Jack Baron was my friend. A Key West friend.
I met Jack in the late 1900’s. I was an early morning walker. My trips began at the Duval Square parking lot. Jack’s gallery at the time was part of Duval Square. I was also an art collector. Jack’s art turned me on.
My first stop each morning and for many years thereafter was at Jack’s gallery from whence he painted and sold his works. Jack had some old parlor chairs sitting around. Each morning about 6 of us would show up and solve the world’s problems for an hour or two.
One of Jack’s works especially appealed to me. His Black Madonna and Child. I did not purchase it immediately. Considered it too expensive. $4,500. Others must have also. No one bought it for the two years I hungered for it. I finally did buy out of fear someone else would.
More of me, Jack and my collection of his works later on. First, Jack’s story.
Jack was born in 1926, died in 2005. He grew up in Rockaway Beach in Queens. The poor man’s Hamptons.
He began college during World War II. After the war, he finished college at NYU obtaining a degree in Business Management. Along the way, he met Bob Burton. They hit it off and were partners for 52 years till Jack passed on. Their early New York City years together had to be a ball.
Several times they told the story of how they saw all the Broadway shows in the early ’50’s when they could ill afford it. They saw the shows without paying. Half of each show. They would wait till intermission and when everyone walked out, they would walk in. They stood in the back to watch the reminder of each show.
Jack developed a design talent of sorts. While still in New York he was doing display and design work for Macy’s and Lord & Taylor.
Jack and Bob relocated to Key West in the mid 1970’s. They ended up living and working out of an antique store they opened on Truman and Windsor Lane. Near St. Mary of the Sea Catholic Church. They called their antique business Carrie’s Notion Antique Shop. The “antiques” they originally sold were stuff they had brought with them from New York, but did not have use for in Key West.
When Jack and Bob purchased gifts for each other on holidays, birthdays, etc., the gifts were nothing special. Generally inexpensive. In 1977. Bob gave Jack an acrylic paint set as a birthday present. A no big deal item. Jack however put it to use.
At the time the antique shop was located in a black neighborhood. The store at a bus stop. Jack had been watching the neighbors walk around, wait for the bus and so on. He began to paint them using the cheap acrylic set. His style simple. Best described as his own brand of unpredictable pointillism.
His subjects black people, conch houses, roosters and cats. Always whimsical.
He was 51 when he started painting.
The back room became a small art gallery. Paintings did not sell. Jack not concerned. He was having fun. He just kept turning them out. Especially black women with colorful headgear.
Marion Stevens was the owner of a Duval Street gallery. She stopped into the antique shop one day and spotted the paintings in the back. She immediately bought 10 at $100 a piece. Wrote Jack a check for $1,000 on the spot. Jack and Bob thought they had died and gone to Heaven!
Stevens sold all 10 paintings within a few days. She returned and made a deal with Jack. Told him to begin painting and she would give him a show. He was a winner! Right she was. Jack did 50 paintings for his first show. Stevens called the show “A Star Is Born.”
All 50 paintings sold out. The rest is history.
In addition to the acrylics, Jack did needlepoint tapestries. If he was specially enamored with one of his works, he would spend a year sitting in his living room at night watching TV and doing a needlepoint work of the painting.
My collection consists of 13 acrylics and 2 needlepoint tapestries. Jack sold over 4,000 paintings over his lifetime. The acrylics sold between $3,500 and $4,500. The tapestries were something special and sold for $10,000 a piece. I have two I am proud of. One is Adam and Eve in the Garden of Paradise. the other his mother, done in black, in a flowing red gown.
The Custom House did an exhibit of Jack’s needlepoint tapestries several years after his death. I was proud two of mine where shown. I understand the showing had the largest attendance of any at the Custom House up to that time.
Jack had a way of toying with people. He “toyed” with me once. I did not call him on it. I had too much respect for him. Better he walked around thinking he had fooled me.
The issue involved Jack’s use of gold paint. Tons of it! Dots all over the place or solid several inch border trims on most of his paintings. I asked him once why so much use of gold. He asked if I was familiar with Pablo Picasso’s blue period. I was not. He then went on to explain that Picasso had the opportunity to purchase a lot of blue paint cheap. He did. Then spent several years using it up.
Jack said he got a deal on gold paint and was still using it. He was still painting with gold at the time of his death.
Realizing Jack was a joker of sorts, I checked out the Picasso story on the internet when I got home. Jack was playing games. Picasso did have a blue period. However the reason was he had emotional problems and financial difficulties which led him to paint blue. He felt blue!
Jack and Bob threw dinner parties. Small and Large. I suspect the parties were more Jack’s idea. He enjoyed entertaining and being entertained.
Dinner parties were his forte. Small ones. Four or five couples. One night each person had a small standing rack of lamb. I was impressed. Jack was happy to share his secret for preparation. He bought the racks already prepared at Outback. Heated them immediately before dinner. Another time we enjoyed a large stuffed turkey. A Thanksgiving meal in effect. Jack had purchased the turkey and all that went with it . Merely heated the turkey a bit before serving.
I recall an evening where he and Bob had a cocktail party for at least 100 persons. Preparations easy. Jack went through 15 five pound tins of beluga caviar.
To know Jack was t love him. Bob, as well.
I have a habit I developed more than 60 years ago. I infrequently visit the graves of family and persons I consider I was close to. A short conversation graveside. Sounds whacky. Not. Good for the soul.
Jack is buried in the Southern Keys Cemetery on Big Coppitt. Bob next to him, of course. I visited with Jack a few times when he was alone and both Jack and Bob thereafter. Not often. Once every one or two years.
Don’t laugh. Every now and then when I look up on a clear evening and see the sky ablaze with stars, I am reminded of Jack’s multitude of gold dots. He touched me.