My father, Barney Charles Delabano grew up in a house where there wasn’t any art. His first exposure was the Saturday Evening Post and his high school art teacher. Besides being an artist and a family man, he was the Curator of Installation at the Dallas Musuem of Art for 33 years. Despite his becoming very well known for his innovative musuem installations he continued to paint. My father was also very knowledgable in Art History and was an avid collector of everything from his peers and mentors work, to all sorts of ethnic material such as pre-columbian, african and New Guinea artwork.
Down below is the speech I gave at his memorial service at the Dallas Musuem of Art.
Dallas Museum of Art, September 12, 1997
My mother Barbara, my sister Gina, my brother Tony and I would like to say thank you for coming today to honor the memory of Barney Delabano.
Rick, (Rick Brettell) … John, (John Lundsfurd) I want to thank you for your insights into Barney Delabano the man. He admired you both as scholars and cherished your friendships.
And Mom … Thank you for asking me to speak about Dad. I do this with great pride.
Margaret Ann Cullum told my Mother the other day that she supposed that Barney and Ester Houseman and were now in the process of reinstalling Heaven.
Those who knew my father were quite aware that he was not a religious man. But as my mother told me, you might not have thought it if you ever heard him singing at the top of his lungs with his Mahalia Jackson CD blaring in his studio “His eyes are on the Sparrow” .
My father was a very complex man. Earlier this week Gina and I were talking about Dad and concluded that Dad could be both difficult and wondrous. And nothing could be closer to the truth.
Sometime this past year, I asked my father where it was that he experienced art for the first time. He proceeded to tell me this wonderful story of when he had gone to the Denison Public Library. There he discovered the Saturday Evening Post.
Having never been exposed to art, it must have come as a revelation to him. He told me that he was so fascinated by the Norman Rockwall covers that on future trips to the Library he took along a razor blade to cut the covers off, and slipped them into his shirt to make his getaway.
Part of his family’s immense pride in Barney stem from the fact that he was truly a self made man. Although my father would have been the first to acknowledge all those who influenced him and helped him along the way.
I love his story of his going to work in the Katy railroad yards in Denison. This is where his father worked. He told me that as he looked out over the rail yard in the snowing and freezing cold, he concluded that there had to be more to life.
At the age of sixteen, with 400 dollars in his pocket, he moved to Dallas all by himself. He got a job at a cleaners and lived in someone’s garage apartment. Once here in Dallas he enrolled in Miss Vivian Aunspaugh’s Art School. Later he studied with and became friends with pivotal and important artist from the era and eventually exhibited with them.
It was important to my father that I understood that there was all this wealth of history that had gone on before me here in Dallas. People like Charley Bowling, Jerry Bywaters, Otis and Velma Dozier and many more wonderful and talented people who had built bridges for future generations of artists, including myself
This is from an entry in one of my father’s sketch books from the mid-1940’s.
“Tonight I began thinking of Miss Aunspaugh. Somehow I think my best training was from her. Not so much from her school – as her herself. A gentle old sweet lady who somehow knows of greatness- she could dig up models of marvelous qualities – clean wholesome faces”.
Looking through my father’s work, I believe my father sought that same sort of simplicity in his own artwork. He found those faces in his wife, his four children, grandson and amongst friends. He painted them all with a quiet dignity.
He also loved to paint simple things like paper sacks, and flowers, fruit, and boards C-clamped to stools with a swath of brocade fabric in the background. He could take all these casual objects and compose them together beautifully, concisely and with an easy natural flair.
His work as an artist informed his design work for the museum. It’s very apparent from looking through his early sketchbooks he always had an interest in design and installation.
Before joining the museum in 1958 my father taught art in the the Dallas Independent School District, first in elementary art education , then he moved on to junior high and then to High school. There he shared his own love of art to many who passed through his classroom.
His teaching didn’t end with joining the museum. It could be argued that his installations were always like teaching tools. As beautiful as the installation might be, first and foremost was the art. He wanted the art to be understood and appreciated. He wanted the artist who created the art to be understood and appreciated and he wanted the culture that created the artist to be understood and appreciated as well. His installations always succeeded in doing this.
There were times he taught art history at SMU at night and life drawing at El Centro. He did so because he loved to teach, but it was also to bring in needed extra income for his family.
Even though he never did stop painting, after his retirement he turned back to painting with renewed passion. I thought he did some of his best painting during this time.
Barney Delabano lived a full and fascinating life and with that his Life comes full circle. My father passed surrounded by his family and blessedly went easily.
He left behind a grand legacy as accomplished Artist, Teacher noted Museum Designer, and beloved Husband, Father and Grandfather. We will miss him. Thank you.
Martin Delabano, 1997