Beauford Delaney was born in Knoxville TN in 1901 and raised in a southern Baptist family with two budding artists. Beauford and his brother had a strong aptitude for art and their skills were cultivated locally until the artist moved to Boston to continue his studies.
Delaney would later settle in New York and become a central figure in the Harlem Renaissance where he spent decades cultivating his circle of eclectic, legendary creative friends. One of his closest relationships was with writer James Baldwin who was not only a mentee of Delaney, their close relationship played a significant role in their respective creative practices. They also shared strong bonds of struggling with their strict religious upbringing while coming into their sexuality as gay Black men in 1950s New York. Ultimately, the hostilities and overt racism both suffered would lead them to Paris at two very different times in their lives.
While Delaney’s hometown of Knoxville, TN would lose the artist to the Great Migration, the city has taken recent strides to reclaim his legacy in a series of ambitious curatorial and acquisition efforts designed to create an important posthumous space for him in Knoxville history.
In 2018 the Knoxville Museum of Art added 9 paintings and works on paper to its already extensive collection of the artist’s works. Since then, the museum has taken a concerted effort to work with the community to celebrate Delaney’s work. This week, the museum opened its latest exhibition, exploring the special relationship between Delaney and Baldwin in, Through the Unusual Door. The show explores how their relationship shaped their respective work over time, in paintings and other ephemera that highlight their close bond.
I’ve always wanted to learn more about their relationship and I hope their unique story and the scholarship around Delaney’s work continues to travel far beyond the KMA.
Beauford Delaney and James Baldwin: Through the Unusual Door is on view 2/07/2020 – 5/10/2020 at the Knoxville Museum of Art.