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Jessica Taylor and the art of collecting Black

Emerging art collector Jessica Taylor discusses culture, inspiration and desire for diverse art in Collin County.

When Jessica Taylor was growing up in Atlanta, Georgia, she was surrounded by art. But at the time, it wasn’t something she initially understood or desired. It was part of the fabric in her home, installed by her mother, a self-taught collector. An only child and avid reader growing up in the small town of Tollette, Arkansas, her mother became inquisitive about art after visiting a museum. Her interest would later become instilled in her two daughters’ educational foundation during their fourth- and fifth- grade school years.

Taylor’s parents owned a business in Georgia, which provided an economic platform for the love of collecting art to flourish. When she was in the fourth grade, her parents moved the family from a small home on the east side of Atlanta to a much larger home, which became a showcase for their collection. Upon this move, her parents selected black private schools to enrich their daughters' educational and cultural experiences. As an alternative to going to amusement parks on the weekends, Jessica and her sister began journeys to art museums, and enrolled in African dance classes and performing arts.

“Most of the time when we would go to the museum, Mom wouldn’t say much,” Taylor says. “She would stare at the piece and say, ‘What do you think they were thinking?’ We didn’t know, but it caused us to stop and reflect.”

Jessica Taylor with artwork titled "Black on Both Sides" by Gee Horton. | David Downs

Taylor’s journey to collecting art began while working at Purdue University. While attending a conference, she met Boyd Smith, an artist-in-residence, and was drawn to his use of color. Unaware of costs or affordability, she commissioned a piece titled “Generations” through installment financing.

The commission signaled a momentous time—in the span of less than 3½ years, she lost six relatives, including her mother, grandmother and grandfather. After seven months of payments, Smith delivered Taylor’s first purchase on canvas, featuring an ode to the women who provided her with the inspiration to excel academically and professionally. Today, the piece hangs prominently in her home as a connection to her mother, aunt, maternal and paternal grandmothers.

"Generations" by Boyd Smith.

A self-described “emerging art collector,” Taylor comes from a lineage of entrepreneurs, educators and academic achievers. Her collected works resonate happiness, color and are typically larger abstract pieces. To date, she has purchased only one piece of art featuring a male; she was drawn to it because of the realism captured by artist Gee Horton. Taylor says each piece speaks to the relevance of her life. “Wailing,” by artist Bernard Stanley Hoyas, features an ensemble of black women praising God, a nod to her childhood growing up as the daughter of a pastor and her grandmother’s involvement in church over a span of 40 years.

After briefly living abroad, Taylor relocated to Plano in 2016 to join Toyota’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Division. Since then, she has traveled extensively and continues to bridge the intersection of diversity, communities of color and corporations. She believes Collin County would benefit from works placed strategically throughout cities that highlight the African American diaspora and diverse artists including LGBTQ+, disabled, non-binary and those in the process of transitioning. She would like to see various types of art mediums in communities that offer peace and a chance to reflect. She envisions creative platforms to assist artists with tools that enhance their access to capital and ability to source work.

“I have a sensation and desire to know more,” Taylor says. “To this day, because I travel often, every time I go to another country, if I'm not going to get a piece of art, I’m always going to a museum because I want to see what they look like.”

An untitled piece from Ghana.

Taylor is well versed in “art speak,” which assisted in her process of collecting art. She distinguishes between the concepts of quality versus quantity, something she believes is necessary for serious collectors determining appreciation value. Taylor's advice to emerging collectors is to identify a piece, research the artist, initiate a budget, see the art in person, purchase it, and remember, there are no refunds!

Recently, Taylor embraced her entrepreneurial lineage and launched EZRA Coffee Company, an online premium coffee curated to represent the African American diaspora. Her love of Black art resonates from lessons learned as a child to support black businesses and artists. Early on, she received advice to invest in culture exclusive of everyday necessities such as clothes and shoes.

Today, her collection includes renowned artists William Tolliver, W. Schofield, Tim Askar, Ghanian artists and Limited Poster Editions by Ernie Barnes. She hopes to one day start a family and pass her collection down to her children.

his article originally appeared in our January/February 2022 edition of Local Profile.