Ezekiel's Trust

River Oaks resident Cecile Burns was obsessed by folk artist Ezekiel Gibbs and promoted herself as his champion. But five years after Gibbs's death, his work is all but forgotten -- thanks mostly to Cecile Burns.

Wade Esty, a Lubbock resident who sold Burns a couple of Great Dane puppies and has visited her home several times, says Burns told him of the lawsuit, explaining that she doesn't want to return the paintings because "the family doesn't want to sell them, and if she can't sell them she won't be compensated for all her work -- writing grants and arranging shows."

Young says she now realizes that Burns did nothing but take advantage of her father, who never aspired to the broad renown Burns envisioned for him. Gibbs, she says, just wanted people in Houston to be able to enjoy his work. "Yes, she did do something to promote his career," says Young. "If you do something to promote my career, and that's not necessarily my goal, then whose goal would it be?"

Something drove Ezekiel Gibbs to draw every day -- on his walls, on scraps of notebook paper, on paper place mats from restaurants. It wasn't money, and it wasn't fame. It wasn't even boredom, or the need to keep hands long accustomed to work from growing idle. Gibbs wanted his century-long life to be remembered. "I want to show my example of how I lived my life," he said. "And maybe, if people see that, then that can be a way to inspire them to do something for themselves."

There are many people who agree that Ezekiel Gibbs's was a life worth remembering. Seventeen years ago, Cecile Burns was one of those people, and she decided she would be the one to make it happen. Because of her, Gibbs believed, his distinctive visual memoirs would be seen and enjoyed, not squirreled away in one of the cardboard boxes that fill Burns's Lubbock home from floor to ceiling.

He never guessed that Cecile Burns would allow him to be forgotten.

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