Delaney, Joseph 1904–1991

views updated Jun 27 2018

Joseph Delaney 19041991


On The Road

Delaney Moved to New York

Delaney Returned to Knoxville

Selected Exhibitions


Though largely unrecognized in his day as an artist, Joseph Delaney became more prominent after his death. Like many of his African-American colleagues, during his life, Delaney all too often was excluded from prominent galleries. Instead of migrating to another country like his older brother Beauford, an artist who moved from New York to France, Joseph took to the streets showing his work in New Yorks Washington Square for almost fifty years. Delaneys most prominent works are crowded street scenes often taking place during parades or celebrations with titles such as V. J. Day, Times Square, Easter Parade, Yankee Parade, Hostage Parade, and Macys Parade. Though he did show his work in galleries and museums, including the British American Galleries, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the National Academy of Design, at his core Delaney was a street artist and a portrait sketcher who only posthumously received his due for his accomplishments.

Joseph Delaney was born in 1904 in Knoxville, Tennessee to the Reverend and Mrs. Samuel Delaney. Delaneys first desire to become an artist came in response to his brother Beauford. The elder Delaney was a natural artist always drawing and sketching and receiving high praise for his efforts at a young age. The two brothers drew Sunday school cards and developed an artistic rivalry. But at the age of 13 Joseph received fifty cents from a teacher for a drawing of a sparrow. An artist was born. Two years later the Reverend Delaney died. Joseph dropped out of school after the ninth grade to make money for the family. He worked as a caddy at the Cherokee Country Club for 25 cents a round and as a bellhop at the Farragut Hotel. To make any money in tips, sometimes bellhops were forced to break the law for hotel guests by procuring prostitutes or liquor during prohibition. Delaney was caught during one of his exploits and fired from the hotel. His entire life he lived in a strict Methodist household usually attending church more than once a week, but his days at the hotel exposed him to another side of life where people were free to make their own decisions and live the way they chose. His also learned how to gamble playing cards, throwing dice, and shooting pool, skills which served him well in the next phase of his life. Delaney decided to leave his family and its strict Methodist way of life at the age of 18.

On The Road

In 1922 Delaney left Knoxville to find work as a coal miner in Kentucky. When he could not find this type of work he washed dishes in a diner and then began a two-year period of hoboingriding the rails around the Midwest stopping for a time in Cincinnati and Detroit. In a self-published essay, Thirty-Six Years Exhibiting in the Washington Square Art Show, Delaney remembered his days on the road: My mind would go back to the days of the old B&O Baltimore and Ohio freight line somewhere between Parkersberg, Virginia and Athens, Ohio, in the hot summer under the stars at night, just riding, listening to the screech of the old car and the thick sound of a smoky engine slowly pulling around the winding curves. Only one-hundred ten miles, but on a slow freight, the ride takes forever to

At a Glance

Born Joseph Delaney in 1904 in Knoxville, TN to the Reverend Samuel and Mrs. Delia Delaney; died November 21, 1991. Education: Arts Students League, New York; Religion: Methodist.

Career: Studied at the Art Students League; participated in the first Washington Square Outdoor Art Exhibit, 1931; continued to show his work and sketch portraits at this venue until 1971; worked for the Works Progress Administration painting murals and illustrating for the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1936-39; worked at the New York Worlds Fair for the New Orleans and the Ghana exhibit, 1964; artist-in-residence at the Henry Street Settlement in New York, 1977-79; major exhibition of his work at the University of Tennessee-Knoxvilies Ewing Gallery, 1986; artist-in-residence at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, 1986-91.

Award: The Julius Rosenwals grant, 1942.

come to a stop. I didnt have anywhere to go, so it didnt matter. Wandering youth, during those peaceful years of the early twenties, was a luxury. He made money working at whatever odd job was available but also by gambling and shooting pool. He also kept a visual journal of his travels drawing other hobos and the various episodes in their lives. In 1925 Delaney arrived in Chicago, a city Delaney once compared to Sodom and Gomorrah. Deianey stayed in Chicago for three years working in nightclubs where he met jazz musicians such as Albert Ammons, Ma Rainey, Pete Johnson, and Big Joe Turner. He also signed up for a three-year stint in the Illinois National Guard.

In 1929 he returned to Knoxville. He stayed for a year selling insurance and working his old job at the hotel. Community leaders thought his experience in the National Guard would be beneficial for young men, and he was persuaded to found Knoxvilles first black Boy Scout troop. But after living without borders for six years, Knoxville must have seemed too small for him. After one year in his hometown, at the age of 26, he decided to follow in his brothers footsteps and move to New York to be an artist.

Delaney Moved to New York

When he arrived in the city he found that his brother had changed. He had become more flamboyant. Beau-ford was homosexual, bohemian, a lover of opera, and more and more an abstract artist. Joseph was much more down to earth preferring a more gritty realism in his way of life, his music, and his style of painting. He moved into his own flat in Manhattan and enrolled in the Art Students League, studying most notably under Thomas Hart Benton and anatomist George Bridge-man. Benton stressed the traditional fundamentals of painting. His students studied the Renaissance masters, such as Botticelli, Raphael, and Michelangelo. Benton also insisted that his students paint solid and concrete American themes rather than the more abstract philosophical style popular in Europe. From Bridgeman Delaney learned to draw the body quickly and accurately, which later allowed him sketch portraits for onlookers in Washington Square.

After three years as a student he left the Art Students League, though he kept up a lifetime membership. Delaney exhibited his work in the first Washington Square Outdoor Art Show in 1931. Since most galleries were closed to him, over the course of his career, this venue became his most important place to show his work. He also worked as a sketch artist doing quick portraits for people as they walked through the exhibition. In his time Delaney produced portraits for Eartha Kitt, television personality Arlene Francis, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Tallulah Bankhead. Again in his essay Thirty-Six Years Exhibiting in Washington Square Art Show, he described the scene surrounding the portrait artists in the street: At this section of the show, which is the most intense and exciting demonstration of talent and craft at work, the frozen crowd stands and gazes through the entire development of a portrait I have seen through the years artists set up easels, artists who didnt have any experience in working on the spot and who didnt have much potential to draw on. And I have watched some artists grow into good portrait artists after trial and error under the eyes of the impartial public who wont spare you if you dont deliver, but will give you a big hand and loud applause if you do a good job and keep you working.

In the midst of the Depression Delaney helped on many projects for the Works Progress Administration (WPA). He participated in the painting of the Pier 72 mural and a mural at the New York Public Library, The Story of the Recorded Word. He also worked on the Index of American Design for the Metropolitan Museum of Art drawing exact copies of Paul Reveres silver, American textiles, Dutch tapestries, and Chippendale furniture. During this time he also taught art at the Harlem and Brooklyn settlement houses and at the Art Students League. In 1942 Delaney was awarded the Julius Rosenwals grant to travel the eastern seaboard from Maine to South Carolina to sketch and paint his impressions. He was particularly taken with the rowdy port town of Charleston, South Carolina, while watching the excited sailors come in for shore leave. Also in 1942 two of his painting were chosen for the Arizona Collection of the Metropolitan Museum and then remained in the permanent collection of the University of Arizona. In addition, he showed his work at the Whitney, Brooklyn, and Riverside Museums. In the period after the W.P.A was eliminated he continued to show his work in Washington Square, but he supported himself working in restaurants, pressing clothes, modeling, and through welfare. In 1964 he worked at the New York Worlds Fair sketching for the New Orleans exhibit and later for the Ghana exhibit.

Delaney Returned to Knoxville

The year 1970 was significant for Delaney because it marked his first association with the University of Tennessee. The school bought and exhibited one of his most famous works, V-J Day, Times Square for its McClung Museum. The painting was hung in the University Center lobby. In 1978 as part of the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) he worked for two years as the artist in residence at the Henry Street Settlement in New York. He produced many notable works for CETA, including Around Henry Street and Senior Citizens Center.

The following year Delaneys brother Beauford died in a Paris insane asylum. Joseph paid over $6,000 for taxes, storage, and shipping to have his brothers work brought back to the United States. While Joseph did not particularly care for Beaufords style and some of the packages were left unopened until they arrived at the University of Tennessee, Joseph felt he needed to bring home the work because it was his brothers.

Delaney was back in Knoxville again in 1982 for the funeral of his brother Sam. He went to see his painting on display and met with the director of the universitys Ewing Gallery, Sam Yates. Yates told him he wanted to do a full-scale exhibition of his work. Four years later as part of the Universitys Homecoming 86 celebration, The Ewing Gallery of the University of Tennessee/Knoxville presented a major show, Joseph Delaney: A Retrospective.

Alex Haley, a friend of Delaneys from the 1940s, suggested to school officials that Delaney be UT-Knoxvilles official artist-in-residence. In 1986 Delaney was asked to be artist-in-residence at the school and moved away from New York and back to the city of his youth. Director Yates told Jack Neely of Metropulse about Delaneys duties as artist-in-residence: He didnt 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. Delaney spent the last five years of his life at UT-Knoxville and remained physically active throughout the time. Delaney died on November 21, 1991. Despite his struggle to be recognized, Delaney seemed satisfied with his life and his work as an artist. In the catalog written for his 1986 Ewing Gallery show at UT-Knoxville, Delaney told Yates: The curtain goes up on the stage of life every time we walk into the street. In spite of New Yorks being the most congested city I have been in, and know about; by and large its just people on the move. I have enjoyed more than I can say seeing people and hearing them speak about things they love and enjoy.

Selected Exhibitions

Washington Square Art Show, New York, 1931, 1971.

American Negro Exposition, Chicago, 1940.

McMillen, Inc. Galleries, New York, 1941.

Atlanta University, Georgia, 1942.

Greenwich House, New York, 1944.

Hotel Diplomat, 1948.

City College of New York, 1967.

Homecoming 86, Knoxville, Tennessee, 1986.


Arizona Collection

British American Galleries

Knoxville Museum of Art

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

National Academy of Design

Riverside Art Museum, California

University of Tennessee, Knoxville



St. James Guide to Black Artists, Gale Research, 1997.



The VRA Bulletin, Spring 1997,

Michael J. Watkins

Delaney, Joseph 1945–

views updated May 29 2018

Delaney, Joseph 1945–


Born 1945, in Preston, England; married; wife's name Marie; children: three children. Education: Lancaster University, graduated.


Home—Lancashire, England. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Bodley Head, Random House UK, 20 Vauxhall Bridge Rd., London SW1V 2SA, England.


Novelist and educator. Blackpool Sixth Form College, Blackpool, England, professor of English, film, and media studies for twenty years, then head of Media and Film Studies Department.

Awards, Honors

Manchester Book Award finalist, 2005, for The Spook's Apprentice.



The Spook's Apprentice, illustrated by Patrick Arrasmith, Bodley Head (London, England), 2004, published as Revenge of the Witch, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 2005.

The Spook's Curse, illustrated by Patrick Arrasmith, Bodley Head (London, England), 2005, published as Curse of the Bane, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 2006.

The Spook's Secret, Bodley Head (London, England), 2006.


Revenge of the Witch was adapted as an audiobook, read by Christopher Evan Welch, HarperChildren's Audio, 2005.

Work in Progress

Another novel in the "Wardstone Chronicles"/"Last Apprentice" series.


Joseph Delaney wrote his first novel for children over many months, getting up early to write before going to work. With the success of The Spook's Apprentice—published in the United States as Revenge of the Witch—Delaney was eventually able to leave his job as head of the Media and Film Studies Department at England's Blackpool Sixth Form College. The first volume in Delaney's "Wardstone Chronicles"—known to U.S. readers as the "Last Apprentice" series—The Spook's Apprentice has been followed by several more novels that combine history, ghosts, witches, and a generous dose of horror in a compelling saga that has won the author legions of fans.

The "Wardstone Chronicles" introduce thirteen-year-old Thomas Ward who, as the seventh son of a seventh son is gifted with supernatural powers. Channeling his gift, Tom is apprenticed to Old Gregory, a "Spook" who works to rid the county of evil wherever it may appear. For Tom, the role of apprentice is challenging; twenty-nine young men have already tried and failed at the task of aiding the grim, black-cloaked Gregory, some losing their life in the process. In Revenge of the Witch readers follow Tom's experiences as he learns the signs of evil, overcomes the challenges that help prove him worthy and confronts assorted boggarts. He also meets

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up with a powerful witch named Mother Malkin by whom he is tricked into setting free from the underground prison, where she is held by iron and salt. All the while, his ability to see vestiges of past deaths—as well as the terrors others cannot—make the novel unputdownable reading.

In The Spook's Curse—published in the United States as Curse of the Bane—Tom and Old Gregory travel to the cathedral of Priestown, where the Spook's arch enemy, the Bane, dwells in the catacombs. Soon the powers of evil are arrayed against the Spook and his apprentice, while a being known as the Quisitor also seeks to stop their work fighting creatures from the dark side. The saga continues in The Spook's Secret, as Tom follows the Spook to Anglezarke, a dark home on the moors where more challenges await. There the Spook has confined his true love, a witch named Meg, through the use of drugs, while Meg's crazed sister is imprisoned in the home's dark cellar. When one of Tom's predecessor apprentices threatens harm to Tom's father's soul in order to acquire the book of spells that will allow the evil man to send Earth into perpetual winter, Tom confronts his ultimate challenge yet.

Delaney's medievalesque "Wardstone Chronicles" were widely praised by reviewers and readers alike. Horror fans who enjoy "up-close encounters with the unquiet dead … need look no further," noted a Kirkus Reviews contributor in an appraisal of Revenge of the Witch, while in Booklist Ilene Cooper maintained that the talented author "grabs readers by the throat and gives them a good shake." The novel's many gruesome scenes are "amply buffered by an exquisitely normal young hero," Cooper added, while Lesley Farmer noted in Kliatt that "Thomas is a likely and resourceful fellow."

While noting that the author "plumb[s] familiar subjects," a Publishers Weekly critic added that "expert storytelling and genuinely scary illustrations" by Patrick Arrasmith make for a "fresh" storyline. In fact, Delaney's portrait of evil is more complex than that in many books for young readers, and this fact has attracted adult readers to his novels. Calling the "Ward-stone Chronicles" "seriously scary," Amanda Craig noted in London's Times Online that the series "show us how close evil is to good, and how even witches can change for the better." "Beautifully produced and consistently surprising, the weird and wonderful 'Ward-stone Chronicles' are an annual treat," Craig concluded.

Delaney discussed the evolution of the "Wardstone Chronicles" with interviewer Nikki Gamble for Write Away! online. "I have the Bram Stoker approach to writing," the novelist noted, referencing the author of the classic nineteenth-century horror novel Dracula. "He created Dracula by writing down his dreams, which took him seven years. It didn't take me quite as long. Before I started writing there were events that I knew were going to happen, but the bits in between came from dreams. Some people plan in great detail and flesh out the bones but I couldn't work like that. For me, writing is very much like reading. I have to write in order to discover what's going to happen next."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Booklist, August, 2005, Ilene Cooper, review of Revenge of the Witch, p. 2022.

Horn Book, November-December, 2005, Anita L. Burkham, review of Revenge of the Witch, p. 715.

Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 2005, review of Revenge of the Witch, p. 846.

Kliatt, September, 2005, Lesley Farmer, review of Revenge of the Witch, p. 7.

Magpies, March, 2006, Kevin Steinberger, review of The Spook's Curse, p. 34.

Publishers Weekly, October 10, 2005, review of Revenge of the Witch, p. 62.

School Librarian, winter, 2005, Sarah Merrett, review of The Spook's Curse, p. 192.

School Library Journal, November, 2005, Beth L. Meister, review of Revenge of the Witch, p. 132.

Times Educational Supplement, July 9, 2004, Jan L. Mark, review of The Spook's Apprentice, p. 37.


Times Online (London, England), (July 29, 2006), Amanda Craig, review of The Spook's Secret.

Write Away! Web site, (August 8, 2004), Nikki Gamble, interview with Delaney.

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