awards. He enjoyed fame only briefly, however. In 1969, on the very day he was to be paroled, he fell ill and was placed in the prison infirmary, where he died within two weeks.
Provenance:Acquired from the artist by CWF's source, Chapman Kelley, Dallas, Texas.
Inscription(s):In blue pencil at top center is "114 591". In graphite at bottom center is "JONESSARNK" [Note: the "A" is conflated with another, uncertain capital letter].
On the reverse, in the lower left corner, the number "305" is written and circled in graphite. The meaning of the reference has not been determined.