By Patricia Williams
KNOXVILLE, TN (February 2020) – “Gathering Light: The Delaney Project” brings hometown recognition to Knoxville born artist Beauford Delaney. Delaney is recognized as one of the greatest artists of the Harlem Renaissance era. Delaney’s works are world-renowned, except in his hometown of Knoxville; until now!
Stephen Wicks, Curator at Knoxville Museum of Art, has sought to have the works of Delaney recognized among East Tennesseans for many years. Unaware of Wicks’ mission, a similar project drew the interest of Sylvia Peters, a retired national educator, art aficionado, and activist who has made Knoxville home.
On a trip to France with friends in 2016, historic markers throughout Paris caught her eye. “I kept seeing these markers that had (the image of) a black man on them. I had to find out who this black man celebrated in France was.”
On closer examination, Peters learned that the celebrated black man was an artist from Knoxville, Tennessee.
Beaufort Delaney left Knoxville for New York as a young man. He lived most of his adult life in New York and Paris, France. He died in a mental hospital in France in 1979 and was buried there in a paupers graveyard.
“The Parisians thought enough of Beaufort to honor him and where he was born,” said Peters. “I had never heard of him. How could this be, said Peters. As an art collector who lives in Knoxville, Peters was perplexed to not know anything about Beaufort Delaney.
“I had to go all the way to France to learn history in my own town.”
Upon her return to Knoxville, Peters was on a mission to make East Tennesseans aware of the rich history and accomplishments of their native son Beaufort Delaney.
In 2016, Peters began organizing a union of support as chairperson of “The Delaney Project.” She solicited local and international supporters that include: Court-appointed Delaney Estate Administrator Derek L. Spratley, Esq; Friends of Delaney in France Founder Monique Wells; Knoxville Museum of Art Exec. Director David Butler; Beck Cultural Center Director Renee Kesler; then City of Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero; Knox County Commissioner Evelyn Gill; the University of Tennessee; East Tennessee Historical Society, The Links, Inc.; Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Knoxville chapter, corporate donors and many others.
PROGRESSION OF THE DELANEY PROJECT
- September 13, 2018 – A historic marker for Beaufort and his younger brother Joseph Delaney was installed on the approximate site their birth and the Delaney family home that was 815 E. Vine Avenue before the urban removal in the 1950s and 60s. It is now 501 E. Summit Hill Drive that is the Knoxville Law Enforcement Credit Union.
- January 23, 2019 – Knox County Commissioner Evelyn Gill provided a $25,000 contribution from the Knox County General fund to support renovations for the Delaney Museum.
- February 20-21, 2020: “In a Speculative Light: The Arts of James Baldwin and Beaufort Delaney” An academic symposium about the arts of writer James Baldwin and painter Beaufort Delaney. Hosted by the University of Tennessee Humanities Center for on-campus participants only.
February 24, 2020: Arts and culture tribute to the Delaney family at the Bijou Theatre, presented by Beck Cultural Exchange Center, Knoxville.
- February 28-29, 2020 – World premiere of “Shadowlight” by The Marble City Opera; 7:30 pm at Beck Cultural Center, 1927 Dandridge Avenue, Knoxville. A collaboration of composer Larry Delinger and author Emily Anderson, explores the life and art of Beauford Delaney.
- February – May 10, 2020: “Through the Unusual Door” a free exhibition at the Knoxville Museum of Art of over 50 paintings, works on paper, unpublished archival material and exchanges between James Baldwin and Beauford Delaney.
- February – June 14, 2020 “Black & White: Knoxville in the Jim Crow Era at the East Tennessee History Center, 601 Gay St, Knoxville. An exhibition featuring stories of African-American artists Beauford and Joseph Delaney and Ruth Cobb Brice with contributions by guest historian of Knoxville’s blacks Robert Booker.
- The ongoing restoration of the last Delaney home at 1935 Dandridge Ave., (next door to Beck Cultural Exchange Center). It is estimated to cost up to 800,000.
- April 16, 2020 – Fundraiser for the restoration of the Delaney Museum at the Beck, will be at 6 pm, at Knoxville Museum of Art. Sponsored by Beck Cultural Exchange Center, and Rotary Club of Knoxville; contact email@example.com.
- May/June 2020 – Groundbreaking of work on the last Delaney home at 1935 Dandridge Ave., next door to Beck Center.
- May 2020 – Documentary screening of Beauford Delaney: So Splendid a Journey at Cannes Film Festival; contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Delaney Project is ongoing so there is more to come.