Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Benjamin Porter Watkins -- A Good Breed of Man with Honor

From Ray L. Bellande's Blogspot, depicting the artwork of the late Ben Watkins --  subject to copyright -- for educational/edification purposes only
Blogger's Note: The following is rewrite of information gleaned from Ray L. Bellande's blog on the history of Ocean Springs, MS.  I have requested permission to quote from his blog, but it is unclear if he received the request via Facebook's new messaging system.  I do not wish to step on copyright toes, so be admonished that the photograph and the following is for educational purposes only and may be subject to any copyrights by Ray L. Bellande and/or others:

Benjamin Porter Watkins -- artist, art historian and professor -- was born "at" Brookhaven, MS, on Feb. 19, 1913 -- a "farm boy who became a scholar."

Watkins earned his Bachelor's and Master's degrees from Louisiana State University and received his PhD in Art History from the University of Minnesota in 1971.

Watkins taught at Phillips University, Southern Illinois University, and at Eastern Illinois University from 1971 to 1984, when he retired.  During his retirement years, he was a visiting professor of art history at the University of Evansville (Indiana).

In 1985, Dr. Watkins, by now a widower, moved to Ocean Springs, MS, where he acquired a small edifice built in 1888, known as the Van Cleave-Wilson Cottage to use as his studio. Soon, he met and married Inez Delaney Gordon, also widowed, and they lived in the St. Martin Community across Old Fort Bayou.

According to an Ocean Springs historian, Ben Watkins "melded well with the locals."  He became a regular at a local coffee club and forged a close friendship with local artist and etcher, Glenn E. Miller, who would spend hours with him in Watkins' studio, discussing art and politics.

And then, tragedy of the inevitable, would strike.

From Ray L. Bellande's blog on the history on Ocean Springs:
"Death came quickly to Ben Watkins in his beloved art studio on November 23, 1993.  He suffered from a rupture of his aorta. Friend and fellow artist, Glenn Miller, memorialized Watkin's demise in this poem:
'Ben, I went to your studio today.
All that was left were torn off
buttons of your gentle shirt.
They tried to save you there on
the floor.  Medical debris lying
where you died.
I held the buttons and cried.
Ben, an artist full of knowledge and skill.
Ben, the teacher, the lover of books,
a farm boy who became scholar,
a good breed of man with honor.
Our sparkling conversation
on history and art.  The shape
of trees, the proper shade of green.
Ben Watkins, your death was
a robbery, too swiftly taken.
I wasn't through enjoying you.'    

"Inez Gordon Watkins sold the Watkins Studio to (blogger) Ray L. Bellande (b. 1943) on February 3, 1994."
I don't know about you, but Ray L. Bellande's story and Glenn Miller's poem made me wish that I had had the pleasure of knowing Dr. Watkins.
As always, if anyone out there can tell us more about Dr. Watkins and his connection to Brookhaven, please pipe up here or on Facebook!

1 comment:

  1. Ben Watkins was my father. He was born in Mt. Olive MS, not Brookhaven. He helped his father on a dairy farm, killing and delivering milk. He lived in Brookhaven with his two living brothers and mother after his father's death. While in high school he won a national competition for the Louis Comfort Tiffany Award. He went to Whitworth College in Brookhaven for his associates degree, working
    his way through as janitor to the college. He met my mother, Alice Genevieve Witherell, a music major operatic soprano, at LSU. They married in 1940.