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Retrospective Exhibition of the Paintings of Ben L. Summerford


The Washington County Museum of Fine Arts in Hagerstown will present a retrospective exhibition of the paintings of Ben L. Summerford.. The exhibition, which covers more than fifty years of works by this Shepherdstown, West Virginia artist, will be on view in the Groh Gallery through March 7, 2004.

Born in Montgomery, Alabama in 1924, Ben Summerford started his advanced education at Southern College in Birmingham. His studies there were interrupted by service in the United States Navy during World War II at the conclusion of which he found himself in Washington, DC. At the suggestion of Franz Bader, he received formal training at American University. He studied with Sarah Baker, William Calfee, Robert Gates and Karl Knaths who was an important influence on his painting. In 1949, Summerford was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship and he traveled to Paris to attend the Ecole des Beaux Arts. Upon his return to Washington he began teaching at American University and in 1951 had his first one-man exhibition at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

The exhibition explores Summerford's evolving styles beginning with his early works which leaned toward Abstract Expressionism. These early paintings include Marble Fruit, 1950 on loan from Todd & Rebecca Gilliam of Mechanicsville, Virginia, Abstract Still-Life, 1950 on loan from Mr. & Mrs. James Summerford of Pickerington, Ohio, The White Shelf, 1954 and Nude, 1955.(right: painting by Ben L. Summerford from the retrospective exhibition)

In 1962-1963 while living in Spain, Summerford's work began to change to visually oriented paintings. The subjects include intimate interiors, still life works and landscapes. Paintings from this period include White Mug, 1965 on loan from Mrs. Margaret S. Hám, McLean, Virginia, Black Hills, 1963 on loan from Mr. & Mrs. Dario Barozzi, Washington, DC, Green Apples, 1974 on loan from the collection of Mr. & Mrs. R. Christian Berg, Royal Oak, Maryland, Costa Brava, 1967 on loan from The Watkins Gallery, American University, Washington, DC, Catalonian Hills, 1963 and Vase of Flowers, 1962.

In 1957, Summerford co-founded the Jefferson Place Gallery for showing innovative contemporary painting and sculpture. That same year he also became chairman of the Art Department at American University, a position he held until 1965. From 1965 to 1986 he became one of three rotating chairmen of the Art Department. He has been a major influence on the development of art in the Washington area through his teaching, lecturing and writing.

In general, Summerford describes his paintings as tending toward a reductive simplified impression of the subject. He says his subjects, while being devotedly attentive to nature, are outside the current emphasis on photo-realism. The exhibition includes several paintings from every decade and works from as recent as 2003 including Two Pots of Flowers, 1982 on loan from Mrs. Olie W. Rauh, Washington, DC, Lilac, 1993 on loan from Debbie & Carl Rauh, Washington, DC, South Window, 1981 on loan from Brian & Imogen Rose, Washington, DC, Studio Corner, 1980 on loan from the collection of Colonel & Mrs. Charles P. Biggio, Arlington, Virginia, Delft Plate, 2003 on loan from Mr. & Mrs. Kenneth Main, Keedysville, Maryland, Tea Box, 1999, Red Apples, 2003 and The Beluchi Rug, 2003.

Summerford was a professor of art at the American University for almost forty years and his works have been exhibited at the Watkins Gallery at American University, The Baltimore Museum of Art, Goucher College, The Phillips Collection, The Corcoran Gallery of Art and The Whitney Museum as well as many other galleries and museums throughout the country.

In 1986, Summerford moved to Shepherdstown, West Virginia where he continues to paint and participate in the local art community.

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