A Plan Is Evolving to Honor 20th-Century Painter Beauford De

By McRary, Amy | News Sentinel, July 10, 2016 | Go to article overview

A Plan Is Evolving to Honor 20th-Century Painter Beauford De


McRary, Amy, News Sentinel


A plan is evolving to honor 20th-century painter Beauford Delaney in the Tennessee hometown he left as a young man.

The multi-goal collaborative by the Knoxville Museum of Art, Beck Cultural Exchange Center and East Tennessee Historical Society aims to remember the African-American artist supporters say is better known in Paris and New York than in his native Knoxville. Ideas include bringing a Paris exhibit of Delaney's art to Knoxville and setting markers at locations related to him, his artist brother Joseph and their family.

"There is a lot of work that needs to be done because basically Beauford is one of the 20th century's great abstract painters," said KMA Curator Stephen Wicks. "And he's cherished by artists and collectors around the world but still not very well known here at home."

Both artistically gifted and personally charismatic, Delaney, who was gay, dealt with racial and sexual prejudices. He also battled mental demons, dying in a Paris asylum in 1979. "I don't think anyone really knows what he was battling (mentally), but he was clearly battling something," Wicks said.

Delaney's works range from small sketches to large, color- drenched abstract oils. His larger abstracts can command up to $1 million, Wicks said. Though his art was renowned during his life, it never pulled Delaney from poverty.

"Throughout his life he was so concerned about his artwork and his friends and the things that really mattered to him," Wicks said. "Money was not something that mattered to him other than he needed it to buy fuel for his store and to eat and survive. He seems more concerned about his art and caring for the people around him. And he wasn't the best at helping himself."

Novelists Henry Miller and James Baldwin were among Delaney's friends, Wick said, who " talk about how they often found him in a tough state."

The project will encompass Joseph Delaney and the Delaney family, said Beck President Renee Kesler. Joseph, who was younger than Beauford, was also a distinguished artist who worked in New York for years. He returned to Knoxville in 1985 and was an artist-in- residence at the University of Tennessee. Joseph Delaney died in 1991.

"I don't think you can talk about the art and the artist without talking about the whole family," said Kesler. "You can see that his roots and his background helped define who he was."

Born in 1901, Beauford Delaney learned to draw on Sunday School cards at church. His father Samuel was a barber and Methodist minister who died when Beauford was 18. Delaney was a teen when his talent impressed Lloyd Branson, Knoxville's renowned artist of the time. Branson gave Delaney art lessons and later helped pay for the then-22-year-old to move to Boston to study art. …

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