The University of Tennessee Libraries has received a $250,000 grant from the Henry Luce Foundation* to complete processing and promote the recently acquired Beauford Delaney Papers, the personal archive of the renowned modernist painter. The grant will fund a two-year graduate research fellowship, an opening exhibition and celebration, and community exhibitions planned in collaboration with the Knoxville Museum of Art, the Beck Cultural Exchange Center, and UT’s Ewing Gallery of Art.
The Beauford Delaney Graduate Research Fellowship, which includes a summer-long study and research opportunity in Paris, France (Beauford Delaney’s adopted home), will provide a transformative academic experience to a postgraduate seeking an advanced degree. This prestigious position should attract candidates from graduate programs in art, history, and other disciplines.
The grant was awarded under the foundation’s American Art Program, which sponsors projects that advance the role of the visual arts in a more open and equitable society, that foreground diverse experiences and perspectives, and that promote more vibrant and empathetic communities.
“This generous grant from the Henry Luce Foundation will allow the UT Libraries to move quickly to make this culturally significant archive accessible for research, student scholarship, and public engagement,” said Holly Mercer, Senior Associate Dean at the UT Libraries.
In 2022, the UT Libraries acquired the personal papers of Knoxville-born artist Beauford Delaney (1901–1979), widely considered one of the major modernist painters of the 20th century. Delaney’s personal papers — including sketchbooks, scrapbooks, daily musings, and correspondence with artistic and literary luminaries such as James Baldwin, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Henry Miller — now reside in UT’s Betsey B. Creekmore Special Collections and University Archives.
The Henry Luce Foundation grant will allow the UT Libraries, working in collaboration with community partners, to further secure Knoxville’s rightful place as the epicenter for historians, researchers, and artists studying the life and work of Beauford Delaney and Beauford’s brother Joseph Delaney (1904–1991), also a well-known painter.
The Knoxville Museum of Art (KMA) holds the world’s largest public collection of work by Beauford Delaney. UT’s Ewing Gallery of Art holds a large bequest of works by Joseph Delaney. And the Beck Cultural Exchange Center (which holds Delaney family photos, correspondence and other documents) has purchased the only remaining Delaney family home and begun construction on a Delaney Museum and study center, which is on track to open in 2024.
The new graduate research fellow will, under the direction of UT Libraries archivists, work closely with those museums to plan events and exhibitions that will promote the research and cultural value of Delaney collections held by cultural heritage institutions in the artists’ hometown. The Henry Luce Foundation grant will fund kiosks at the KMA, the Ewing, and the Beck to showcase virtual exhibitions. UT’s Betsey B. Creekmore Special Collections and University Archives is planning both on-site and online digital exhibitions of the Beauford Delaney Papers. Taken together, these exhibitions will demonstrate the impact of Beauford Delaney’s work and celebrate his legacy across Knoxville.
Commending the planned project, Reverend Reneé Kesler, president of the Beck Cultural Exchange Center, noted a compelling need for greater visibility of the local collections: “Beauford was friends with and beloved by the most respected cultural and intellectual figures of his age. He was a close friend and mentor to novelist, playwright, and social critic James Baldwin. Georgia O’Keeffe, who rarely did portraits, painted Beauford’s. He was the subject of an affectionate essay by great American writer Henry Miller. Yet many people in Knoxville are not familiar with this native son and his distinguished legacy.”
The local collaborations made possible by the grant from the Henry Luce Foundation will undoubtedly amplify public discourse centered on the life and work of Beauford Delaney.
* The Henry Luce Foundation seeks to enrich public discourse by promoting innovative scholarship, cultivating new leaders, and fostering international understanding. The Foundation advances its mission through grantmaking and leadership programs in the fields of Asia, higher education, religion and theology, art, and public policy. The Luce Foundation’s American Art Program supports innovative museum projects nationwide that advance the role of visual arts of the United States in an open and equitable society, and the potential of museums to serve as forums for art-centered conversations that celebrate creativity, explore difference, and seek common ground. The Foundation empowers museums to reconsider accepted histories, foreground the voices and experiences of underrepresented artists and cultures, and welcome diverse communities into dialogue.
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