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Saturday, April 25, 2020

Vincent Livelli Remembers Beauford

I was recently contacted by Peter Stebbins, President of the Lily and Earle M. Pilgrim Art Foundation, who shared information about a connection between Beauford and Barbadian-American artist, Earle Montrose Pilgrim. Stebbins learned of this connection through an online oral history that Vincent Livelli provided for the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. He personally interviewed Livelli and connected me with Annie Basulto, Lead Preservationist of The Vincent Livelli Preservation Project.

Basulto, in turn, asked Livelli several questions on behalf of Les Amis, and recorded Livelli's responses.

Stebbins shared additional information gleaned from Historietas, a published collection of stories about Vincent Livelli's life.

Vincent Livelli passport photo (~1948)
Courtesy of Vincent Livelli Preservation Project

From all of the above, I've created an account of what Livelli remembers about interacting with Beauford in New York and in France.

Vincent Livelli was born to Italian immigrants in Brooklyn in 1920. He moved with his family to Greenwich Village when he was three months old and spent his entire life there. Exposure to lead during his youth caused a severe hearing impairment, yet he went on to master four languages in addition to English as well as develop an appreciation for Afro-Cuban music and become an accomplished dancer. He eventually became a cruise ship director and traveled the world for twenty years.

Livelli met Beauford in the Village in ~1946. He considers Beauford to have been a very close friend. At various points in his writing, he described Beauford as being "like a little Buddha" and "just precious," and said Beauford was "distinguished in comportment" with "a religious quality" and a "proper demeanor." He also described Beauford as "a wise owl who wore his hair like Nat King Cole." In his recorded audio statement, he said Beauford was the "sweetest, noblest gentleman I have ever met."

Livelli visited Beauford at his Greene Street studio many times. He mentioned broken windows, the lack of sufficient heat, and no hot water, and said that Beauford was always bundled up, always wearing a robe of some kind. He described the studio as being lit by candles and said that Beauford once sang "Amazing Grace" to him at the studio to "keep the cold at bay." He compared Beauford to Proust, saying that both men "wore wool scarves and, spoke profoundly and were reclusive but open to conversation."

Portrait of Beauford Delaney
(ca. 1950)
Possibly by Gjon Mili

Beauford inspired Livelli, who recalls sitting on a Washington Square Park bench with Beauford and asking him if he didn't worry because he had no money, a cold apartment, no job... Beauford responded that he only worried when he didn't feel well and Livelli thought that was a wonderful philosophy to live by.

Washington Square, looking north
(1936) Berenice Abbott
Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Image in the public domain

In recalling Beauford's contributions to the Washington Square Outdoor Show, Livelli said that Beauford and two other artists, Earle Pilgrim and Charlie Thomas, sold paintings at the park and in the surrounding neighborhood in 1946 and 1947. He also recalled seeing Beauford's paintings in a gallery on 57th Street.

Livelli provided interesting anecdotes about Beauford and Dante Pavone (Beauford's unrequited love) in Historietas, saying that they both dressed as "monks" because Beauford wore a skullcap and Dante wore a cassock instead of a suit. He described how Beauford and Dante did not walk together in public. Instead, Beauford would wait for Dante, sitting on a bench near Livelli and Anatole Boyard's West 4th Street apartment where they would sometimes rendezvous. He also recalled that Beauford would sometimes wait for Dante beneath the Garibaldi statue near his Greene Street studio.

Dante Pavone as Christ
(1948) Pastel on paper
23 ¼ x 19 ¾ inches
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator
Knoxville Museum of Art, purchase with funds provided by the KMA Collectors Circle with additional gifts from Barbara Apking, June and Rob Heller, Donna Kerr, Alexandra Rosen and Donald Cooney, Ted Smith and David Butler, Mimi and Milton Turner, John Cotham, Jan and Pete Crawford, Cathy and Mark Hill, Florence and Russell Johnston, John Z. C. Thomas, Donna and Terry Wertz, Jayne and Myron Ely, Sarah Stowers, Robin and Joe Ben Turner, and Jacqueline Wilson

Garibaldi Statue by Giovanni Turini
Photo by Another Believer
CC-BY-SA 3.0

Livelli mentions that Henry Miller, the Ascoli family, and Anatole Broyard supported Beauford financially during Beauford's New York years.

As a lover of drums and drumming, Livelli was pleased to learn that Beauford enjoyed listening to drum music and played the drum. He said that Beauford liked and collected African drums and recounts that he gave Beauford a nail-studded Japanese drum "to add to his modest collection." He also gave Beauford a drum that he brought back from a trip to India.

Livelli shared a story about meeting Beauford and James Baldwin in Cannes. He said Beauford offered to paint his portrait but that he was unable to accept the offer. He speculated what that painting might be worth today and said it would be cherished over his fireplace.

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