Artist Brenda Jones shares raw life experiences through painting


By Payne Blazevich/ Iowa State Daily

Brenda Jones, an Iowa State artist, aims to show honest representations of her life through her work. 

Payne Blazevich

With a paintbrush and canvas, Brenda Jones, a self-described activist, works to communicate an honest depiction of her experiences in life.

She views honesty as a valuable asset, and whether it be through the feedback she provides or the work she creates, she aims to maintain a sense of honesty and humanity.

“I’ve been a painter all my life,” said Jones. “For me, it was to understand why I feel this way… that’s the hardest thing to do, to make it work and make it come together to have something to say.”

As a child, Jones grew up in a disciplined household with a father who was a minister and soldier. However, instead of receiving physical punishment when she got in trouble, Jones was often tasked with reading pages of a book and reporting back to her parents what she had learned.

“After a while, I had a flashlight trying to finish reading, and it became part of my nature. That was the best punishment anybody can give a kid because he made sure those were books that would make you want to know what’s on the next page.”

Jones’ talent as an artist, coupled with her unwavering curiosity, drove her early career as a painter. She was involved in gifted programs as a child and was tasked with commissioned work as an early teenager.

However, she still faced the mistreatment and danger of being a Black woman, despite her youth. In one instance, Jones was commissioned as a high schooler to paint a mural for the first Black culture center at the University of Oklahoma. While she was working, she was attacked by a group of drunk college men.

“They had bats and all kinds of crap,” Jones said. “It was unbelievable that these guys were so angry.”

Along with a companion from the university, Jones fought for her life and her work, which involved hiding in a closet as well as striking one of the attackers with a chair. Her mural featured faces from all walks of life, which is why she found the attack so puzzling.

“I had people, all children of all races, people of all colors, men and women because I don’t see a difference,” said Jones. “You treat people fairly, you get something out of them, you treat them with honesty and integrity. I thought it was a beautiful mural.”

As a student in the graduate program at Drake University, Jones encountered educators from Iowa State. Although there were no women of color working as educators for Iowa State at the time, Jones’ initial impression convinced her to come to Ames to try and make a difference.

“[Iowa State staff have] been incredible,” Jones said. “They’ve been very supportive, and that matters when you’re the only one. It truly matters because you need to feel like you’re part of something that is special, and I think Iowa State has that quality.”

As a professor at Iowa State, Jones’s first priority is students’ development and well-being. She views it as her duty to help the next generation grow and prosper.

From her Change Agent Award to her work on the Iowa State Conference on Race and Ethnicity (ISCORE) and her involvement in many other organizations and committees, Jones is dedicated to the betterment of the entire community, especially the development of her students.

“My biggest thing is that I don’t like to let students down,” said Jones. “It bothers me more than anything. With students you can’t wait. There is nothing you can do but crawl over and say, ‘Here I am. I’m with you.’”

Jones is currently working on a book to document her life experiences.