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Givers' gain philosophy pays off for gallery owner


Sitting on a bean-shaped leather couch in the back room of the R. Roberts Gallery in Jacksonville’s historic Avondale, gallery owner Jennifer Jones explained her interpretation of artist Mackenzie Thorpe’s painting “The Road of Love is a Long One,” hanging on a nearby wall. 


“This piece features a beautiful heart being pulled by the every child through what could be perceived as a barren life journey, but also could be perceived as peace and solidarity,” said Jones, who graduated from the University of North Florida in 1999 with a bachelor’s degree in art history and literature. “The moon represents the hope and grace shining down on us as we carry everything we love through our journey ‑ and it’s not heavy; it’s very large but very buoyant because we are so loved.” 


Perhaps those words could describe Jones’ own life journey, which has taken the 34-year-old entrepreneur from being a naïve college student unsure of her future path to a confident, passionate business owner, mother, wife, philanthropist and a recipient of UNF’s 2010 Outstanding Alumni Award.  


In the ‘90s as a UNF student “on the five-year plan,” Jones contemplated earning a degree in business, then education, but “kept hitting a wall of some kind” and had trouble finding her passion. It wasn’t until she enrolled in a required Art Survey class taught by UNF Art and Design Professor Debra Murphy that Jones finally was inspired to follow her love of art history and create a career in the arts. 


“I was completely captivated by Dr. Murphy, who was clearly passionate about what she was teaching us,” Jones said. “Her passion is sharing art history with her students, including all of its periods and phases and renaissances and cultures, and I really sensed that she could talk about the Byzantine period 500 times and never tire of it. It fed her soul – and I realized that I could see myself in her shoes.” 


Along the path, Jones stumbled upon R. Roberts Gallery on St. Johns Avenue. She met Richard Roberts, the gallery’s former owner, when she was on her way to meet friends at a jazz club across the street from the gallery. Roberts needed a salesperson and she, with a year left until graduation, needed experience. She said the match was “like peanut butter and jelly.” 


Jones worked at the gallery from 1998 to 2000, took an 18-month hiatus to move to Raleigh, N.C., to work for the fifth-grossing gallery in the country, a valuable experience she described as “art consultant boot camp.”  When Roberts offered her the position of director of the gallery (and dangled a carrot that she’d transition to owner/president), she returned and began grooming herself for ownership over the next seven years. 


Now two-plus years into ownership, Jones is grateful the gallery has survived the economic recession at a time when 22 other local galleries have gone under. Jones attributes this success to a core group of dedicated clients who continue to buy artwork and to the gallery’s diverse calendar exhibiting a balanced mix of artwork from world-renowned masters like Picasso, Renoir and Manet to international artists like Mackenzie Thorpe and Peter Max, to well-known and emerging artists like Overstreet Ducasse, Franklin Matthews and Tony Rodriguez.  


“It’s really lovely to be able to bring in clients who are interested in seeing a Renoir and expose them to someone like Overstreet Ducasse, an amazing Haitian artist whose work is very intellectual, creative and politically charged,” she said. “I love it.” 


A big part of what Jones does now is exercise her “givers’ gain” philosophy, giving back to the community by selling artwork to raise funds for numerous local non-profits groups – and also for UNF.  


“Anytime we have an opportunity to give a percentage of proceeds, we do,” Jones said. “It’s not only an opportunity for us to give back and enhance the community, but it’s also a wonderful way for us to meet wonderful people, and frankly, it’s an important way for us to have our true selves be known to a potential buying public.” 


As a member of the Thomas G. Carpenter Library’s Dean’s Leadership Council, Jones helped pioneer UNF’s “Art in the Library” project, securing donations of Jacksonville artists’ work to permanently display on the Library’s walls. 


“Jen helped the Library realize the installation of more than 30 works of fine art recently gifted to the Library by the family of the late Dr. John R. Ibach Jr., known for his love of art and jazz,” said Dr. Shirley Hallblade, director of the Carpenter Library. “The Library’s third floor is now enhanced by this gallery of wonderful art that students will forever enjoy and learn from.” 


It was primarily through her work on the council and her fund-raising efforts that Jones received the Outstanding Alumni Award in February. 


“All of the things I learned at UNF in my literature, art history, business and education courses prepared me for where I am today, so it’s really great that UNF continues to support me today,” Jones said. “I’m so humbled and proud to be among people who really care about UNF and strive to make a difference. It feels good to be honored doing something you love.”