KMA celebrates re-opening of its signature collection — and a $3 million gift from Ann and Steve Bailey

Ann Bailey and David Butler, the retiring executive director of the Knoxvile Museum of Art. Bailey and her husband, Steve, are donating $3 million to fund an endowment at the KMA.

Supporters of the Knoxville Museum of Art gathered last week to celebrate the re-opening of the museum’s signature “Higher Ground” exhibition which showcases art and artists with connections to East Tennessee.

But they also were delighted with an unexpected announcement. Ann and Steve Bailey, after whom the museum’s Great Hall already is named because of their past support, have pledged $3 million to endow the David L. Butler Executive Director position. That’s in honor of David Butler who is retiring from the post at the end of this year after holding it since 2006. What a wonderful night!

The “Higher Ground” exhibit is important because it demonstrates the evolution of the mission of the Knoxville Museum of Art, which was opened in its current location at World’s Fair Park in 1990. When the beautiful $11 million Tennessee marble-clad Clayton Building — designed by renowned architect Edward Larrabee Barnes — opened its doors, the KMA didn’t own a great deal of art. Instead, it made a name for itself by bringing in huge traveling shows by artists like Rodin, Warhol, and Chihuly.

But, under the direction of Butler and the museum’s first and current curator Stephen Wicks (who left in 2003 and returned in 2007), the KMA has found a voice for itself — and for Knoxville and East Tennessee. It currently holds 200 works with connections to our region. Seventy of those are on display in the new “Higher Ground” exhibit now located in its new home in two large galleries on both sides of the museum’s first floor entryway.

Diana Samples poses with a portrait painted by her great grandmother, Adelia Lutz. Produced in 1890, it is included in the “Forging an Arts Community” section of the exhibit.

“Higher Ground” is divided into five sections. “Grand Ambitions: Forging an Arts Community” addresses the early formative period of Knoxville art and artists. It features works by Catherine Wiley, Lloyd Branson, and Hugh Tyler.

The second, “Shaping a Regional Identity: Mountain Vistas and Urban Life” moves into the 20th century with majestic images of the Smoky Mountains and, in contrast, a look at the reality of sometimes gritty urban life. Artists including Henri Cartier-Bresson and Danny Lyon are featured here, along with photographers Lewis Wickes Hine and Charles E. Krutch.

Beauford and Joseph Delaney: Expatriate Masters” is the exhibit’s centerpiece featuring a growing body of work by the two talented brothers who left their Knoxville home and took up residence and gained fame in New York and Paris. Beauford Delaney is increasingly referred to as “the most important artist East Tennessee ever produced” and the collection of his works allows glimpses into the various stages of his career.

“The Knoxville 7” showcases a group of progressive artists who cultivated modernism in East Tennessee during the 1950s and 1960s.

Finally, “Bessie Harvey” is dedicated to the self-taught Alcoa folk artist who achieved national acclaim for her religion-inspired works later in her life near the end of the 20th century.

It was a delight to see this important collection last week and to celebrate the generous contribution of the Baileys. You should check out “Higher Ground” when you can. And remember, admission to the Knoxville Museum of Art is always free.

Generous benefactors Steve and Ann Bailey.

From left, art lovers Joe and Ruth Fielden, Sam Maynard, and Rachel Ford.

From left, Garry Conklin, Sheryl Linck, Faith Ferguson, and Don Stoner.

The flowers at the event were just gorgeous.

A circa 1915 Catherine Wiley called “Morning Milking Time.” It’s included in the “Forging an Arts Community” section.

So is this 1910 Lloyd Branson work called, “The Hauling of Marble (The Toilers).”

Todd Steed, left, and Eric Reed.

From left, Terry Grove, Birgit Clark, and Angela Masini.

From left, Susan and Lee Hyde with Taylor Broyles.

Jacque and Cliff Hawks.

“Men Playing Checkers: Red Bank,” a 1935 photograph by Charles E. Krutch was commissioned by the Tennessee Valley Authority. It is included in the “Mountain Vistas and Urban Life” part of the exhibit.

Rudolph Ingerle’s “Smoky Mountains” circa 1920.

From left, Michael Higdon, Alan Carmichael, and Jon Agazzi.

Kay Clayton and Bob Lederer.

Melinda Meador, left, and Barbara Apking.

Rev. Renee Kesler, president and CEO of the Beck Cultural Exchange Center, with a 1963 self-portrait by Beauford Delaney.

Beauford Delaney’s “Portrait of James Baldwin” from 1944.

“Abstraction No. 12” by Beauford Delaney in 1963.

Patricia Robledo in front of Joseph Delaney’s “Macy’s Parade,” 1974-1984.

Kelly and Dana Headden pose in front of Joseph Delaney’s “Marble Collegiate Church,” 1974-75.

From left, Sylvia Peters, Derek and Felicia Spratley. He is administrator for the estate of Beauford Delaney.

A great crowd.

From left, Tom Boyd, Sandi Burdick, and David Butler.

Susan and Bob Hawthorne.

This 1963 work by Carl Sublett is called “Composition. Pop Goes My Easel.” It’s part of the “Knoxville 7” section of the exhibit.

Buck Ewing’s “Fahrenheit 19” was painted in 1959. Also part of the “Knoxville 7.”

Bob and Carole Martin.

The food was fabulous!

So was the music.

This is Bessie Harvey’s “Moses and the Serpent” from 1968.

Townes Osborn, and Doug McKamey.

Sandi and Frank Steer.

John Thomas and Jackie Wilson.

From left, Steve and John Cotham, Susan Knowles, Andy Saftel, Patricia Robledo, and Birgit Clark.

Gina Buffum, left, and Sheena McCall.

Historian Jack Neely was a big contributor to the coffee table book that accompanied the re-opening of “Higher Ground.”

Louis Gauci is chair-elect of the KMA Board.

Curator Stephen Wicks.

David Butler making remarks.






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5 Responses to KMA celebrates re-opening of its signature collection — and a $3 million gift from Ann and Steve Bailey

  1. Gay Lyons, on November 8th, 2023 at 3:42 pm said:

    It was a lovely event–a great way to honor the Baileys, David, & everyone involved in the re-imagined “Higher Ground.” Always fun to see so many friends–though based on your photos, I missed seeing some of them.

  2. Bob Alcorn, on November 9th, 2023 at 6:27 am said:

    Wow! what a night in the evolution of KMA! So sorry we could not be there. David Butler, Stephen Wicks and their very competent staff have done so much to elevate the status of East Tennessee artists and present it to the public in such a beautiful setting. We have so much regional talent!
    Many, many thanks to Anne and Steve for their generous gift! I could not be for grateful for their support of KMA !

  3. Sheena McCall, on November 9th, 2023 at 9:47 am said:

    Great event!
    Best wishes David for your retirement. We will miss you at the Museum!

  4. Randy Tyree, on November 9th, 2023 at 10:27 am said:

    Larry truly possessed a servant’s heart . He will be missed.

  5. Georgiana Vines, on November 9th, 2023 at 11:35 pm said:

    Can’t wait to see the exhibit!

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