“The chief characteristic of the good is its generosity. It simply
gives. One need not pray to it. One need not court it, seduce it or
bribe it. It is simply there. Veronica Benning, Master Painter, has brought
this gift of the good to us. This is why so many people who presently suffer
find a healing of the mind when they experience her mastery.”
Joe Grange, Philosopher, “The Master Painter”
Veronica Ann Benning, artist, teacher, beloved friend and colleague, died following surgery on December 24, 2013, in Fort Myers (Fla.), her home for the past 20 years. She was born in Clearwater (Fla.) on March 25, 1947, the second child and only daughter of Bernard and Monica Conter Benning. After living in several locations, the family moved to Greenwich (Conn.) where Veronica spent her formative years and graduated from Greenwich Academy.
Following two years at Manhattanville College (Purchase, N.Y.), Veronica transferred to Washington University (St. Louis) where she received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Art. She then studied at the Tyler School of Art, receiving a Masters of Fine Arts degree from Temple University (Philadelphia) where she was also awarded a graduate teaching assistantship.
Veronica lived, painted and taught in Maine from 1974-1993 where her work was exhibited in most major galleries including: Portland Museum of Art (Portland); Bowdoin College Museum of Art (Brunswick); Colby College Museum of Art (Waterville); Maine College of Art (Portland); University of Southern Maine (Portland); Hobe Sound Gallery (Portland); Barridoff Galleries (Portland); Galeyrie Fine Art (Falmouth); and Walt Kuhn Gallery (Cape Neddick).
In October 2012, the Portland Museum of Art accepted “Androscoggin Series, Late Summer Shade Trees,” a significant painting from a series of 100 plus paintings executed over a period of two years from a single location on the Androscoggin River, looking at the primary visual elements of trees, water, light, the opposite bank and sky. In her artist’s statement on the series she wrote, “A painter must transform things seen into areas of color in patterns which relate, in order to create the particular - however often varied - visual excellence and visual feeling of the sensation viewed.”
Edwin Douglas, painter friend and former colleague, speaking of the series says, “A balance of contradictions is at work in her paintings, a search for compatibility made all the stronger by the apprehension of the seemingly impossible task of pulling it all together, sensing just how elusive that whole can be and how far away or unconsciously close at hand is its realization.”
Veronica’s work - in oil, acrylic and gouache in many combinations and with other media - was always done in series with work ranging from the recognizable to the abstract, although she insisted “all painting is abstract.” She worked daily, sometimes generating two or three paintings a day. Sometimes going back into the work for long periods of time but always beginning anew the movement toward the truth of what she perceived. Sally Barrows, who represented Veronica for five years at Galeyrie Fine Art, remembers being extraordinarily impressed with the amount of work Veronica was producing, all of it thoroughly documented. This was in addition to a prolific correspondence. “Her creative output was phenomenal and it was something that flowed from her, albeit the result of huge self-discipline.”
Janice T. Paine, art critic and columnist for the Naples (Fla.) Daily News, wrote of a visit to Veronica’s studio in 2011, “Some large canvases with mythological figures recall Matisse’s thickly outlined dancers from the early years of the 20th century. A still-life painting on her easel, a gorgeous rendering of a philodendron stalk next to a bowl of oranges, has a patchy quality that brings to mind Cezanne’s use of the palette knife to break forms into small planes of color that in turn coalesce into a shimmering whole. Her abstractions often have an urgent, planar quality reminiscent of Nicolas de Stael.”
One of the areas of her documentation was her artistic lineage. Beginning with Charles Hawthorne (1872-1930), who studied with William Merritt Chase and became his first assistant at Shinnicook, Long Island, and went on to found his own school, Cape Cod School of Art, in 1898 at Provincetown (Mass.) - a location chosen specifically for the area’s quality of light. John Frazier attended Cape Cod School of Art where he studied under John Singer Sargent. Frazier became Hawthorne’s assistant in Provincetown and later became president of Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). Another teacher at Provincetown, Gordon Peers, later became chairman of the Fine Arts Department at RISD where one of his students was William Collins, who in turn became Veronica’s instructor at the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts. Collins would later transform a small museum school in Portland, Maine, into the accredited Portland School of Art, now Maine College of Art. Ed Douglas and Veronica were two of the artists assembled by Collins to form a world class faculty there.
Veronica had a profound influence on many students who studied with her as well as colleagues with whom she taught and members of the community who became her patrons. In all relationships she was present and exceptionally generous. She maintained, until her death, a prolific correspondence with many - always sharing her support, insights and experience. Jane Woodworth Rotondi, whose student/teacher relationship with Veronica became a lifelong friendship, calls Veronica “the truest of friends. Her generosity and support knew no boundaries as she continually gave so much of herself to so many. I can proudly say that over the past 36 years Ronnie Benning has played a profound role in my life and has significantly helped to shape the artist and person I am today.”
At the time of her death Veronica’s oil on canvas, “Sunflower Bouquet on Coral in Vase,” was on exhibit at The von Liebig Art Center (Naples, Fla.), where it had been awarded Best of Show in the juried exhibit, “Breaking Through with Color.” Another of Veronica’s paintings, “Poinsettia on Blue 1,” had been exhibited at The von Liebig and featured in Gulfshore Life as the signature piece for the November 2010 issue. Her drawing “Bird of Paradise, 3”is the cover art for “Injury,” the most recent book of poetry by Jonathan Aldrich, Veronica’s friend and former colleague at Maine College of Art. Selected works from her “Angel Host Series”were used in 2012 as illustrations in “Downloads from God,” an inspirational work by Whitney McKendree Moore, a classmate from Greenwich Academy. Other one-person, juried and group exhibitions in Florida include: the Ringling School of Art and Design (Sarasota); the Arts Center (St. Petersburg); and the Bob Rauschenberg Gallery of Art (Fort Myers).
Veronica was predeceased by her parents and her husbands, William C. Collins and Kenneth Winfield. She is survived by her brothers, Joseph Phillip (Carol) Benning and Gregory Conter Benning of Fort Myers (Fla.); her nieces Melanie and Lauren; and a host of people who admired and loved her.
According to her wishes, Veronica has been laid to rest at the Conter family plot at Magnolia Cemetery in Apalachicola (Fla.). It was in Apalachicola, at the home (formerly the Fry Conter House, now the Apalachicola Museum of Art) of her maternal grandparents, Dr. August and Marie Conter, that Veronica spent many cherished childhood days.
A celebration of her life and work will take place in Maine later in the spring. Friends may sign the guest book at www.horizonfunerals.com.