Artist donates personal collection to community college Works by Williams, a renowned painter, hang in major museums

December 01, 1997|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

Hiram Williams, a renowned artist whose works hang in museums across the country, has donated his personal collection of more than 100 paintings and drawings to Carroll Community College.

Williams, 80, who lives in Gainesville, Fla., made the donation of his work at the suggestion of his nephew, Gregory Eckles of Westminster. Eckles is director of secondary education for Carroll County schools.

Eckles said his uncle considers himself as much an educator as an artist. "I think that's what he prides himself on," Eckles said.

Williams was an associate professor of art at the University of Florida, the University of Texas in Austin and the University of Southern California.

Williams also wrote a textbook, "Notes for Young Painters," which includes notes from his extensive diaries. The textbook is out of print, but Williams donated to Carroll Community College one of his copies, which includes hand-written notes in the margins.

Williams painted in the abstract expressionist school popular in New York in the middle of the century. His contemporaries include Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollack, said Maggie Ball, director of the art department at Carroll Community College.

Williams' paintings and drawings are in the permanent collections of New York museums and galleries, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of Art and the Guggenheim; and of the National Gallery and Corcoran Gallery in Washington.

"I think the impact of the donation of this collection is most significant to the community at large," Ball said. "It's an important collection of art."

When Williams made the offer, the college sent Ball to Florida to visit him and his wife. Plans are for the pieces to be hung on a rotating basis in the college's new Random House Learning Resources Center, two floors of which is the new library.

Ball will spend most of the next semester and summer researching the work and writing material to accompany pieces as they are displayed.

"Modern art demands more of an audience," Ball said. "It asks more questions, and asks us to be more informed.

"His work is very figurative," she added. "One can perceive the figure or the landscape, but the work is still abstract. His work is often about the relationship of human beings to one another. He considered that to be an abstract idea."

Williams fought in World War II, including the Battle of the Bulge. He received the European Theater Ribbon and three battle stars. What he saw in the war had a tremendous influence on his art, Ball said.

"He was a Baptist minister's son," she said. "But he witnessed a great deal of brutality in the battlefield. He had a very devout faith, and it eventually was eroded. He painted about the contrast between human dignity and human misery."

Williams is married to Eckles' maternal aunt, Avonelle. As he grew up, Eckles was close to his aunt and uncle and often attended exhibitions of his uncle's work.

This year, as Williams was considering what to do with his personal collection of paintings and drawings, he asked his nephew whether Carroll County schools would be interested.

"I told him, basically, no -- the school system puts up the art of the students," Eckles said. "So he asked if the community college might be interested."

Williams has donated much of his work to the community college Gainesville. The University of Florida, also in that city, has a good deal of his work and his collection of journals.

In the past few years, Eckles said, his uncle has painted two pieces, although he is retired because of his health. Some of the work is strenuous, on large canvasses requiring him to paint while standing on a ladder.

Eckles describes him as a teacher, philosopher and storyteller, and an engaging conversationalist.

"He's very entertaining," he said.

Ball said Williams and his wife took her into their home "like two parents."

"His main concern was that the collection be used for scholarship, so that students have access to his work," Ball said.

She looks forward to hanging the collection in the college's newest building, where a lot of students and members of the public will see it. She said she hopes the college's next building, planned in a few years, will include dedicated gallery space.

Pub Date: 12/01/97

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