Higher Ground: A Century of the Visual Arts in East Tennessee


Expanded artwork labels with artist biographies

Grand Ambitions


Lloyd Branson (1853-1925)

Enoch Lloyd Branson was one of the most talented and versatile East Tennessee artists of his era. Under his lasting influence, the local art scene reached a new level of activity and quality. Branson was the first artist from the region to receive artistic training in Paris. Upon the artist's return in 1878, he established a successful portrait painting business with photographer Frank McCrary at 130 Gay Street in downtown Knoxville. Branson devised a method of producing vivid portraits based on photographs. While portrait painting was his primary source of income, he earned greatest recognition for heroic genre scenes such as Hauling Marble, which won the gold medal at the Appalachian Exposition of 1910. In addition to his studio work, Branson was active as an art teacher, training and inspiring a new generation of talent including Catherine Wiley, Adelia Lutz and brothers Joseph and Beauford Delaney.


James Cameron (1817-1882)

Born in Scotland, Cameron was one of the first professional painters in East Tennessee. He settled in Chattanooga and earned a reputation for his portraits, and detailed panoramic landscapes. Many of Cameron's scenes depict nature being invaded by settlement. After the Civil War, he abandoned painting, went into business, and later became a Presbyterian minister in California.


Thomas Campbell (1834-1914)

After spending most of his career as a missionary, Campbell came to Knoxville in 1893 to focus on landscape painting. He was a core member of the Nicholson Art League and participated in the Appalachian Exposition of 1910. This untitled painting is a classic example of the small, intimate scenes of everyday pastoral life in East Tennessee for which the artist was known. In addition to his studio practice, Campbell was active as a teacher and founded the art department at Maryville College.


Flavius James Fisher (1832-1905)

Fisher grew up in East Tennessee and was artistically talented enough as a youth that he gained entrance into the prestigious Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. After several years of further studies in Europe, he established a studio in Lynchburg, Virginia and became known for his portraits, landscapes, and history paintings. A studio fire in 1868 destroyed most his work, but this setback only served to motivate him to produce a wealth of new paintings, including scenes of Lynchburg landmarks. In 1882, he established a permanent studio in downtown Washington, DC. At the time of death, Fisher was heralded by the Washington Post as "one of the best known portrait painters in the United States."


Gilbert Gaul (1855-1919)

William Gilbert Gaul is known as one of the first important Tennessee artists who made a reputation for painting something other than portraits. He achieved fame as one of the nation's premier painters of battle scenes, which he recreated with great precision. Gaul's studio was filled with uniforms and arms that served as references to insure the historical accuracy of each painting. Late in his career, he also produced works such as The Good Book that depict everyday life in the South. Born in New Jersey, Gaul settled near Nashville in the 1880s and was a prominent figure in the major art expositions held in Knoxville in 1910, 1911, and 1913.


Charles Krutch (1849-1934)

Charles Christopher Krutch is regarded as one of East Tennessee's first painters to specialize in scenes of the Smoky Mountains. Krutch earned the nickname "Corot of the South" for his soft, atmospheric watercolor and oil landscape paintings of the mountain range that served as his sole focus. Totally untrained as an artist, he often applied thick layers of oil paint with brushes as well as his fingers. Krutch's goal was to capture the changing "moods" of the mountains. He won a regional award for best watercolor at the 1913 National Conservation Exposition in Knoxville. However, it was not until 1933, a year before his death, that the 84 year-old artist received recognition outside Knoxville for his idyllic mountain landscape murals commissioned by the federal government as part of the Public Works Art Project.


Adelia Lutz (1859-1931)

A student of Lloyd Branson, Adelia Armstrong Lutz evolved into a talented painter and prominent member of Knoxville's art circles. In 1887, Lutz returned to Knoxville from art studies in Europe and established a successful career painting portraits, landscapes, and flower studies. As in this work, the elegant characters in her paintings usually appear to be types rather than specific individuals. Along with fellow Nicholson Art League members Lloyd Branson and Catherine Wiley, she participated in and helped organize the art exhibitions featured at the Appalachian Expositions of 1910 and 1911 and National Conservation Exposition of 1913.


Albert Milani (1892-1977)

Milani was a talented marble sculptor from Carrara, Italy who settled in Knoxville after 1913. He began working for the Candoro Marble Company in 1927 and created decorative marble sculpture for buildings around the country during his long career with Candoro. Milani usually used imagery from classical antiquity interpreted in a sleek, modern art deco style. One of the sculptor's major projects in Knoxville was carving the eagles on the façade of the Knoxville Post Office in 1934. Candoro Marble Company in South Knoxville played a major part in the city's history as a marble producer for the entire nation. Its office building, designed by Knoxville architects Barber and McMurry, was built in 1923 to showcase the quality and craftsmanship of locally produced Tennessee marble.


William Posey Silva (1859-1948)

Silva was a Savannah artist known for his impressionism-inspired landscape scenes. He settled in Chattanooga by 1887 and soon after launching a painting career-at age 50-was dubbed "the finest artist at the turn of the century." Silva specialized in painting atmospheric scenes of the Low Country around Savannah and Charleston with its distinctive blend of pines, live oak, and coast. He was awarded a silver medal at the Appalachian Exposition of 1910, which featured 70 of his works. He also submitted two works to the exposition the following year entitled The Cedars, Sullivan Island, S.C. and Fog on the Dunes, Isle of Palms, S.C. Magic Pool is believed to depict a location outside of Charleston.


Hugh Tyler (1885-1976)

Born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Hugh C. Tyler came to Knoxville when his family relocated to be near the source of marble used for the columns manufactured in part by his father's machine company. Although best known as the uncle of famed writer James Agee, Tyler was a talented and versatile painter and an active member of the Nicholson Art League. He produced Impressionist-inspired canvases such as Moonlight Seashore as well as elaborate, hand-painted decoration for Hoskins Library and other buildings on the University of Tennessee campus. Tyler won a top award for "best collection in the Appalachian region" at the 1913 National Conservation Exposition held at Knoxville's Chilhowee Park. Tyler lived most of his adult life in Greenwich Village with several family members including Agee. The two were very close and the character Andrew in "A Death in the Family" is based on Hugh Tyler.


James Wallace (1852-1921)

James W. Wallace is best known for his paintings of rural life and historic local events, such as the Battle of King's Mountain and The Signing of the Treaty of the Holston. Before lifting his brush, Wallace conducted painstaking research to insure the accuracy of his historic scenes. At the Appalachian Exposition of 1911 he won a regional award for the "best collection of paintings." This painting of an evening forest interior was displayed at the Appalachian Exposition of 1910 and still bears the original tag.


Catherine Wiley (1879-1958)

Anna Catherine Wiley was one of the most active, accomplished and influential artists in Knoxville during the early 20th century. She taught art at the University of Tennessee, helped organize area art exhibitions and was a driving force in the Nicholson Art League, an important local art association. Wiley studied with Frank Dumond at the Art Students League in New York and spent summers in New England working with impressionist Robert Reid. She returned to Knoxville following her studies and brought with her a mastery of Impressionism.

Wiley specialized in quiet domestic scenes of women amid their daily lives rendered in thick, brightly colored paint. Along with Lloyd Branson, she was a guiding force in East Tennessee's art scene during the early 20th century. She won the gold medal for regional painting at the 1910 Appalachian Exposition and her work is represented in museum collections around the country, including the Metropolitan Museum. Wiley's career was cut short in 1926 when mental illness forced her to be placed in an assisted living facility, where she remained for the rest of her life.



Lure of the Smokies


Ansel Adams (1902-1984)

Ansel Adams, America's most celebrated photographer, is best known for his iconic images of Yosemite and other national wilderness landmarks in California and New Mexico. However, he also traveled to the Great Smokies, Blue Ridge Parkway, and the Shenandoah National Park in the fall of 1948 as part of a major publication on the national parks and monuments. He stayed in Gatlinburg in early October on his way into the Smokies, which he believed were "going to be devilish hard to photograph." He produced only 4 known prints in the Smokies.


E.T.H. Foster (active mid- to late-19th century)

An itinerant artist, Foster was active in Hendersonville, NC in 1877 and by 1880 was in Oakland, California. His painting Evening on the French Broad, N. C. (1877) is considered to be the first documented landscape painting of the Smoky Mountains.


Rudolph Ingerle (1879-1950)

Ingerle specialized in colorful, atmospheric landscape paintings in which human activity is shown amid majestic wilderness settings. His early interest in landscape painting was inspired by the mountains of his native Austria. After settling in Chicago, Ingerle traveled the country extensively in search of picturesque outdoor settings such as the Ozark Mountains of Missouri and the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina. By the 1930s, he was spending summers in the Smokies and was involved in the establishment of the park. In 1931, he wrote an article in which he described the park's unique beauty: "Nearly always there hovers over these mountains a tenuous mist, a dreamy blue haze, like that of Indian summerthat covers all, and is beyond mystery, enchantment." Ingerle also participated in the Appalachian Exposition of 1911 held in Knoxville, one of the largest exhibitions of art in the South.


Louis E. Jones (1878-1958)

A native of Pennsylvania, Louis E. Jones became known for his vibrant paintings of the Smoky Mountains. His approach differed from the Smoky Mountain scenes of fellow painter Charles Krutch. Krutch captured the mountains in broad, misty views observed during early spring and summer in a palette of cool colors and muted brushwork. Jones, on the other hand, painted a variety of scenes in a broad palette of thickly applied paint. Here, he focuses on the graceful, serpentine movement of a dark, mountain stream. Unlike most visiting artists who came to the Smokies to paint during summers, Jones permanently settled there around 1930. Soon thereafter, he established a studio in downtown Gatlinburg, The Cliff Dwellers, a distinctive chalet-style building that still stands.


Robert Lindsay Mason (1874-1952)

Mason was a Knoxville native whose impressionist landscapes captured the beauty of rural East Tennessee, in particular. Along with fellow artists Catherine Wiley and Lloyd Branson, Mason participated in major art exhibitions held in Knoxville in the early 1900s. Mason also wrote The Lure of the Great Smokies (1927), one of the earliest and most extensive surveys about Smoky Mountain customs and folk traditions. He lived in Knoxville's Fort Sanders neighborhood for much of his life and is buried in New Gray Cemetery.


Chauncey Ryder (1868-1949)

Connecticut-born Chauncey Foster Ryder was a painter noted for his sparsely painted landscapes that reflected both Impressionism and Tonalism. An admirer of nature, Ryder usually emphasized natural features and often ignored any traces of human presence. He painted by "feeling" and hoped viewers would react emotionally to his scenes. Ryder participated in the Appalachian Exposition of 1911 and submitted a painting entitled "The Willow."



Will Henry Stevens (1881-1949)

Stevens was a pioneer of modernism in the American South whose paintings and pastels reflect his deep love of nature from the highlands of Appalachia to the lowlands and deltas of Louisiana. He traveled to the Smoky Mountains in the summers, where he painted primarily in East Tennessee and western North Carolina. Stevens drew and painted simultaneously in two styles -- one abstract, influenced by Klee and Kandinsky, and the other a more descriptive approach tied to specific outdoor settings.


Changing Fortunes, Changing Scenes


Beauford Delaney (1901-1979)

Beauford Delaney is perhaps the most widely acclaimed artist from Knoxville. His vibrant portraits, urban scenes, and boldly painted abstractions drew attention for their powerful emotion and striking originality. Along with younger brother Joseph, Beauford trained with Lloyd Branson before leaving Knoxville for Boston in 1924. In 1929 he moved to Greenwich Village, and in 1953 he settled permanently in Paris. Among many intellectuals Delaney knew as a kindred soul, friend, and mentor were James Baldwin as well as Henry Miller, who introduced many people to Delaney in his essay The Amazing and Invariable Beauford Delaney.


Joseph Delaney (1903-1991)

Joseph and his brother Beauford Delaney are two of Knoxville's most important artists. Born to a minister-father, the Delaney brothers learned to draw on Sunday school cards at church and were given art lesson by distinguished local artist Lloyd Branson. In 1930, Joseph studied with regionalist painter Thomas Hart Benton at New York's Art Students League with a group of classmates that included Jackson Pollock. Delaney spent the next 56 years painting portraits, figure studies, and lively scenes of urban life in lower Manhattan. Marble Collegiate Church depicts a bustling Manhattan crowd dwarfed by a towering church spire and a turbulent sky. Its distinctive frame was designed and built by the artist. In 1986, Delaney returned to Knoxville and was artist-in-residence at University of Tennessee until his death.


Charles Griffin Farr (1908-1997)

Farr was a devoted realist painter who achieved recognition for his precise landscapes, still lifes and figure studies during the mid 20th century, a time when abstract painting was in vogue. Born in Birmingham, Alabama, Farr spent much of his youth in Knoxville before settling in San Francisco. There, he worked as a devout figurative painter and influential figure drawing instructor, mentoring artists such as Wayne Thiebaud. Farr's paintings are intended to convey a subtle emotional tension and sense of mystery. Like Charles Rain, Farr was often referred to as a "magic realist" for his bright, clear views of a flawless, apparently vacuum-sealed world. Farr himself defined his work as trying "to make things more real than they already were."


Edward Hurst (1912-1972)

Edward Harrison Hurst, Jr. was known for his elegantly painted society portraits and meticulous still life drawings. He was the grandson of Joseph Knaffl, one of Knoxville's early professional portrait photographers. Hurst demonstrated early art talent and left Knoxville to study with George Luks at New York's renowned Art Students League even before graduating from high school. Hurst developed a severe allergy to oil paint in 1959 and developed a new technique by combining watercolor, conte and colored pencil on paper. Late in his career, the artist increasingly devoted his energies to depicting shells, plants and other still life objects. Although Hurst returned to Knoxville frequently to display his elegant society portraits and precisely-crafted still lifes, he spent much of his life mingling with wealthy clientele near his studios in New York and London.


Charles Rain (1911-1985)

Charles Whedon Rain is known for his meticulous, haunting, magic realist scenes. Born in Knoxville, he moved to Nebraska as a child and discovered an early love of art. He traveled to Europe frequently and was deeply influenced by Italian Renaissance painters. He especially admired Agnolo Bronzino (1503-1572), who used glazing and under-painting techniques to create paintings in which brushwork is nearly invisible. Rain adopted a similar technique, often using brushes with only two or three bristles. As a result, he produced few works and often spent as much as six months on a single painting. His subjects included everyday objects arranged in strange, eerily-lit groupings as in The Magic Hand, and dream-like scenes such as Eclipse and Procession. Rather than telling a specific story, Rain preferred that viewers interpret his paintings in their own way.


Post-War Revival


Robert Birdwell (born 1924)

Birdwell, along with Buck Ewing, Carl Sublett, and Walter Stevens, was among the early Abstract Expressionist painters in East Tennessee. While Sublett and Stevens found their primary inspiration along the Maine coastline, Birdwell often drew inspiration from urban settings. Downtown Knoxville was a favorite painting location, and his canvases and watercolors capture the intricate interplay of geometric forms, varying textures and contrasting colors along Gay Street and other avenues.


Richard Clarke (1923-1997)

Clarke was one of the early members of the University of Tennessee's art faculty. He found inspiration for his watercolor abstractions in the natural world around him. Among his favorite painting locations were the Maine coast, and a local a marble quarry in Friendsville, Tennessee.


C. Kermit "Buck" Ewing (1910-1976)

C. Kermit "Buck" Ewing was a charismatic and influential voice for avant garde art in East Tennessee during the mid 20th century. The Pittsburgh native came to Knoxville in the late 1940s and soon founded the University of Tennessee's art department. Landscape Redesigned is a rare early work from his days in Pittsburgh. Ewing's scene of bleak, isolated storefronts recalls the work of Edward Hopper. Ewing's later work, Sports Final, depicts a newspaper seller on Kingston Pike in Knoxville in 1949.


Philip Nichols (born 1931)

Nichols is a veteran Knoxville artist known for his welded steel sculptures resembling architectural structures or mechanical forms designed for an unknown purpose. He came to Knoxville in 1961 from Michigan as the first sculptor appointed to the University of Tennessee art faculty and the seventh and final member of the Knoxville Seven. Nichols' intricate steel forms served as a fitting sculptural counterpart to the largely abstract canvases produced by other Knoxville Seven members.


Joanna Higgs Ross (born 1934)

For Middle Tennessee native Joanna Higgs Ross, the Smoky Mountains serve as an endless source of artistic inspiration. Shortly after her arrival in Knoxville in 1956, she became the youngest member of the Knoxville Seven, and remained active in the group until returning to Middle Tennessee in 1961. She currently resides in Nashville and maintains an active studio practice.


Walter Stevens (1927-1980)

Stevens used nature's forms as a point of entry into complex abstract compositions. He and fellow artist Carl Sublett often worked together in the summer along the Maine coastline. Along with Sublett and C. Kermit "Buck" Ewing, he was one of the first faculty members of the University of Tennessee's art department. He was also a core member of the Knoxville Seven, a group of forward-looking artists active between 1959 and 1965 who were among the first in East Tennessee to experiment with abstract expressionism. The KMA presented a large exhibition of his watercolors in 1992.


Carl Sublett (1919-2008)

A Kentucky native, Sublett was a versatile, prolific artist who came to Knoxville in 1954. He became one of the founding members of the University of Tennessee's School of Art, and was a core member of the Knoxville Seven, a group of forward-looking artists active between 1959 and 1965 who were among the first in East Tennessee to experiment with Abstract Expressionism. Sublett found endless inspiration in the Maine coastline, East Tennessee countryside and many other outdoor painting locations, and shifted effortlessly from abstraction to precise realism throughout his long career. By the 1970s turned to watercolor as his primary medium. The Knoxville Museum of Art presented a large exhibition of Sublett's watercolors in 1991.


Diverse Paths


Julie Warren Conn (born 1943)

Now living in Kentucky, Conn is a long-time resident of Knoxville known for her flowing forms sculpted from various types of marble. While most appear abstract at first, her descriptive titles often enable viewers to discern hints of narrative imagery. Conn is deeply inspired by the work of British sculptor Henry Moore as well as classical art and culture.


Wade Guyton (born 1972)

Guyton grew up in Knoxville and is a graduate of the University of Tennessee's painting program. During the last decade, he has gained international attention for his unorthodox approach to painting, one that references hard-edged abstraction, minimalism, and performance art. His process-oriented works combine his own computer-generated imagery and inkjet printers. As Guyton explains, "I've been using a very pared down vocabulary of simple shapes and letters drawn or typed in Microsoft Word, then printed on top of these pages from catalogues, magazines, posters -- and even blank canvas. There is often a struggle between the printer and my material, and the traces of this are left on the surfaces: snags, drips, streaks, mis-registrations, blurs."


Bessie Harvey (1929-1994)

Bessie Harvey was a self-taught artist from Alcoa who overcame daunting obstacles -- poverty and a fourth grade education -- to become a nationally prominent self-taught artist. She earned international attention for her uncanny ability to extract religious, historical and imaginary characters from gnarled roots, branches, paint and cloth. The Knoxville Museum of art mounted a retrospective of her work in 1997 entitled Awakening the Spirits.


Richard Jolley (born 1952)

Richard Jolley, of Knoxville, is one of America's foremost figurative glass artists. He is well known for his expressive human and animal figures presented in various arrangements that suggest open-ended narratives. The artist's blown glass forms are inspired by classical sculpture, modern art as well as everyday life in the rural South. Jolley uses a unique palette of hand-formulated colors and often etches the surface of his glass with acid.


John Woodrow Kelley (born 1952)

Kelley is a Knoxville native whose painting career has been devoted to creating a contemporary interpretation of the classical tradition in western civilization. He dates the beginning of his interest in classicism to the time when, at age six, his parents took him to the world's only full scale replica of the Greek Parthenon in Nashville, Tennessee. Although as a student at the University of Tennessee he learned much about painting from his mentor Whitney Leland, an abstract painter, Kelley remained devoted to classical realism.


Whitney Leland (born 1945)

Leland has achieved a national reputation for his vibrant organic abstractions. For more than four decades, he has explored the process of painting with great discipline by restricting his imagery to a limited set of variables-tangled, symmetrically arranged tentacles of color. These areas are created through a labor-intensive method of applying precise shapes of wet acrylic paint onto a flat canvas in multiple layers. Leland is one of the earliest graduates of the University of Tennessee's art program, and studied with Walter Hollis Stevens.


Andrew Saftel (born 1959)

In panel paintings such as Making Bricks, Pikeville-based artist Andrew Saftel creates dense, colorful environments of painted imagery and found objects. Each is the result of a complex blend of techniques-carving, routing, embedding, stenciling, staining, brushing, and dripping-that echoes the natural processes of erosion, sedimentation, growth and decay.


Jered Sprecher (born 1976)

Sprecher, who teaches painting at the University of Tennessee's School of Art, approaches his medium in ways that defy traditional notions of the painting process and pictorial space. His inventive compositions present unlikely combinations of images borrowed from high and low sources, whether motifs from famous paintings, architectural blueprints, or graffiti scrawls on a wall near his studio. Their original meaning and associations are often subdued, altered or lost in favor of their new role as formal devices.


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