The Downtown Rotary Club this week bestowed its first-ever Peace Award, established to honor the community leader or organization that best promotes peace in the community. Its first honoree was the Beck Cultural Exchange Center.
Located at 1927 Dandridge Avenue, not far from downtown, Beck is a multi-purpose community resource. It hosts a library and extensive collection of documents and artifacts related to local African-American history and a small museum of the local civil rights era, as well as comfortable common rooms which make for a pleasant community gathering place on an afternoon.
Rotary, the well-known service organization, bestowed its new award to Beck on Tuesday at the Knoxville Museum of Art, the location of Rotary’s permanent Peace Garden. The location of the ceremony is a serendipitous coincidence. On the street level of the KMA is an interesting new temporary exhibit about the life and work of African-American artist Beauford Delaney (1901-1979), who was already notable for his portraits of several figures associated with the Harlem Renaissance before he began expermenting with bold new styles, eventually earning a place as perhaps America’s greatest black abstract expressionist. Delaney was born and raised in Knoxville, and had his first training in art here in the early 1920s, when he worked in the Gay Street studio of Lloyd Branson.
The exhibit is especially interesting, combining some of Delaney’s choice abstracts in thick oil, as well as preliminary sketches and playful self-portraits, two late Knoxville landscapes, and even rarely seen personal photographs, some depicting his close friends in Paris, American writers James Baldwin and Henry Miller. (It’s pretty interesting that Delaney was such close friends with these two American exiles, who were among the most controversial writers of the 20th century.) The KMA’s unusual exhibit, of the work of Knoxville’s internationally best known artist is worth at least a half-hour visit.
The exhibit shows a couple of paintings made during Delaney’s visit to his home town in 1969, when he stayed with relatives at the family home on Dandridge Avenue. (Delaney’s childhood home was torn down in the 1960s, during Urban Renewal, but his niece, Ogust, remained in the neighborhood for decades.)
Here’s the coincidence, concerning the award presented Tuesday at the KMA. The Beck Cultural Exchange Center happens to be next door to that Delaney home. Beck recently acquired that Delaney house, which happens to be next door to the museum / community center that has become well known since its establishment in 1975.