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Saturday, September 8, 2012

I Saw Beauford Delaney Today - Part 1

In a recent Google search on Beauford, I came across a video that features the work of an artist named Maureen Kelleher. Driven by her passion for James Baldwin, she created two works that illustrate the special relationship that Baldwin and Beauford had. I bring you these works and the story behind them in a two-part article. Part 1 is below.


Maureen Kelleher discovered James Baldwin while riding out a hurricane in New Orleans in 2000 (she thinks the hurricane was named “Georges.”) She passed the time waiting for the storm by reading David Leeming’s James Baldwin, A Biography, which represented her first exposure to Baldwin. Upon reading the passage about Baldwin advising his brother “Lover” on how to handle a racist, white, superior officer in the army, she remembered an event from her adolescence that made her realize that her father was the “exact description of the racist described in the Baldwin brothers’ exchange.” At that moment, she knew that Baldwin’s advice to “Lover” was “right on the money, honest, and accurate.” She also knew that she needed to resolve the juxtaposition of the two positions – that of Baldwin and that of her father – in her mind.

When the threat of the storm passed, she turned to art as a means of working out this conflict. She created her first works from wood and paint, and used words as a core part of the pieces that released the “creativity floodgate” within her that makes her the artist she is today. From a person who hated art and avoided it with a passion, she turned into a person whose life revolves around art.

I Saw Beauford Delaney Today
Maureen Kelleher
(2008) Mixed Media
Photo courtesy of Maureen Kelleher

Kelleher's work entitled I Saw Beauford Delaney Today is composed of mixed media: wood, painting, engraving, images, and wire on wood. Two photographs in the Leeming biography of Baldwin inspired her to create it – one of Baldwin, Beauford, and Lucien Happersberger walking down the street in Paris, and the other of Baldwin and Beauford at Sainte-Anne’s Hospital. In the first photo, all three subjects are nattily dressed and looking happy. In the second, Beauford is a patient at Sainte-Anne’s and is dressed in a bathrobe. Baldwin is dressed in street clothes and is visiting Beauford.

Kelleher says that the second photo was the true inspiration for her work:

My mother was extremely mentally ill; she had a nervous breakdown, every year of my life, until the time of her death in 1994, so I’ve been in many state hospitals, locked wards, and lots of time spent there, visiting with my mom, meetings lots and lots of doctors and nurses, and all the other patients in the day room, endless smoking, visiting, playing cards, for my entire life. So I really, really “connect” with this photo of Baldwin “coming to the aid” of his mentally ill friend, in the hospital…So sweet and so personal. The big famous American writer, and he’s taking the time to help his dear friend in need, another artist, the American painter, Beauford Delaney.

A trip to The Village (Greenwich Village) was the inspiration for the name of the piece. Kelleher was excited to move to the NYC area in 2005 when she evacuated New Orleans because of Hurricane Katrina. She was thrilled that she could finally go to the places that Baldwin and Beauford frequented and wanted to find where Beauford lived in the Village because she wanted to see where Baldwin first met his dear friend and mentor. She went to 181 Greene Street (the address she had found in Leeming’s biography of Baldwin) and was disappointed to find NYU dormitories at the site.

During that trek, she saw a middle-aged African-American man on the street and said to herself “That could be Beauford Delaney, if this were 1936.” She said that the phrase “I just saw Beauford Delaney” went through her head. She felt that she was “in history’s footsteps” and that she “[just] saw Beauford Delaney” on the street corner in New York City. That’s how she got the title for her piece.

To view Maureen Kelleher’s works, visit her Web sites at
www.mkelleherart(dot)com and www.beanartbean(dot)com. To watch her video, click here: Maureen Kelleher Studio Visit.

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