Distinction is no name on his work ANNE ARUNDEL SENIORS

'NO SIGNATURE' ARTIST TAKES FIRST PRIZE

June 30, 1993|By Amy P. Ingram | Amy P. Ingram,Contributing Writer

Ben Williams doesn't paint or carve for recognition. That's why he leaves his name off every work.

"My signature is no signature," the Crownsville resident says.

But judges of the Maryland's Senior Citizen "You Are Beautiful" art competition didn't need a name to know they had a winner. On Friday, Mr. Williams, 70, was honored at St. John's College for a wood carving he calls "The Thinker."

The 10-pound wood carving, a re-creation of a photograph of a real-life gorilla in thought, was crafted from a cherry tree in Mr. Williams' backyard.

The first-place award came as a complete surprise to Mr. Williams.

"I'm just an amateur and I didn't have any formal art education until a couple years ago," he says. "I had no idea this little carving would win first place."

Mr. Williams, who had never displayed his artwork before, says he was inspired to enter the contest when a friend and fellow artist, Yen Christmas, convinced him that his art was competition quality.

Now he wants to say, "Thanks a million."

Although Mr. Williams realized he had a knack for creation at age 9, when he began sketching images of nature and people, he says he didn't develop his "artist eye" until after the art classes at O'Malley Senior Center in Odenton.

"After a year of oil painting at the center, I began to see things I'd never seen before," he says. "I've developed a sense of alertness and I'm always on the lookout for something interesting to paint or carve."

Every piece of artwork displayed in his home -- slaves, horses, boats, parrots, Western scenes -- were all inspired by pictures. But the finished project, whether painting or carving, is more real than a picture; it has dimensions and colors of his own vision that bring the picture to life.

"Everything you see here in my house, I've had a hand in," says Mr. Williams, a retired cabinetmaker. "From the paintings and their frames to the sculptures, lawn furniture and even this very house."

His wife, Elouise, who is beginning to sketch a little herself, says her husband is always doing something with art.

"He has many hobbies," she says. "He goes from one hobby to another and it's always art. But he's not one to boast about it. He just takes it in stride."

In the foyer of their home is a picture called "Black Gold." Mr. Williams turned a 4-inch, black and white picture of the enslavement of Africans into a 6-foot painting graphically portraying brandings and whippings in vivid colors.

Among his other favorite works is an oil painting of two parrots sitting side by side, with the shadows of the setting sun shading their images.

Mr. Williams' first wood carving -- of racing horses -- was crafted 10 years ago from a cherry tree.

Since then he has carved seven pieces, all from cherry wood, and is working on a duplicate of "The Thinker" for a neighbor.

If one thing is certain about his carvings it is that, "I'll only use hard wood," he says firmly, including cherry, sycamore, walnut and oak.

He says he only has one rule of thumb for choosing his projects: "If I see and like it -- I'll do it."

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