It wasn’t until 54-year-old Jerome W. Jones’s son Jeromyah was born in 1990 that the artist fully grasped how significant the bond between father and son can be. Jerome was only 14 when his own father (a history professor) was killed. While his loving mother and grandparents were present to fill in the gaps, taking on the role of father made him realize just how much he missed out on losing his father so young.
“It meant a lot for me to be able to nurture and develop my relationship with my son and wife, Kemery,” says Jerome. “Not taking away anything from mothers, but the relationship of a father and his children is very important.”
“The chemistry between my father and me is like science,” adds 24-year-old Jeromyah, who is also an artist. “That bond is very strong.” The story of the relationship between Jerome and Jeromyah encompasses the love of the arts, love of family and, most of all, love for the “Heavenly Father”—the glue that binds together their family unit. The father and son artists use their paintings as a creative tool to spread the word of the Almighty.
“Because the heavenly father is the master artist and everything he creates is life, what we do as artists is a reflection of what has been created,” explains Jerome, who was raised in the church. “I just love being able to come to a canvas and reproduce what I see in my mind or heart. It’s exciting to use my work to teach the art of life and share my faith.”
Jerome exhibited a creative side ever since he was a small boy. According to his grandmother, when he was 3 years old, he loved spending his time drawing and painting. As he grew older, his talent and love of art only matured. Jerome had his first one-man show at the Boys Club at 15. “I had 75 pieces of artwork in the show. I was very excited. Boys Club had always been supportive of my gift and they gave me an opportunity,” recalls Jerome.
He went on to win many awards and showcase his work on numerous occasions. It wasn’t until 1980 when he was 21 that Jerome’s passion for art became his spiritual calling, thanks to a chance meeting with Stevie Wonder.
“He was always my favorite singer growing up and I was always inspired by him, his music and his message of love,” says Jerome. He drew a painting of Wonder and wanted to present it to the soul singer as a gift. So in 1979, Jerome’s mother and brother drove to Washington, D.C. to Constitutional Hall where Wonder was performing. “The show was sold out,” Jerome remembers. “We went out there on faith, not knowing if I would get a chance to see him. But I believed I would.”
The manager of the venue saw Jerome’s painting and was in awe. He gave Jerome the address where Wonder was staying. Once at the hotel, Jerome called up Wonder’s manager from the front desk. He took one look at Jerome’s painting and invited the artist upstairs to meet Wonder. “Stevie said he wanted me to present him with the painting on stage at the concert that night. I was blown away.”
Jerome would go on to paint and present his incredibly lifelike portraits to countless number of influential musicians, actors and politicians over the 35 years he’s been an artist. His subjects include the late Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, Muhammad Ali, Elton John, Roberta Flack, Ray Charles, Michael Jordan, Natalie Cole, Smokey Robinson, Gil Scott-Heron and Nikki Giovanni. He even got the seal of approval from the King of Pop himself. After meeting and seeing Jerome’s art, the late Michael Jackson remarked, “This is incredible. People need to see this.”
If there’s one scripture Jerome could share his entire life, it would be: “A man’s gift makes room for him and brings him before great men.” He points out that many of these great men include the non-famous individuals he’s painted and crossed paths with over the years.
Although he enjoys working on his portraitures, his faith became his muse in 1980 following the Wonder concert. “Looking back, there were two blind men on the stage that night. Stevie was physically blind, but I was spiritually blind. After that experience, I realized I needed a closer walk with the Master.”
One year later, Jerome fell in love with Kemery.
“She comes from a different religious background than I do, and it makes our marriage unique,” Jerome says. “I grew up in the Baptist church and she grew up in the Pentecostal church. She had a strong faith in the Word, and our marriage is a faith walk together.”
“Growing up in a home where the Word is the foundation, a lot of times the child wants to stray,” says Jeromyah, who not only followed in his father’s footsteps to become an artist, but has also used his artwork as a vehicle to pay homage to his faith. “I never deviated from the faith. I never had a problem sharing my faith.”
Jeromyah’s earliest memory of his father’s divine art is the panoramic, African-themed landscape Jerome painted in his room two months before his birth. “We are always speaking things into existence; I call that ‘painting things into existence’,” says Jeromyah. There are lions, zebras, trees and hot air balloons inscribed with scriptures adorning the walls, “to introduce Jeromyah to the love of the Word in a creative way.”
For Jerome, watching Jeromyah’s life trajectory is like history repeating itself. Not only is Jeromyah an artist on an unwavering mission to spread to the Word, similar to his father he had his first show at 15, studied art in college and graduated in three years. He’s now working alongside his father in the family business, The Painter’s Poetree, which features the Joneses’ original paintings, limited- and open-edition prints, poetry in cards and books.
It would be fair to assume that Jerome had a hand in guiding Jeromyah, but that couldn’t be furthest from the truth. “I never pushed in the arts,” says Jerome. “I wanted him to do whatever he believed he was called on to do. We’ve just been blessed that he loves art as much as I do.”
“He never forced me to do it, and I think that is why I love it so much,” says Jeromyah. “In the 12th grade, my work started to have more meaning. When I was young, I painted for art sake and now I paint art for the sake of the people. I’m praising the Almighty.”
The biggest milestone in both their artistic careers was their impressive, collaborative father and son exhibit in 2011 at the Hampton Museum, the oldest African-American museum in the country. “When I attended Hampton, I always thought it would be a blessing to see me and my father’s work hung alongside each other in one of the greatest institutions in this nation.” No one under the age of 50 had shown in the museum before Jeromyah.
The Prophecy Makes History exhibit at the Hampton Museum meant the world to Jerome—not only because his work was featured in a historical museum, but because Jerome was deeply touched by his son including him in this remarkable opportunity. “He could have just asked to show his own work. He is such a great son, always looking for ways to be a blessing and help me in my goals that are dear to my heart. He is so unselfish, and it just blows me away,” says Jerome.
Jeromyah is as equally awestruck by his parents. “There’s an art form to being great parents, and mine have done a great job.”
The Coolest Black Family in America is an EBONY.com original series: an ongoing look at the intricacies, layers and compelling beauty of African-American family life. Of course, The Coolest Black Family is not one family but many. In fact, we’ve found that there are as many Coolest Black Families as there are versions of cool. Also consider: family doesn't always mean mother + father + kids. What defines family is connected hearts and supported souls. Ride with us weekly as we crisscross the country in search of kinfolk whose cool is so palpable and real, it comes second only to their love. Think your cool fam qualifies? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org (with Coolest Black Family in the subject line)!
Alexandra Phanor-Faury is a Haitian-American writer living in Brooklyn, New York with a slight (OK, major) addiction to fashion and pop culture. When she's not up in the middle of the night filling her online shopping carts and catching up on style blogs, she's writing about fashion and entertainment for a number of websites and her blog, Fringueuse.