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UTSA professor finds important painting at thrift store, donates to Tubman Museum in Georgia

After professor William Pugh found "Eve in the Rose Garden" and researched its artist, he donated it to the Tubman African American Museum.

SAN ANTONIO — A striking, biblical painting by Keith Bankston is going to a museum in his home state of Georgia after a UTSA professor stumbled on it at a thrift store there, and realized what he'd found. 

William Pugh is a systems and cybersecurity professor at the University of Texas San Antonio, as well as a U.S. Air Force veteran with an undergrad history degree. According to a UTSA release, he and his wife were in Covington, Georgia for a wedding in May when they found "Eve in the Garden" at a store.

Painted with bold colors, the piece shows Eve lying in a bed of thornless roses as the serpent whispers in her ear. Pugh says he was initially drawn to the biblical themes of the work.

“It’s not necessarily mentioned in The Bible, but there are legends and stories that say that before Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden, roses didn’t have thorns,” Pugh is quoted as saying in the release. “He depicts that perspective in this painting.”

Credit: UTSA

When he realized he'd found an original painting, he researched the artist whose blue signature was on the bottom corner. Keith Bankston was inspired to be an artist on a trip to Paris after he graduated high school in Macon, Georgia. 

"After attending Florida State, he would return to Middle Georgia to teach art in the Bibb County public schools while simultaneously working to establish himself as an exhibiting artist," UTSA said. "However, his fledgling art career was cut short when he died from AIDS in 1992 at the age of 34."

Pugh bought the painting for $125 and reached out to the Tubman African American Museum in Macon, which has a collection of Bankston's paintings on display in the city where he grew up. "Eve in the Garden" will be exhibited there as a new piece in the museum's permanent collection of African American art.

“Keith Bankston is a beloved figure in the art community in Macon. His story is a kind of tragic tale of what could have been—of great potential that was never fully realized due to the AIDS epidemic.” said Jeff Bruce, the director of exhibitions for the Tubman Museum. “His light was just beginning to shine, so we honor the promise of his talent by collecting and exhibiting his work, and by sharing the story of his short but impactful career with young people in Middle Georgia, as well as visitors from across the country.” 

Pugh's decision to donate it sounds like an easy one for him from the beginning.

“Hanging in an office or a bedroom in my house probably wouldn’t be the best place for it,” he said. “I really like it. But something like this – by a known artist in Georgia – would provide the most benefit in a museum in Georgia where everyone else can enjoy it," he said. "The Tubman Museum in Macon is the perfect place for it.”  

The museum says their mission is "to explore, celebrate and share the rich art and history of African Americans, to be a center of social and civic engagement, and a source of experiences that enrich cultural understanding and inspire positive change."

"Eve in the Rose Garden" was carefully shipped to its new home over the summer.

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