KMA’s Collectors Circle Acquires Several Works by Noted Artists with Ties to East Tennessee

July 3, 2024

Bessie Harvey (Dallas, Georgia 1929-1994 Alcoa, Tennessee), First Washing Machine (Monday), 1986, painted wood, wood putty, aluminum, beads, wire, cloth, 11 x 15 5/8 x 7 1/8 inches, Knoxville Museum of Art, 2024 purchase with funds provided by KMA Collectors Circle

On May 21, 2024, the KMA’s Collectors Circle held its annual Purchase Reception in the museum’s Ann & Steve Bailey Hall. This reception is the event at which funds generated by the Circle’s membership dues are used to help build the KMA collection. The group enjoyed a wonderful event with dinner, drinks, and even entertainment by Ukrainian violinist Marki Lukyniak. A special thanks to co-chairs Kay and Larry Liebowitz for hosting the event and leading the Collectors Circle through another amazing year.

Bessie Harvey (Dallas, Georgia 1929-1994 Alcoa, Tennessee), A Thin Line or the Hanging Tree, 1984, painted wood, putty, cloth, rope, acorns, shells, 23 x 23 x 18 inches, Knoxville Museum of Art, 2024 purchase with funds provided by KMA Collectors Circle

During the reception, the group voted to acquire five works for the KMA collection by artists Bessie Harvey, Whitney Leland, Walter Stevens, and Lee Friedlander. Two works were acquired by the celebrated Alcoa-based artist Bessie Harvey, who is considered one of the Southeast’s most respected self-taught artists. Her work is represented in the Whitney Museum of American Art and many other museum collections. These two small sculptures are rare works from Harvey’s “Africa in America” series and come from the artist’s personal collection. They were featured in the KMA’s 1997 retrospective Bessie Harvey: Awakening the Spirits and will be a fantastic addition to the display of Harvey’s work in the KMA’s ongoing exhibition Higher Ground: A Century of the Visual Arts in East Tennessee.

Here, Harvey concisely captures one of the countless weekly routines that were part of life for her and many other African Americans living in the rural South.

Whitney Leland (Washington, D.C. 1945; lives and works in Knoxville), 2001 IV, 2001, acrylic on canvas, 80 x 50 inches, Knoxville Museum of Art, 2024 purchase with funds provided by KMA Collectors Circle

This powerful work explores the complexities of race relations in the American South and its often tragic outcomes.

The Circle also voted to purchase a painting by Whitney Leland.  Leland’s work is included in many notable collections, including the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American Art, and has frequently been exhibited in the KMA’s ongoing exhibition Currents.

Whitney Leland is a retired professor of painting at the UTK School of Art and, for years, a protégé of Knoxville 7 abstract painter Walter Hollis

Walter Hollis Stevens (Mineola, New York 1927-1980 Deer Isle, Maine), Open Windows, 1966 Acrylic polymer on canvas, 40 x 36 inches Knoxville Museum of Art, 2024 purchase provided by KMA Collectors Circle

Stevens (1927-1980). Although Leland’s compositions appear spontaneous and gestural, his signature tendril-like color shapes are carefully constructed from numerous layers of acrylic pigment pooled on the surface of his canvas while it is lying flat.The Collectors Circle voted to underwrite 2 other works.

Walter Hollis “Holly” Stevens was one of the first faculty members of the University of Tennessee’s art department.  His self-declared objective was “to re-create and hold the transient emotions stemming from a participation in nature.” Stevens used the natural landscape as the basis for bold, improvisational experiments with color and form devoid of human presence or site-specific details.

New York-based artist Lee Friedlander is a social realist “street” photographer whose seemingly accidental snapshots are actually carefully composed. Many of his images feature fragments of storefront reflections, structures framed by fences, and obstructed road signs. His subtle manipulation of these features transforms the American urban landscape into an uncanny play whose signposts further obscure the viewer’s perspective.

Lee Friedlander (Aberdeen, Washington 1934; lives and works in New York), House, Trailer, Sign, Cloud, Knoxville, Tennessee, 1971, gelatin silver print, printed 1980s, 11 x 14 inches, Knoxville Museum of Art, 2023 purchase with funds provided by KMA Collectors Circle

The Knoxville Museum of Art extends a sincere and heartfelt THANK YOU to all of the Collectors Circle members for their continued acquisitions support.

If you are interested in joining or learning more about the KMA’s Collectors Circle, please visit Collectors Circle – Knoxville Museum of Art ( for more information.