The fifth floor of Mulford Library at The University of Toledo is a bit brighter these days.That’s because nearly every wall is covered with the John W. & Betty Jane Barfield Exhibit, featuring artwork by Paul Collins. Pieces inspired by people from all over the world give a glimpse into the different cultures reflected in the University’s community.
“We embrace diversity here at UT, and this exhibit complements that philosophy,” said Marcie Ferguson, director of corporate relations, operations and initiatives, who organized the installation efforts for the collection.
To understand the exhibit, you first have to understand John Barfield and Paul Collins.
Barfield, the son of two field hands, was born in Tuscaloosa, Ala., before moving to Washington, Pa., and later Ypsilanti, Mich. In 1947, he began working as a custodian for the University of Michigan, later cleaning newly constructed houses on the side for additional income.
After his side job became more lucrative than his full-time job, he quit his UM job and began the Barfield Cleaning Co. After several acquisitions and transitions, Barfield founded the Barfield Manufacturing Co., now called The Bartech Group, which he has since turned over to his son, Jon.The staffing and human resources company based in Southfield, Mich., employs and manages the daily work assignments for more than 35,000 associates and more than $3 billion in contingent labor for major employers around the world.
“The life story of John Barfield is inspiring to all,” said Chuck Lehnert, UT vice president for corporate relations. “And he always remembers to keep the important things first and in order: faith, family and friends.”
In 1975 when Barfield was refurbishing one of his company’s offices, he commissioned Collins to create some art for the space.
Collins is a well-known artist from Grand Rapids, Mich., recognized for his portraits depicting all ages, races and cultures that define humanity. He is credited with more than 100 exhibitions around the world, including “Great Beautiful Black Women,” recognizing history makers such as Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks, and “America at Work,” showcasing the American worker’s contributions to the country and its success.
Collins’ mural of President Gerald R. Ford is on display in the Gerald R. Ford International Airport, and he also created the Ford Museum commemorative poster for the opening of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum.For Barfield’s offices, Collins was sent to Harlem and returned with 19 sketches that blew Barfield away — sketches that now are part of the collection he donated to UT.
It was the shared passion for showcasing culture and humanity that led to Barfield sponsoring Collins’ trip to Kenya and Tanzania to paint the Maasai people and preserve a dying culture. These paintings are some of the most vibrant pieces included in the collection in Mulford Library
Barfield collected many of Collins’ other works over the years, amassing a collection worth more than $230,000 that includes the works from Harlem and Africa, as well as pieces inspired by Japan and Native Americans in South Dakota.
Barfield donated his collection to the Charles H. Wright African American Museum in Detroit. When Barfield showed the collection to then UT President Lloyd Jacobs, whom he was introduced to by Dr. Nina McClelland, former dean of the UT College of Arts and Sciences, they discussed putting it on display at the University.
Juanita Moore, president and CEO of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American Museum, agreed to permanently loan the collection to UT.
A ribbon-cutting and reception for the collection on the fifth floor of the Mulford Library will take place Tuesday, April 28, from 4 to 5:30 p.m. Barfield, Jacobs and Interim President Nagi Naganathan will offer remarks, and Collins will be in attendance.
During the reception, Barfield will sign copies of his autobiography, Starting From Scratch: The Humble Beginnings of a Two Billion Dollar Enterprise.
“I’m glad that we were able to keep this art intact, first by giving it to the museum and now by having it at the University,” Barfield said. “We’re very excited to see the unveiling of it.”
To attend, RSVP before Wednesday, April 22, to the Office of Special Events at 419.530.2200 or firstname.lastname@example.org,/a>.