Beneath Henley Street near the base of the Sunsphere are windowless rooms that once served as storage space for Miller's Department Store, now occupied by the University of Tennessee. Within these fluorescent catacombs, in one large, square room, is an unusual cache of the artwork and personal relics of two famous men. Though little known in Knoxville, where it has all been stowed out of public view for more than 10 years, the collection is the subject of gathering national attention.
Leaning against the wall are large, vibrant abstracts and several brilliantly colorful oil portraits--one of singer Ethel Waters, another of skier Jean-Claude Killy. Some are finished pieces on canvas; some are painted on leftover junk, cardboard, even styrofoam. In large flat drawers are thousands of drawings of nude women. On the floor are fanciful pieces of furniture, a wooden throne with a Saxon warrior and maiden bearing the arms, a wooden bench with oil landscapes on the back. In boxes are personal letters, many signed with famous names: Henry Miller, James Jones, James Baldwin. One of them, from novelist Miller, says something to the effect of, "If youever need money, sell this letter." There are also photographs from the 1930s through the '60s, many of them depicting a short black man with a black beret and an impish smile on a Manhattan rooftop, in a smoky jazz club, in a Venetian canal boat. And sketches--on candy wrappers, matchbooks, beer coasters.
This hoard is a gathering of the estates of two important 20th century American artists--painters who had little in common except that they were both born in Knoxville almost a century ago, to the same parents.
Beauford Delaney, who spent much of his career in Paris, is already better known internationally than any other native Knoxville artist. Lately, some have compared him to Van Gogh, called him one of the most important American artists of the century. In the last five years alone, Beauford Delaney has been profiled in several national magazines, the focus of gallery shows in New York--and the subject of a major full-length biography to be published internationally later this year by Oxford University Press. He's been well known among art experts for nearly 60 years, but just lately, articles in mainstream magazines like Smithsonian have been referring to Delaney as if assuming readers would know the name.
The other brother, an accomplished artist whose reputation once rivaled Beauford's, died in Knoxville just over five years ago. The reason all of Joseph Delaney's and his brother's things are still stored here is that they're all part of a complicated dispute about a will, on file in Knox County Probate Court, that bears Joseph Delaney's signature.
You may have noticed him around 1990, an old black man with a graying mustache hanging around Cumberland Avenue, sitting on the retaining wall next to Burger King, gazing out at traffic. You might not have been surprised to know that he grew up in East Knoxville and that he had known poverty.
But Joe Delaney was different from most octogenarians wandering alone on Knoxville sidewalks. He'd spent most of his life--over half a century, all told--in New York. Manhattan's crowded street scenes were the subject of his best-known paintings, some of which were collected in major institutions; they'd earned him a secure place in the pantheon of black American artists. Color plates of his work already appeared prominently in books devoted to the work of black artists, and his capsule biography showed up in nationally published reference books.
Despite a degree of fame unusual for any artist, for the last several years Joseph Delaney's work has been overshadowed by that of his older brother Beauford, who died in Paris in 1979. More versatile and more daring than Joseph, Beauford Delaney is often called a genius, a master who stretched the boundaries of what could be done with color, from his early portraits of jazz stars to his late abstracts.
In 1986, 82-year-old Joseph Delaney returned to his hometown after a half-century absence, to be an artist-in-residence at UT. He and his paintings--he called them his "children"--lived in a rent-free cottage on 22nd Street on a hillside near Terrace Avenue, with a "modest stipend" to live on. Also in the house were many of Beauford's paintings Joe had obtained from the French government after Beauford's death.
On April 28, 1988, less than two years after he moved here, Joseph Delaney signed a will. In 1991, Joseph Delaney died, allegedly without telling his family about his will. More than five years after his death, several aspects of the Delaney estate remain unresolved, the particulars disputed by the Delaney brothers' closest surviving relative.
Ogust Delaney Stewart is a lovely lady who charms her guests with an easy, playful smile--the same smile you see in those photographs of Beauford. Stewart, who turns 73 this year, lives in a large, comfortable, turn-of-the-century home on Dandridge Avenue with a view of the Smokies and colorful holly trees in the yard. It's the house her father, Samuel Delaney (Beauford and Joseph's brother), moved into 50 years ago. After spending most of her adult life in Detroit, Stewart has lived in Knoxville recently, staying with her sister until Imogene Delaney's death last September. Now she lives alone with the assistance of a young man who serves her as butler and cook.
Her house is decorated with artwork--Asian, classical, along with a few prints of her famous uncles' paintings. Self-portraits of both Joe and Beauford are in her living room. On occasion, she hosts an elegant mid-afternoon dinner in the old Southern style, just as she once did for her Uncles Beauford and Joseph on their visits here. A college graduate, she speaks of painters and poets and visits to Paris and New York. She says she can still feel Beauford's spirit leading her to make the right decisions.
She's a gracious, hospitable lady, but if you ask her about growing up black in East Knoxville, she'll tell you. As an elementary-school student, she was ecstatic to learn that she won first place in a News-Sentinel-sponsored city-wide contest to interpret Knoxville history in scrapbook form. The winner was to be honored with a special dinner. One day at school, a couple of white men in a car picked her up and drove her out to an empty park where they handed her a box lunch with a piece of cold fried chicken. She ate it, alone. "There were no other children there," she recalls. She got back in the car and the men drove her back to school.
A prouder moment of her youth was when her Uncle Beauford, freshly famous after Life magazine featured him and his work, visited as a guest lecturer at Austin High around 1940. "I remember so vividly," she recalls. "It was such a joyous time for him and for us, whenever he came: food, love, laughter. Beauford loved food. Mother made a great egg custard: a lot of cream, eggs, and butter, served with pound cake. I can see Beauford sipping this custard and his eyes rolling upward."
For Ogust Delaney and the rest of her family, of course, attending the University of Tennessee in the 1940s was out of the question. She attended Clark University in Atlanta. After graduating in 1946, she returned to her hometown. But segregated Knoxville had little to offer a black college graduate. At the encouragement of friends, she went north to Detroit where she worked as a schoolteacher until a heart attack in her 40s forced her to retire. After the end of a long marriage, she returned to Knoxville in 1986 to tend to her ailing mother. Her Uncle Joseph had just moved back as well.
A Tale of Two Brothers
Joseph Delaney's death at UT Hospital on November 20, 1991, was the end of a saga on the scale of an epic, a dual story of two talented but very different brothers. Both born in Knoxville at the turn of the century (Beauford in 1901, Joseph in 1904), the Delaneys grew up on old East Vine Street, the sons of a respected Methodist minister. They moved around the region following their dad's preaching assignments, but spent most of their youths in Knoxville.
Both brothers showed an early aptitude for art. "We were constantly doing something with our hands," Joseph recalled later, "modeling with the very red Tennessee clay." Beauford was, from the beginning, a charismatic personality whose talents were diverse: "Beauford could always strum on a ukulele and sing like mad and could mimic with the best," said Joe.
Augusta Hyatte, who still lives in Knoxville, remembers Beauford from the Austin School on Central, near what's now the Old City, around 1912. "Beauford liked to draw then," she says, laughing. "Some students were getting their lessons, some were doing something else. Beauford was drawing pictures all the time."
Margaret Carson, a historian associated with the Beck Cultural Center, also remembers. Beauford was a couple of years older than she was, but she always assumed he was younger. "He never did get real tall, like his brother," she says. Of the two brothers, she says, "Beauford was the one at the time that everybody was saying, 'he's gonna be an artist.' I remember he drew a picture of the principal that looked just like him." (That principal was noted educator Charles Cansler.) When Carson needed a picture of a medieval knight for a school report, Beauford drew her one for a quarter.
As a teenager Beauford found work as a "helper" with the Post Sign Company, back when signs were painted by professional artists, and with a downtown leather-working shop.
Somewhere along the way Beauford's sketches impressed a local artist named Lloyd Branson. A white commercial artist in his '60s who kept a studio on Gay Street, Branson was an accomplished but stylistically conservative painter. He made his living in portraits, but had won awards for his bolder paintings. Branson's now remembered as one of the finest painters in Knoxville before the Delaneys; his work appears in recently published books about Southern artists.
Branson saw a special talent in this small black man almost 50 years his junior and hired him as a "porter," in exchange for painting lessons. Beauford Delaney became, essentially, Branson's apprentice.
It's hard to imagine an odder duo in early 1920s Knoxville: the elderly, formal Old Master, and the lively, mimicking, adolescent Beauford Delaney. It may be hard to see Branson's influence in the modern work of Beauford Delaney, except in their shared interest in portraits.
By 1924, the year before his death, Branson realized Delaney had talents that might go well beyond what the elder portraitist could teach him. Branson arranged to send the 23-year-old Delaney to art school in Boston. After that, Beauford Delaney returned to Knoxville to visit, but never again to live.
Meanwhile, Beauford's more conservative, more private brother Joseph, three years younger, had a harder youth perhaps more typical of a black kid in early 20th-century Knoxville. He worked as a caddy at Cherokee Country Club and as a bellhop at the Farragut Hotel, a job that got him into trouble as he attempted to obtain illegal liquor and women for guests.
Joseph left Knoxville at 18, a couple of years before his older brother did, hopping a train out of town looking for work. Sometimes living outside the law, Joseph spent much of the '20s hoboing around the Midwest. He joined the National Guard in Chicago. By 1929, he was back home, trying to sell insurance, helping found Knoxville's first black Boy Scout troop. Inspired by his older brother's success in art, Joseph moved to New York in 1930, near the end of the artistic flourishing known as the Harlem Renaissance, to join his brother, who'd arrived in Manhattan a year earlier.
Beauford had changed. His friends were Greenwich Village bohemians, some of them flamboyantly homosexual; he'd also developed more daring ideas about art, strongly influenced by 20th-century artists like Matisse. The brothers split up. Joseph joined the Art Students League and, by 1932, was studying with the elderly muralist Thomas Hart Benton. Like Benton, Joseph Delaney devoted his career to realism. For over 50 years in New York, he pursued a career portraying real life on the crowded streets of Manhattan.
Meanwhile, Beauford, the wild one, was turning heads all over the Village with his art and his personality. He had a reputation as an unorthodox portraitist: Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and W.C. Handy all sat for Beauford Delaney portraits, some of which were featured in a 1930 show at the Whitney. He returned to Knoxville in 1933 and painted a portrait of his mother, but was soon back in the Village, now painting vivid landscapes of downtown scenes. In October 1938, Life magazine gave Beauford national exposure, prominently publishing a photograph of Delaney with his work at an outdoor show at Washington Square.
In the early '40s, a New York paper observed that Delaney was living without electricity in a Village slum, proud of his collection of the condemnation notices he kept finding on his building. The leaky apartment's floor was sometimes coated with ice. He showed his paintings to visitors by candlelight. They were his only indulgence. Despite the artist's extreme living conditions, his colorful paintings covering Beauford's walls reminded one visitor of an encapsulated Mardi Gras.
About that time, Beauford Delaney met a teenaged preacher named James Baldwin. Delaney became an important father figure for the troubled kid-- Baldwin's first proof that a black man could survive, somehow, as an artist. The two remained close for 40 years, through Baldwin's rise to success as the author of Another Country and The Fire Next Time. (Baldwin later started a novel based on Delaney's life, called A Higher Place--but he died before finishing it.)
Delaney also met author Henry Miller, already notorious for his often-banned Tropic novels. Delaney painted Miller's portrait, and Miller returned the favor with an essay, "The Amazing and Invariable Beauford Delaney": "Brother Beauford is making an image in heavenly colors," Miller wrote, "an image not of me, nor of him, but of God." Delaney developed a reputation as a portraitist of almost uncanny perception. "He could size up a lifetime of somebody by looking at them," Ogust Stewart says.
Americans didn't talk as much about Beauford Delaney after he left for Europe in 1953. "He left because he was not accepted to the degree he should have been," Ogust Stewart says. "The United States hasn't grown up yet. We punish persons we should celebrate." Passing through Paris on his way to Italy, Delaney fell for the city and stayed. There, he began dabbling in abstracts and, eventually, losing his mind.
Delaney biographer David Leeming says Delaney heard voices even in his youth. They began to trouble him more often in the '60s. Over the Christmas season of 1969-70, Beauford Delaney came home to Knoxville where his older brother Sam, a retired barber, still lived. Sam's daughter Ogust recalls that during his visit, the phone at Dandridge Avenue repeatedly rang as people with foreign accents begged Beauford to come back to France.
Beauford Delaney did return to Paris and was eventually institutionalized there, diagnosed with acute paranoia. Baldwin, then a wealthy author, filed to become Beauford Delaney's legal guardian. Even in 1975, Baldwin petitioned, "I anticipate a problem concerning the disposition of his estate and hereby express my willingness to help in any way possible in order to ensure that Mr. Delaney's estate will be protected to the advantage of his family and heirs."
Baldwin also publicized an effort to transport Beauford Delaney back home to Knoxville, convinced it would be good for Beauford's emotional health. It never happened.
Beauford Delaney died in Paris in 1979, having never made a will. To settle his debts, the French government gathered everything in his apartment at St. Anne's Hospital: paintings, letters, even his elaborate miniature doodles on paper scraps. A committee led by Baldwin governed his estate for a time, but was eventually supplanted by the French government. (Baldwin died in 1987.) All Beauford's stuff eventually made its way back to Knoxville and to that vault underneath Henley Street.
The means by which it all came home was Beauford's brother Joe. The younger Delaney had enjoyed a degree of respect, if not monetary success, in the New York art world. With more than $6,000 of his own money, Joseph paid the French taxes and storage and shipping fees to bring crates of Beauford's art and personal effects back to his spare apartment in Manhattan. Beauford and Joseph didn't always get along; Joseph was troubled by Beauford's apparent homosexuality and never had much patience for abstract art, either. Asked why he went to such lengths to preserve his brother's work, he said, "You'd do it for your brother." But some of Beauford's boxes Joseph never even opened.
By 1970, the University of Tennessee had expressed interest in Joseph's art, inviting him to exhibit at McClung Museum, acquiring Delaney's large urban street scene, "VJ Day, Times Square," which today hangs in the University Center's lobby. When Joe returned to Knoxville in 1982 to attend his brother Sam's funeral, he visited UT again to have another look at his painting. Ewing Gallery director Sam Yates told Delaney then that UT would like to mount a show.
Yates remembers bringing a Delaney exhibit to UT as the best result of the Homecoming '86 festival. Yates visited Delaney in New York to pick out some work and observed Delaney's living quarters--on an upper floor of a commercial building near Union Square, without a kitchen, sharing a bathroom with other tenants. "His apartment was so crammed, we had to pick from the perimeter of this pile of work," Yates recalls.
At the opening Delaney saw another old friend, Alex Haley, who the Delaneys had known in the Village back in the '40s. According to Yates, "Alex Haley was instrumental in suggesting to the administration the artist-in-residence idea." Ogust Stewart disputes that account; she sees both her uncle and Haley as victims of the same plot to acquire the works of famous artists.
Many saw it, and still see it, as an obvious humanitarian gesture to rescue an 82-year-old former Knoxvillian who'd been living in conditions that were, at best, spartan. UT offered Joe a rent-free cottage at 916 22nd Street, on the west end of campus.
To escort Delaney to Knoxville, UT enlisted the help of Hardy Liston, associate vice-chancellor. Liston rode up with a van and two helpers to move Delaney's possessions, including Beauford's artwork and personal effects, to Knoxville. "For a man who'd lived on the ninth floor of a former office building in New York and paid rent for it," Liston says, "I'd say his living environment was improved 1,000%."
Yates explains Delaney's role as UT artist-in-residence. "He didn't have any teaching responsibilities. He would occasionally let students come over and talk with him. And he used to come over and draw with the figure-drawing class at night."
In interviews, Delaney sounded upbeat about the move--a chance to see beautiful scenery and visit with old friends. Delaney did entertain visitors on 22nd Street, old friends and new, Yates says. "But his visitors weren't necessarily art people." Yates recalls one black art instructor who tried to befriend Delaney, but the two didn't hit it off.
Delaney's last five years were physically active ones. "Joe liked to walk," Liston recalls. "The first few months he was here, he got up in the morning and walked all the way to East Knoxville. He'd walk and marvel at the scenery." Delaney often ate a salad at the nearby Burger King or at Ramsey's Cafeteria. Through young friends he also discovered the Old City jazz club Lucille's, which he said reminded him of a favorite Harlem cafe. Each Sunday, someone would drive over and pick him up to take him to his old family church, Lennon-Seney Methodist on Dandridge.
But he did very little work. His forte was crowded, urban scenes; he didn't find them in 1980s Knoxville. "His only complaint with Knoxville was that it wasn't New York," Liston says. Nor was Knoxville the crowded, public city Delaney remembered in paintings like his boisterous 1940 canvas, "Vine and Central, Knoxville, Tennessee."
"He liked Knoxville, but he liked it in his memory," Yates says. "What interested him were parades, crowds of people. But also, he was getting older. He slowed down. He, as an artist, decided he had already done an awful lot."
Delaney spoke of painting the pedestrian bridge over Cumberland, but never got around to it. He did attend life-drawing classes at UT; he was especially accomplished at drawing nudes. Yates says he started things but never finished them.
In April 1988, Delaney rode downtown with Liston to the Plaza Tower offices of McCampbell & Young, where he signed a will dividing his estate into thirds: one-third to Volunteers of America, "to be used exclusively to serve homeless individuals and families in Knoxville, Tennessee, and the surrounding areas." His friends say that part sounds like Joe Delaney, who had spent part of his own life homeless and was concerned about those down on their luck.
One-third would be divided between his two closest surviving relatives, Ogust and Imogene, both living in Knoxville.
And one-third would go to his relatively new patron, the University of Tennessee, to be kept or sold "at the discretion of the Chancellor of the Knoxville campus," but stipulating that if any were to be sold, the proceeds would go to create "THE JOSEPH DELANEY ART SCHOLARSHIP ENDOWMENT FUND...for scholarships to aspiring artists who are majoring in art."
Ogust Stewart believes UT pressured Delaney to make the will and that he came to resent his post here. "Knoxville was not what he thought it would be," she says. "This experience broke his spirit. He begged me to take him back to New York. He wandered around campus, lost."
Several of his Knoxville friends who survive don't recall his complaining about the university at all, but some believe Joe Delaney was disappointed with UT, at least in his final years.
One coordinator of his life-drawing classes was Walt Fieldsa, a professional artist who worked at UT in the '80s. Now a commercial artist in Seymour, Fieldsa does not know Ogust and was unaware of the will controversy. He met Joe Delaney through UT's life-study classes during the '88-'89 school year, and the two spent many hours together talking art.
Delaney "wasn't very impressed" with UT, Fieldsa says. "He said nobody in the art department had come around to see him. As an artist-in-residence, he expected to have contact with the artistic community, and he did not. He wanted to go back to the Art Students League in New York where he'd had so much camaraderie."
Around 1990, Fieldsa says, Delaney confessed his disappointment with UT. "He wasn't the kind of guy who would speak badly of anybody," Fieldsa says. "He wasn't grumbling or complaining. It would just come out in conversation."
Beal Bourne, director of Jarnigan's Funeral Home, used to drive Delaney to church. "He was disgruntled that he wasn't treated as well as he thought he should be," Bourne recalls, adding he doesn't remember specific references to UT. "He wanted to get out of the 'situation' he was in," Bourne says--"but I didn't know what situation he was in."
"I'm not gonna stay here," the 85-year-old Joe Delaney told the News- Sentinel's Wayne Bledsoe in 1989. "I'm not painting. Something has frozen inside of me."
Sometimes Delaney called a cab, went to the airport, and got on a plane to New York alone, apparently to visit old friends. (Though some who didn't know him well assumed he was poor, he startled Knoxville bank tellers with the size of his savings account.)
"I thought Joe was peaceful here," Yates says. "He always seemed relaxed. "But Knoxville's just a very different place from New York..."
Most would find this tree-shaded house on a quiet street a fine home. But Stewart says Joe Delaney was different from most of us and attempts to "save" Delaney from New York were misguided. "In New York, Joe lived in a huge loft, with a restroom down the hall; he had natural light. It's not the way I'd choose to live--but artists are different."
During Delaney's final illness in late 1991, Ogust cared for him, doing his cooking and cleaning. Immediately after his death on November 20, 1991, UT ordered the house at 916 22nd sealed. Though Joe Delaney had never been particularly careful about security for his or his brother's work, there was a significant hazard of theft.
But Ogust was frustrated not to be able to return to the house where she'd been nursing him. "I go to Joe's house to get a suit for the funeral, and I'm locked out," she says. "I had to buy a suit to bury him in." Within the house were also a number of personal items she had brought during her stay with Joe, including a borrowed vacuum cleaner.
The work was eventually shipped to this UT storage facility downtown to await the legal disposition of the estate; much of the work transported was Beauford Delaney's artwork and mementos from Paris that Joseph had never unpacked.
Ogust reported to Probate Court and filed a claim for her uncle's estate. She says she assumed that, like Beauford, Joseph had died without a will. Ogust says she was surprised to learn that her uncle had made a will at all, and she was doubly surprised to learn that he had left only one-third of his estate to his family (one-sixth to her, specifically), and one third to the University of Tennessee.
Meanwhile, other complications began screaming in like good and evil spirits in some ancient tragedy. The year Joseph died, a show at the Philippe Briet Gallery in New York got people talking about his brother Beauford more than they had before. The nationally-read weekly Village Voice ran a two-page feature on "The Undiscovered Art of Beauford Delaney": "Hard as it may be to believe, this show makes it clear that a major black figure slipped through the cracks..."
As Knoxville lawyers struggled with what to do with Joe Delaney's brother's work, the accolades mounted. In the widely respected 1993 text, A History of African American Artists, painter Romare Bearden and Harry Henderson gave a chapter to Beauford Delaney, hailing him as a unique artist who "saw color, even within color" and quoted Delaney fan Georgia O'Keefe. The same book also included a section on Joseph Delaney, implying that the Delaney brothers were two of the 30 or 40 most important black artists in American history.
In 1994, another Beauford Delaney show at Philippe Briet Gallery brought more attention, inspiring a profile in Art in America called "Whatever Happened to Beauford Delaney?," amplifying the question in the illustrated text: "Why is this once well-regarded 'artist's artist' virtually unknown to the American art public?" Then came another Voice profile: "The Lost Master."
The same year, Leeming's nationally praised biography James Baldwin came out, its Chapter 4 titled Beauford Delaney. Leeming, an international scholar of world mythology who'd known Delaney in Paris and Istanbul, says a Delaney biography came to seem inevitable. "If you're interested in Baldwin," he says, "you can't not be interested in Delaney."
Leeming began researching the full-length biography he's calling Amazing Grace: A Biography of Beauford Delaney. "Beauford Delaney, like Baldwin, seemed like a case to be studied," he says. "When I met Beauford Delaney in Paris, I was already writing his biography." Leeming says Baldwin described Delaney as "a cross between Br'er Rabbit and Francis of Assisi"; Leeming learned what he meant. "Beauford had a kind of holiness, but also a sense of trickery, a sense of the funny about him. You see that combination in his painting--there's an ethereal love of light and life, but also a quirky comic vision." Delaney's paintings seem to say, "I may be suffering, but what an experience this is!" Leeming says Delaney's work "is never depressing, though Beauford was often depressed; he could say yes to life in spite of the fact that life was kicking him in the ass."
Leeming himself has made trips to Knoxville, both to research Delaney's youth and to inspect the subterranean estate troves. An assistant has spent weeks in Knoxville working like an archaeologist on the estate, cataloguing the hundreds of letters, photographs, sketches, and other clues Beauford Delaney left in his Paris hospital room.
Leeming says he encountered resistance from an unscrupulous French biographer who hoped to beat him with another Delaney biography; Leeming prevailed. Leeming's 400-page Delaney biography is due to be published internationally by Oxford University Press late this year.
Meanwhile, prices rise, and single Beauford Delaney paintings have been selling in the five and six figures.
As if things weren't already complicated enough, during the deep freeze of early 1996, a frozen pipe above the Delaney storage room burst. Only weeks later was it discovered that several of the paintings had been seriously, if not irreparably, damaged.
"It was a well-laid plot by UT," Ogust Stewart claims. "What they offered him was a broken-down house with no natural light and the promise of a Chair. But it was all a sham. The only thing they wanted from Joe was his art." (Yates and others at UT say they remember no promise of a prominent faculty position.)
It might seem at least unusual that Joseph would leave a third of his estate to a university he'd had little connection with before he was 82 years old, and that he would name as executor a UT administrator he'd known for only 20 months.
Unusual though it might have been, Hardy Liston describes his relationship with Joe Delaney as one would describe a true friendship. He was certainly among Joe's most frequent companions here. Some acquaintances describe Liston as Delaney's best friend. Liston arranged for Joe to meet with old friends, and often the two went out to lunch together, usually a fast-food joint on Cumberland, because it was what Joe favored. (Even in New York, Delaney had eaten mainly at the local McDonald's.)
Liston smiles to remember the Friday afternoon in 1987 when he called Delaney from his Andy Holt Tower office to tell Joe he'd be leaving that weekend to go out of town for a few days on business.
"Where you going?" Delaney asked.
"Going down to New Orleans for a few days."
"New Orleans!" the 83-year-old Delaney exclaimed. "I've never been there. Can I go?"
Liston didn't think it was practical, but that weekend the two were in an airplane on its way to the Crescent City. They spent much of their time around Jackson Square, visiting with the sidewalk artists. "He was just thrilled," Liston recalls. "He ran into painters he'd known years before." Delaney persuaded Liston to sit for a pastel portrait. Delaney spied an attractive female painter and chose to sit for her.
Now that painting is part of the divided estate.
Hardy Liston, executor of Joe Delaney's will, is a retiree who will turn 77 this year. In 1988, he was a trained engineer and well-respected college administrator looking forward to retirement. When he agreed to take responsibility for the will of an elderly painter of modest recognition, the name Beauford Delaney had been nearly forgotten even in New York art circles.
Few might have guessed, in 1988, that nine years hence Joe Delaney's will would be central to a modern-art battle of national significance.
Hoping to hasten a mutually agreeable resolution, Liston chooses not to respond to Ogust Stewart's specific charges, but offers this statement: "The estate of Joe Delaney has been administered through a participatory process in which each of the beneficiaries has had equal opportunity to make recommendations regarding process and express their wishes with regard to the in-kind distribution of the artwork. I think it's been as fair and equitable a process as we could have hoped for."
Ogust Stewart's concerns about the validity of the will may be moot. "There's a question of how the will was procured," her attorney Andy Davis says, a possibility of "undue influence"--but they have no plans to challenge the will itself. Davis, a New York attorney, became Stewart's counsel a few years ago trying to resolve ownership of several Beauford Delaney paintings which were in New York when he died. While admitting "Mrs. Stewart is not happy with the way the distribution was made," Davis considers the distribution of Joseph's estate resolved. (The East Tennessee Foundation, the umbrella agency governing the Volunteers of America bequest, has already taken possession of its share, though the foundation has sold none of it yet, pending cleaning and framing.)
"There are a couple of problems that came up as far as evaluation of the assets," Davis says. An appraiser estimated Joe's paintings (not counting Beauford's) were worth $586,000. "Mrs. Stewart feels the appraisal of artworks were substantially understated. When she came to make her selections, she didn't have the advice the others did. The East Tennessee Foundation and the University of Tennessee were not terribly interested in sharing any knowledge they had with Mrs. Stewart. Mrs. Stewart doesn't feel that's the way a charity or an educational institution should operate." Though the official appraisal was known to all, Davis said the competing institutions had help from advisors that Stewart wasn't party to.
Finally, there's that burst-pipe water damage on UT's premises. The art was insured, but Davis says, "Because the evaluation of the artwork was low, the insurance that was taken out was also low."
Meanwhile, Beauford Delaney's estate, the one Baldwin was worried about back in 1975, has yet to be distributed. It's split between Knoxville and New York. A 1978 show at the Studio Museum in Harlem included 69 pieces of Beauford's best work and had not been returned to Paris at the time of Beauford's death; those paintings have been the subject of legal wrangling in New York for years. Ogust Stewart and Hardy Liston successfully challenged the New York Public Administrator's control over the Harlem paintings. They're still in New York, but officially part of the Beauford Delaney estate.
Beauford's estate was originally treated as part of Joe's. However, further investigations have disclosed other collateral Delaney descendants, far-flung grandchildren and a greatgrandchild of an older brother, Sterling Delaney, who died in 1916. As it stands, Beauford's work will likely be divided between the estates of Sam (Ogust's father), Sterling, and Joe Delaney. (Liston is co-administrator of that estate with Ogust Stewart.) UT may wind up with one-ninth of that estate.
The law firm of McCampbell & Young has spent much of the last five years trying to help Liston execute the Delaney estates. Stewart claims the firm is unfairly biased toward UT's interests in the case. "The old buddy system is alive and well," she says. Members of the firm deny favoritism, and Stewart admits there's not much she can prove. "It's like getting hit in the head with a raindrop," she says. "The first one you don't feel. But after 15 more..."
Stewart has a reputation for being "difficult" and "litigious." Everyone involved in the case is in a difficult position, certainly including Stewart. She seems acutely aware of being the outsider in Knoxville, the least powerful party--and the only person involved in the estate dispute who knew Beauford Delaney.
"Now I'm not in the loop, and I never really have been," she says. "I'm the family, not UT. The blood family. How are you gonna take bloodlines and just throw 'em overboard? This is not just a fight for Joseph and Beauford. This is a fight for black artists around the world." She says black artists have a history of being exploited for the profit of others, and one family's resistance might help others by example.
Today, the house at 916 22nd Street is quiet. A standard UT-logo sign out front labels Joe Delaney's former house the CONFLICT RESOLUTION PROGRAM. Though distributions of Joseph Delaney's works are complete, Beauford's works remain undistributed; neither file is closed.
Sam Yates says UT's primary interest is to see the Delaney work preserved. "My interest has always been to protect the work of the Delaneys. We'd like to see it preserved for posterity and try to have an exhibition traveling across the country to let the public have an opportunity to see their works. They'd never be for sale." (Just two weeks ago, Yates got a call from a doctoral student at Yale who's working on a thesis about the work of Joseph Delaney; he was glad to be able to help.)
Ogust Stewart has ideas strikingly similar. "I'm the one not interested in selling," she says. She says she'd like to establish a foundation to keep as much work as possible together to be available for exhibit, especially to inspire black children. "It isn't just a question of value or money," says her attorney, Andy Davis, from his New York office. "It's a question of how should the legacy of Joseph and Beauford be carried on. I think the focus should be on this motherlode of art that Knoxville has spawned. It all came out of Knoxville..."
Ogust Stewart says Beauford's spirit guides her to make the right decisions. "Beauford will prevail," she says. "He does all the time with me, anyway." Considering the similarity of her stated motives and UT's, she says the two of them working together somehow is not out of the question, but she'll have to do some praying about it.
Knoxville at large doesn't have any say in the legal matters. But by 1998, Knoxville may be known to many educated people as the Home of Beauford Delaney. Whatever's decided by the lawyers and heirs behind closed doors may affect Knoxville for years to come.