Special to The Herald-Mail
The Washington County Museum of Fine Arts will open a major retrospective exhibition of the work of Washington County painter R. Benjamin Jones today. Seventy-seven paintings and drawings tell the story of Jones's work from his young manhood until this past year.
Born in 1936 in Sparrows Point, Md., Jones reports that from boyhood he was always noticing things and drawing them. After studies for a year at the Maryland Institute of Fine Arts in Baltimore, the predecessor of the Maryland Institute College of Art, he recognized a call to the ministry. In the next eight years, from 1958 to 1966, he prepared for his first call, which was to Covenant Presbyterian Church in Hagerstown.
Beginning to paint again for relaxation in 1968, Jones took on subjects that fascinated him — the old farms of Washington County, with the patterns of their buildings and the light that fell across the property, animals and farm implements — buckets, wheelbarrows, windows and baskets. At first Jones was leery of color, as had been Andrew Wyeth, whom he admired, and Jones created only winter scenes.
A major turning point in Jones' life was his decision in 1979 to leave the full-time ministry. Prizes he won in the annual Cumberland Valley Artists exhibitions in the 1970s had encouraged him that he could make a living as a painter. Collectors began to flock to his exhibitions.
With travels on Maryland's Eastern Shore and in New England, Jones bravely added bright colors to his palette and undertook small floral pieces and still lifes of fruit.
Always a traveler, in 1990 Jones became fascinated with the Amish in Lancaster County, Pa., admiring their simplicity and work ethic and making a discreet appearance at their annual auctions, then returning home to make sketches and then paintings.
With his travels around Washington County, especially in the northern areas of the county, he developed a strong affection for sycamore trees, many of which appear in his work.
Jones' reputation flourished, not only as a painter but as a teacher of art appreciation at Hagerstown Community College. He has held annual benefit exhibitions for HCC since 1995.
Always modest about his work and success, Ben Jones' credo is clear; he paints "to gather in the experience-fruit that people picked, animals they cared for, buildings they built, trees and plants — activities that reveal human beings' hard work, their love of life, of the earth and of the ways of their forefathers."
More than 50 collectors have loaned pictures to the exhibition, which fills the Bowman and Kerstein galleries. Jones' work is exhibited in the museum's Baer Gallery to benefit the museum. Paintings of Jones' work is for sale at the event.
At 2:30 p.m. Sunday, May 15, I will assist Jones in talking about his work. Jones will discuss his work and demonstrate his painting techniques at 10 a.m. Thursday, June 16, in the Bowman Gallery of the museum.
The exhibition will be open through Sept. 18.
Elizabeth Johns is guest curator of the "R. Benjamin Jones: Making Pictures" exhibit at the Washington County Museum. Copies of her illustrated catalog will be on sale during the event Sunday, May 15.