Park in Paris, ca. 1960 (Beauford Delaney Archive, Betsey B. Creekmore Special Collections and University Archives, University of Tennessee Libraries)
Event Honors Donors to Beauford Delaney Archives
by Martha Rudolph
May 17, 2022  •  5 minute read

“Knoxville now lays claim to owning the largest institutional collections by Beauford Delaney […] in the world. And today we celebrate the fantastic news that Beauford’s archives have found a home here in Knoxville.”

Stephen Wicks, curator at the Knoxville Museum of Art, was speaking at an event celebrating the UT Libraries’ acquisition of the Beauford Delaney Archives and honoring the donors who made it possible. The Beck Cultural Exchange Center hosted the event on May 9.

“Beauford is one of the 20th century’s great modern painters. And I think he’s the greatest painter that Knoxville every produced. He saw light in the world that no one else saw, and he found ways of investing that light in every painting, in every stroke,” Wicks said.

Speakers and donors gather at Beauford Delaney Event in May

The Beck Cultural Exchange Center, the Knoxville Museum of Art, and the UT Libraries, which each hold significant Beauford Delaney collections, have formed a partnership to share those cultural assets with the local community and with the world. “We have an opportunity to really leave a legacy in Knoxville,” said Reverend Reneé Kesler, president of the Beck Cultural Exchange Center. “We’re not just doing something; we’re doing something together. I believe that the Delaney project is going to become the beloved project, and Knoxville will become the beloved community because it will unite and bring people together in harmony, in unity, and in peace.”

At the May 9th event, donors who supported purchase of the Beauford Delaney Archives had the opportunity to view selected items from that collection. “There are some amazing pieces right there that have so many possibilities programmatically, in terms of future scholarship. It’s just a gold mine,” Wicks told the assembled donors. “But what you see here today is just the tip of the iceberg. The scope, the size of this archive — there are so many possibilities for future scholarship locally as well as engaging scholars from around the world. […] We’re so grateful to those who made extraordinary gifts to help us see this day and to bring together these important cultural assets.”

It was far from inevitable that the Beauford Delaney Archives would find a permanent home in the artist’s own hometown. Derek Spratley, administrator of the Beauford Delaney estate, spoke about his decades-long pursuit of the right home for the archives. He received inquiries from well-funded US libraries, universities, and museums. “But it was important to me for the art to stay here, for the archives to stay here,” Spratley said. “This was one of Knoxville’s sons.”

UT Chancellor Donde Plowman spoke about the university’s role as stewards of the Beauford Delaney Archives: “It is a true honor for the University of Tennessee to be the stewards of this collection. And that is how we see it: as the stewards. By keeping his work here, we are securing and elevating the legacy of this brilliant artist in his hometown. The collection does not belong to the University of Tennessee. It belongs to Knoxville and to the world. And we’re proud of that. By residing here at the UT Libraries, the archives is available for collaboration with partners like the Beck Cultural Exchange Center and the Knoxville Museum of Art, whose own remarkable collections will enhance our understanding of this artist and his work. It will create new opportunities for research and for education, for reflection, and for inspiration. […] So, all of these partners, along with our donors including [Natalie and Jim Haslam] and [Ann and Steve Bailey], cemented Mr. Delaney’s legacy here in Knoxville and created a wonderful resource for those who live here now and who will live here in the future.”

Stay tuned for future Beauford Delaney event information right here on Speaking Volumes.