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Humans of New York spotlights Austin artist—and drives readers to a local print shop and nonprofit

Austin artist Mickey Mayfield recently received posthumous recognition on the popular photoblog Humans of New York.


Mayfield's friend, Robert Leeper, was profiled by HONY photographer Brandon Stanton last week. Over seven posts, Leeper recounted his friendship with Mayfield, which began in the early 1990s and lasted until Mayfield's death from complications due to AIDS in 2002. It received nearly 1.5 million likes on Instagram.

In addition to speaking about their friendship, Leeper spoke about Mayfield's career as a painter of palm trees and other scenes.

"From the moment I first saw his portfolio … I knew that he belonged in a museum," Leeper told Stanton. "Or at least a gallery. And I wanted that for him."

With his friend's help, Mayfield sold a painting at an unnamed Austin coffee shop for $300, which led to future success.

"Every time he sold a painting, we'd go out for dinner at a place called Jeffrey's," Leeper said in the series, referring to the fine dining restaurant in Clarksville.

Eventually, Mayfield was commissioned to paint a mural inside the home of an Austin Museum of Art board member.

After Mayfield's death, Leeper worked with the board member to put on a weeklong show at the museum. "His paintings looked so beautiful on the walls," he told Stanton. "It felt like his work was finally where it had always belonged."

Leeper's story reverberated here in Austin, where a local fine digital printing and custom framing shop—AgavePrint on East Cesar Chavez Street—sells prints of Mayfield's work.

"The response has been great," AgavePrint co-owner Lauren Jaben wrote in an email to Austonia. "The story of Robert and Mickey's friendship resonated deeply with folks, and people from all over the world are eager to own their own Mickey Mayfield as a result."

A portion of the proceeds from Mayfield's print sales will benefit people with AIDS and HIV through the local nonprofit Project Transitions. In a comment on the final installment of his HONY series, Leeper also encouraged readers to donate.

"I send you the most sincere thanks and if you are inclined, please consider a donation to Doug's House (Project Transitions) or any of the many organizations who serve people with HIV, depression/mental health issues or teens who are forced to runaway from their homes because they are LGBT," he wrote.

The response was immediate.

"(Donations) started coming in that night," Project Transitions CEO Cynthia Herrera told Austonia.

The nonprofit, which provides housing, support services, recuperative care and hospice to people with HIV and AIDS, received around $1,500 in donations thanks to the series.

Pre-pandemic, Project Transitions earned some of its revenue through two thrift stores. But COVID forced them to close for much of the year. Meanwhile, the people they serve were at heightened risk of contracting the virus because most are immunocompromised.

"It was definitely unexpected and welcome and needed," Herrera said of the response. "Especially in a year like this."

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