James Powers, Brooklyn gallerist who nurtured Black artists, dies at 80

The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Saturday, June 15, 2024

James Powers, Brooklyn gallerist who nurtured Black artists, dies at 80
James Powers established Spiral Gallery in Brooklyn, a point of reference for Black artists and collectors. Artists who showed there included Ronald Walton, Verna Hart and Lamerol Gatewood. Photo: Powers family.

by Penelope Green

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- James Powers, a medical supply salesman, had always loved art and when he was laid off in his early 40s, he realized he could focus on that passion, and teach others about it, too. So he opened the Spiral Gallery in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn.

He named his gallery in honor of the Spiral Group, the short-lived collective of Black artists formed in the early 1960s by Charles Alston, Romare Bearden, Norman Lewis and Hale Woodruff to tackle issues both political and aesthetic. His gallery wasn’t a political space, but in the late 1980s and early ’90s it became a community for Black artists and art-lovers, a rollicking festival of culture with monthly openings that spilled out onto Vanderbilt Avenue.

Up and coming artists like Ronald Walton, Verna Hart and Lamerol Gatewood showed there, and their openings were invigorated by jazz music played by young musicians like Geri Allen, Rodney Kendrick and Cassandra Wilson, who would go on to find their own fame. (Powers had made sure that a piano was part of the gallery’s décor.)

“We were young Black college graduates and professionals seeking to buy art that reflected our culture and aspirations,” said Len Walker, a longtime collector and Spiral regular.

Walton called it a “happening, a place you’d want to be. It was beautiful.”

James Edward Powers Jr. died April 4 at a Manhattan hospital of complications of COVID-19, his daughter, Retha Powers, said. He was 80.

Powers was born Feb. 28, 1940, in Brooklyn. His mother, Mary Virginia (Murchison) Powers worked as a domestic until her marriage; his father was a truck driver. James Jr. attended Wagner College on Staten Island on a partial baseball scholarship and graduated with a degree in liberal arts. There, he met Beverly Phipps, and they married in 1965. His wife became a social worker while James worked for Frigidaire and, later, as a salesman of medical supplies.

The couple enthusiastically collected the works of Black artists. After James was laid off, he took a job at Dorsey’s, a well-known Black-owned gallery and framer in Brooklyn, and then set out to open a place just like it. His wife took care of the books and other details, and sometimes cooked for the openings.

The family’s brownstone apartment on Berkeley Place spilled over with artwork, which lined the walls, the staircases and even their children’s rooms. Marc — named for Marc Chagall — said his Def Leppard and Prince posters often had to share wall space with a Verna Hart painting, or maybe a work by James Denmark or Lamerol Gatewood.

“The gallery helped me establish my career but it was like a family,” Gatewood said. “It was a fantastic experience for a young artist trying to find your way. Jim was so kind, he helped me get the house I’m still living in. But you can’t speak of Jim without Beverly. He was in front, but she managed the gallery.”

Though the gallery closed in the early 1990s, Powers continued to present work under Spiral’s name at other galleries. His wife died in 2003. His son and daughter survive him; a half brother, Norman Murchison, died in 1988.

About a decade ago, Powers moved into Isabella House, an independent living facility that is part of the Isabella Center, a nursing home that to date has had more than 100 COVID-19 deaths. His daughter said he sold most of his collection to pay for his care.

© 2020 The New York Times Company

Today's News

August 6, 2020

What worried artists in lockdown? The same things as everyone else

Italian police track down hot-footed statue toe snapper

Met shrinks staff again, totaling 20% cut

Lincoln Library cancels exhibition over racial sensitivity concerns

London Art Week announces 'Art History in Focus' taking place this October

Pace opens exhibition of works by Torkwase Dyson at its recently opened space in East Hampton

Breakfast at Tiffany's typescript sells for £377,000 at Sotheby's

Georgia Museum of Art to reopen August 13

The Courtauld appoints their first ever Head of Conservation, Dr Austin Nevin

Shaker Museum taps Selldorf Architects to create its new permanent facility in Chatham, NY

James Powers, Brooklyn gallerist who nurtured Black artists, dies at 80

UNESCO to restore Mali's conflict-hit Bandiagara site

Poster Auctions International's 81st Rare Posters Auction LXXXI earns $1.3M

It's (almost) business as usual at the Salzburg Festival

San Antonio Museum of Art adds three trustees to board

Summers Place Auctions to sell unique collection of garden statuary in September sale

Morphy's rolls out Field & Range Firearms Auction, Aug. 11-13

Clear evidence that the auction world has changed as bidders migrate en masse to the internet

The Saint Louis Art Museum 'Currents 118' exhibition features new work by Elias Sime

Anna Laudel Düsseldorf opens Onur Hastürk's first solo show "Assimilation"

City of Chicago unveils new public artwork by street artist Dont Fret on the Chicago Riverwalk

Urbancoolab's AI artist STiCH resurrects Basquiat on anniversary of his death

Eric Bentley, critic who provoked lovers of Broadway, dies at 103

Without Online Counseling, the Virus Is Taking a Toll on Young People's Mental Health

Licensed Vs. Offshore Gambling: For Players & Operators

Pros and Cons of Making Money Online

How to source & sell custom enamel pins and patches?

Museums, Exhibits, Artists, Milestones, Digital Art, Architecture, Photography,
Photographers, Special Photos, Special Reports, Featured Stories, Auctions, Art Fairs,
Anecdotes, Art Quiz, Education, Mythology, 3D Images, Last Week, .


Ignacio Villarreal
(1941 - 2019)
Editor & Publisher: Jose Villarreal
Art Director: Juan José Sepúlveda Ramírez
Writer: Ofelia Zurbia Betancourt

Truck Accident Attorneys
Accident Attorneys

Royalville Communications, Inc

ignaciovillarreal.org juncodelavega.com facundocabral-elfinal.org
Founder's Site. Hommage
to a Mexican poet.

The First Art Newspaper on the Net. The Best Versions Of Ave Maria Song Junco de la Vega Site Ignacio Villarreal Site Parroquia Natividad del Señor
Tell a Friend
Dear User, please complete the form below in order to recommend the Artdaily newsletter to someone you know.
Please complete all fields marked *.
Sending Mail
Sending Successful