Beauford Delaney and James Baldwin: Through the Unusual Door

Black History Month

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Preparations are underway to bring the art of one of the great painters of the Harlem Renaissance era back to his hometown in East Tennessee.

Beauford Delaney was born in Knoxville, but his talent would take him all over the world.

In February, a new exhibit at the Knoxville Museum of Art will take us inside his life and his friendship with world-renowned writer James Baldwin.

“He learned his craft here in Knoxville but then he sharpened his skills in Boston, New York City and eventually settled in Paris, where he considered Paris to be his home,” said KMA curator Stephen Wicks.

Born in 1901, Delaney forged friendships with the great thinkers and activists of his time.

“This sketchbook here shows you a seated woman on a park bench. That’s actually a sketch for several paintings that Beuford did of Rosa Parks.”

It’s his time with writer, James Baldwin, that will now take center stage.

“He evolved as an artist and as a creative individual, and that’s something that inspired James Baldwin greatly. Baldwin’s one of the great writers of the 20th century.”

The influence both artists had on each other will now be seen in an exhibit at the KMA called, “Beauford Delaney and James Baldwin: Through the Unusual Door.”

“We are going to have archival objects and images, some of which have never before been seen or published. We are going to have letters between Baldwin and Delaney on view. It’ll basically show all the different threads of their story, the points of which their lives intersected in different places and in different situations.”

Adding depth to this exhibition will be artifacts like original photos of Delaney in Knoxville, as well as showcasing his relationship with James Baldwin.

“These are later photographs of Delaney and Baldwin, that have never been published, and they show the two of them in Paris, walking the streets.”

Wicks says they were able to bring in more of Delaney’s works from museums like the Smithsonian to add to their collection at KMA.

“If you go to major museums around the world, you’ll see his paintings in some of the finest settings that you could imagine next to the works of [Willem] de Kooning and [James] Pollock and other major artists, but he’s still in my view, under recognized.”

But one exhibit at a time, right here in East Tennessee Delaney’s world will shine.

The exhibit, “Beauford Delaney and James Baldwin: Through the Unusual Door” will open February 7th through May 10th.

The National Endowment for the Arts gifted KMA a $40,000 grant for the exhibit.

MORE | Hidden History: Celebrating Black History Month

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