Les Amis de Beauford Delaney is supporting the completion of


the first full-length documentary about Beauford.

Join us in making this video tribute to Beauford a reality!



Saturday, December 22, 2018

Knoxville Honors Beauford with Art Wraps

David Butler, Executive Director of the Knoxville Museum of Art, recently shared news about a "Downtown Art Wrap" in Knoxville that features one of Beauford's paintings. Never having heard of an "Art Wrap" before, I asked David to connect me with someone who could explain the concept. Paul James, Development Director for the Knoxville History Project, graciously granted me an interview to explain it all.

Beauford Delaney Untitled Landscape Art Wrap
Image courtesy of Knoxville History Project

Les Amis: Who conceived of the Art Wrap?

PJ: The general idea of wrapping local traffic boxes (on three or four sides with vinyl) was suggested to the Knoxville History Project (KHP) by a local downtown resident-focused group called City People. Several of their members had seen traffic boxes and utility boxes wrapped in other places using old black and white photographs or contemporary artworks.

Following feedback from Knoxville’s Public Arts Committee, KHP submitted a small grants request to City People to fund a new concept – showcasing artworks from Knoxville’s artists of the past. This approach is better aligned with KHP’s mission and provides an opportunity for visitors and residents to discover aspects of the city’s artistic heritage. Plus, colorful artworks add a greater vibrancy to downtown streetscapes than old photographs!

To get us started, City People awarded KHP a modest grant to wrap two initial traffic boxes which went on public display on Gay Street in August, 2017 featuring highly regarded local artists from the past, Catherine Wiley and Charles Krutch.

Les Amis: How did KMA and KHP join forces on this project?

PJ: Before we began, we consulted with David Butler, KMA’s Executive Director, about the general concept knowing that to be successful we would need help from KMA. David as immediately saw the potential for taking the museum’s treasures out of the museum and sharing them with the public on the city’s streets. KMA provided high resolution images of two initial paintings (by Wiley and Krutch as mentioned above) from its permanent exhibition, Higher Ground: A Century of the Visual Arts in East Tennessee. David’s staff at KMA has been wonderful to work with and we couldn’t have gotten this far without their generous time and support.

Beauford Delaney Untitled Landscape Art Wrap
and Knoxville Sunsphere
Image courtesy of Knoxville History Project

Les Amis: Is the intent to honor all the artists whose works are displayed in Higher Ground?

PJ: Pivotal works from Higher Ground are certainly the cornerstone of Downtown Art Wraps, and so far KHP has installed 14 Downtown Art Wraps, the majority of which are pulled from that exhibition. However, we also feature several Knoxville artworks from other local collections, including McClung Museum, East Tennessee Historical Society, and the Knox County Public Library’s McClung Historical Collection.

As the initiative expands we hope to include as many of the Higher Ground artists as possible. However, several of the paintings included in Higher Ground are on loan to KMA or have some permission restrictions that we haven’t tackled yet. Gaining permission to use any artwork is crucially important to us all.

Artists from Higher Ground currently featured include:

Beauford Delaney
Catherine Wiley
Charles Krutch
Robert Birdwell
C. Kermit “Buck” Ewing
Rudolph Ingerle
Richard Clarke

Les Amis: Who is responsible for deciding whether artists and artworks from private collections are accepted for wraps?

PJ: KHP has created a portfolio of around 20 local artists from KMA and other collections for the program. Many of the artists have multiple artworks which we’ve included in the list. KMA Curator, Stephen Wicks, has also been very helpful in recommending several artworks from Higher Ground which are not currently on display since the exhibit changes from time to time.

In addition, KHP works with KMA and other collection managers to only select artworks where we have permission to include the art and can gain access to high resolution files which are needed to enlarge for the traffic boxes. Occasionally we need additional permissions from other individuals. In the case of Beauford Delaney’s artwork we also sought permission from Mr. Derek Spratley, court appointed administrator for the Beauford Delaney estate.

Les Amis: How are the locations for the wraps selected?

PJ: KHP is primarily focusing on the downtown core of the city which includes approximately 40 traffic boxes which can be wrapped within the central business improvement district’s defined “downtown” area. However, in 2019 KHP will work with the City of Knoxville to add four new Art Wraps beyond downtown on Magnolia Avenue as part of that particular streetscapes improvement project in East Knoxville.

Map showing Downtown Art Wrap locations
(Beauford Delaney Wraps indicated by red arrows)
Screenshot from Knoxville History Project Web site

Les Amis: How long does it take to put a wrap into place once the artist and painting are agreed upon?

PJ: It may seem a straight forward process but some Art Wraps happen quickly, others take months because of delays with permissions for example. However, once we have the artist selected and high resolution artwork in hand it generally takes 2-3 of weeks to install. Steps include drafting the artist’s biography (featured on every box), locating an image of the artist (not always easy to find), and then submitting all the elements to the local company, Graphic Creations, to layout out the Art Wrap on the particular box.

Each traffic box has to be pre-measured before layout can begin. Many of the boxes are different in size and sometimes the boxes are wrapped on three or four sides. This is certainly not a cookie-cutter approach! We have learned that it’s quite a nuanced process, and we try to capture the most important elements of a painting, and where possible to include the artist’s signature in the wrap. Finally, before the wrap enters production, KHP shares the draft design with the sponsor. Installation usually takes two hours per box when the vinyl is ready.

Graphic Creations takes care, when applying the Art Wrap, not to impede air vents and hinges. They use heat to mold the vinyl securely on non-flat surfaces.

Les Amis: How are the wraps financed (municipal funds / corporate sponsors / private donations)?

PJ: KHP seeks financial sponsors for each wrap. To date, Downtown Art Wraps have been sponsored by local businesses, individuals, and organizations (eg. City People). Our attempt is to make them reasonably affordable and so sponsorships are between $1,500 and $1,750 each depending on the size of the traffic box. The revenue provides a source of income for KHP with at least a third of the fee covering production costs.

Les Amis: How easy / difficult has it been to interest the business community in sponsoring wraps?

About half of the Art Wraps have been funded through corporate support. One individual funded three boxes. Downtown Knoxville, the city’s central improvement district, funded three Art Wraps. So it has been a mixture of funding sources. We would like to see more corporations fund the program and help us fulfill our vision of completing 40 Downtown Art Wraps. It has been more difficult to interest the business community more than I thought it would be. Certainly, the response from individuals from the public have all been positive.

Les Amis:
How are the wraps inaugurated?

PJ: KHP held a media event in August of 2017 to officially launch the Downtown Art Wraps program and showcase the first two boxes. (Is this what you meant?)

In addition to the first event, we have been featured on Visit Knoxville’s website:


We had an article featured in “Inside of Knoxville:”


Plus, we received a special “Preservation Media” award from one of our partners, Knox Heritage.

We haven’t planned an event for the Beauford Wraps yet but will let you know if we do so.

Screenshot of KHP Interactive Map showing
description and location of Yaddo

Les Amis: How are the wraps maintained?

PJ: KHP works directly with City of Knoxville’s Department of Engineering with installation and to monitor wear and tear, damage, and address graffiti issues. The vinyl includes a graffiti-resistant application, which although not 100% guaranteed, has worked very well so far. City engineers believe that the wraps act as a deterrent. In one case of graffiti, Graphic Creations (the installer) was able to clean off the graffiti quite easily. To date then it’s been fairly hassle-free.

Les Amis: How is a work by a particular artist selected to represent that artist?

PJ: The artworks are generally selected for their compatibility to be reproduced on a traffic box (abstract works work best) as well as their vibrancy and attractiveness in the urban setting. Plus, KHP works directly with its sponsors to help select a piece that they are inspired by from the full list of available works. In several cases, we have matched up an artist with a certain location, including a Lloyd Branson painting near where his former studio was located, or Albert Milani and his marble eagle carving across the street from the Tennessee Supreme Court building adorned with the actual eagle carvings. But the placement of traffic light intersections generally makes tying an artwork to a specific location quite difficult. That said, the Art Wraps seems to work anywhere.

Les Amis: Why were the untitled landscape and Yaddo selected to represent Beauford Delaney?

PJ: These paintings were suggested by KMA as excellent examples of Beauford’s works recently acquired by the museum.

Les Amis:
Untitled Landscape is sponsored by the Knoxville Central Business Improvement District. Who sponsored Yaddo?

Beauford Delaney Yaddo Art Wrap
Image courtesy of Knoxville History Project

PJ: Yaddo was sponsored by residents at the RiverHill Gateway Neighborhood Association who were looking for creative ways to spruce up their street frontage. Diversity was important to them as that location was formerly a diverse and poor riverside shanty community. Just north of there was a section of the former African American community along First Creek – essentially erased during “Urban Renewal” in the 1950s. A Beauford Delaney painting at this location made sense.

Les Amis: Are there any other Beauford Delaney art wraps planned?

PJ: Not immediately but there is at least one more Beauford Delaney painting that we have included in our current selections which may be used in the Magnolia Avenue Art Wraps planned for mid-2019.

Les Amis:
What happens to the wraps after their ~3-year lifespan expires?

PJ: Depending on wear and tear, and fading, the Art Wraps may be left up longer or switched out for different artworks with existing or new sponsors. The initiative can therefore run for years, if not indefinitely.

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