KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — It’s never too late to learn something new. Take it from the story of renowned artist Russell Briscoe whose colorful paintings of East Tennessee capture its rich history.
Briscoe didn’t start painting in earnest until his wife gave him a paint set for his 57th birthday. He went on to create 75 paintings, now part of the McClung Collection at the East Tennessee Historical Society.
Briscoe was known as a serious man. He sold insurance in Knoxville for years. But his paintings done later in life reveal perhaps a colorful, whimsical side. Most of his paintings capture familiar places and people in Knoxville from a bygone era.
“People love how bright they are,” said Rebecca P’Simer, Creator of Collections with the East Tennessee Historical Society. “I think they’re different from some of our other historical paintings. We get a lot of great feedback.”
Each painting has a local history lesson. You’ll see the train that carried passengers from downtown Knoxville to what was Fountain Head Park in the late 1800s. It’s Fountain City Park today.
The Cowan Briscoe home is owned by the artist’s grandfather. It was at Cumberland and 16th Street later replaced by Strong Hall and Clement Hall on UT’s campus. The dollhouse in Briscoe’s “Christmas Morning 1909” painting is a replica.
“He actually gifted it to eh Southern Railway President in 1969 and it was kept in that family and then they gifted it to us and it kind of started this whole collection that we have,” P’Simer said.
From the cheer of Christmas morning so long ago to the vivid depiction of a dark day in Knoxville, also known as the million-dollar fire on Gay Street back in 1897, captured on canvas by Briscoe in 1963.
You can see why he became known and respected for his attention to detail and historical accuracy. It’s a visual history that spans 189 years of life in East Tennessee, including our beautiful and timeless mountain views.
Briscoe created his paintings over a 22-year period until his death in 1979. He not only also sold insurance, but he also ran a toy store that was so successful, that it survived the Depression.
Learn more about the Russell Briscoe collection at www.eastTNhistory.org.