Marking their place in the world

Penn grad makes recognition for painter Beauford Delaney her mission

(Photos Left to Right) Monique Wells. Photo courtesy of Monique Wells. Self-portrait by Beauford Delaney. Photo courtesy of Sophia Pagan.

It’s no surprise, to those who know University of Pennsylvania graduate Monique Wells, that she would end up living in Paris.

“I have a love of the French language that dates back to pre-school years,” she says in a phone interview, “And I always wanted to live in France.”

No one expected her Parisian experience to include uncovering, and righting, the uncelebrated ending of the life of Harlem Renaissance-era painter Beauford Delaney.

Delaney, born in Knoxville, was a modernist painter whose abstract expressionist and figurative works, from the 40s and 60s are today held by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, Art Institute of Chicago and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, among others. The Philadelphia Museum of Art houses a Delaney portrait of James Baldwin, his close friend and fellow expatriate in France.

The artist died a pauper in virtual obscurity, and was laid to rest in a cemetery outside Paris.

“I was investigating an article about African-American graves here and found out about [Delaney’s] unmarked grave,” recounts Wells. “I’ve been blogging about him ever since, and trying to preserve his legacy and make his story better known.”

When Wells discovered Delaney’s gravesite, his remains were scheduled to be exhumed due to unpaid “concession” fees. She, and readers of her “Les Amis de Beuford Delaney” blog, paid the fee. Then in 2009, they formed a non-profit association that raised funds for a tombstone that was installed a year later. They also had commemorative plaques installed in the neighborhood where Delaney lived and worked.

In 2016, they mounted the exhibit, “Beauford Delaney: Resonance of Form and Vibration of Color,” consisting of 40 paintings and works on paper from private collections, the vast majority of which had never before been seen by the public.

Now the group has a new goal: to raise $5,000 to support the post-production of a documentary on Delaney, and to cover the cost of services to introduce the exhibit to U.S. and European museums.

It could be a treat for a city like Philadelphia. Delaney’s work was once shown in 1947, as part of the Seventh Annual Exhibition of Painting and Sculpture, at the classic Girard Avenue Pyramid Club. Photos taken by John W. Mosley of Delaney, Dox Thrash and others who attended that event are part of the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection at Temple University.

Wells is from Houston, and attended Penn’s veterinary school. Most of her time is spent with her pathology consulting firm in Paris.

“I’m based here,” she says. “But I work internationally.”


Marking their place in the world
Sheila Simmons - Contributor

Sheila Simmons brings many years of writing and communications experience to her work for Liberty City Press. She began her professional writing career at the Philadelphia Daily News, where she covered Business, City Hall and Education.


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