Paintings sold to benefit HCC scholarship fund

R. Benjamin Jones

R. Benjamin Jones

April 29, 2007|by TIFFANY ARNOLD

Years' worth of paintings by R. Benjamin Jones - the artist reluctant to call himself an artist - have helped fund activities at Hagerstown Community College and have helped put several HCC students through school.

For seven years, the 70-year-old Hagerstown artist has put his work up for sale to benefit HCC's foundation, the college's fundraising arm and provider of student scholarships.

The event has raised nearly $160,000 since it began, providing 19 scholarships to students, said Lieba Cohen, the foundation's executive director.

"He doesn't have to do it," said Cohen, who is also HCC's director of institutional advancement. "Ben Jones, he's such a fine person. He always says yes. He just gives and gives and gives."


Jones said the gratification from participating in the annual art show and sale is twofold: Knowing that he's able to provide opportunities to students at the school where he taught for nearly 25 years, and knowing that one of his paintings has the ability to make its owner happy.

But Jones appeared to be uncomfortable with being called an artist.

"I like to reserve that title for the heavyweights," Jones said. "I'd prefer to call myself a painter, but then people would think I painted houses."

Jones did not start out as a full-time professional artist. Although he attended art school, he left after a year and worked in a factory for three years. He later attended theology school in Pittsburgh and became an ordained Presbyterian minister in 1966, preaching at churches in Hagerstown, and in Westminster and Taneytown, Md.

He is now retired.

It wasn't until 1979, Jones said, that he decided to take up painting full time.

His paintings have sold for anywhere from $350 to $7,200, and it usually takes him a year to produce the 65 to 70 pieces sold at the annual HCC fundraiser.

Jones said he doesn't consider his painting to be tough duty.

"This is the kind of thing I do, but I've never been to work a day in my life," Jones said.

What's more important than the money, he said, is the feedback he gets from those who purchase his work.

He gave the example of a man who purchased one of his paintings on commission but forgot to pay for it. "But more importantly, he didn't give me any feedback."

After six weeks, a check for the painting arrived, "but more importantly, there was a note that said, 'It was exactly what I wanted,'" Jones said.


Name: R. Benjamin Jones

Hometown: East of Hagerstown

Occupation: Artist

What was your proudest moment? He said that about 25 years ago, the Smithsonian Institution and the Appalachian Regional Commission were looking for art. "They went to a local gallery and I was one of the artists they chose. My painting was shown in the Smithsonian and traveled all over Appalachia, and then it was also used by Robert Morgan of Appalachia fame for his book.

"Now here's the thing that really got me: You know whenever you go to a big gallery, in New York or (Washington) D.C. and they list the name of the artist in that fancy script on the wall by their painting? At the Smithsonian Museum on the wall was my name, R. Benjamin Jones.

"That moment in my art career - not that I had 'made it,' that could have been dumb luck - but to see my name on the wall with the likes of Winslow Homer, I almost fell back. That ... was a defining moment."

Whom do you most admire and why?: "I was on the library board at one point and we had an event where we had to dress up like our favorite character. I didn't dress up, I kind of shy away from that sort of thing, but I would have done Atticus Finch," the fictional lead character in Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird."

"His speech about equality toward the end of the book was phenomenal, and I like the wisdom he passed on to his family."

What is the best advice you ever received and who gave it to you?: "One of the best pieces of advice was from Cicero, who said 'Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.' If you have gratitude, you can't be arrogant."

What is the next goal you'd like to achieve?: "The goals in my life have always been art-related. ... In my mind, I have a beautiful painting, but it never comes out as I imagined. If I were to put that on a scale from one to 10, I don't think I've gotten past a seven."

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