Benjamin Leroy Wigfall Biography

Benjamin Leroy Wigfall




Benjamin Leroy Wigfall was born Nov. 17, 1930 in Richmond, Virginia, the son of the late James Andrew and the late Willie Cozenia Johnson Wigfall and the youngest of three children. He grew up on Richmond's Church Hill. While a student at George Mason Elementary School, he often drew cartoons to impress his friends. Word spread about his skill, and his friends and family nurtured his interests in art.

Wigfall was a teenager when his father found one of his nude drawings. "I thought he was going to come down on me, but he was very excited about the talent," said Wigfall. Wigfall's father encouraged him to develop his gift.

At Armstrong High School in the 1940s, Wigfall pestered the principal to hire an art teacher. One arrived just in time -- the spring semester of Wigfall's senior year. The teacher helped Wigfall secure private lessons at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. "I didn't even know there was a museum in my city," Wigfall said. "It was a segregated city, and I was in a very segregated part of a segregated city." His exposure to the museum's collection, coupled with advice from African-American community leaders who respected his talent, led him to study art in college.

He enrolled in Hampton Institute, now Hampton University,a private historically black university located in Hampton, Virginia, where he received a VMFA student fellowship one year. He graduated in 1953 and received a Rockefeller Foundation scholarship to pursue graduate study.

Wigfall would later earn a master's degree in art from Yale University. In the meantime, he taught art at Hampton Institute and married Mary Carter, a Richmond native and Hampton graduate. He finished his degree work at Yale in the late 1950s and continued to teach at Hampton until 1963, when he was hired to teach art at the State University of New York at New Paltz, New York. He retired as an Art Professor at SUNY after teaching for over 30 years.

Wigfall and his family moved to Kingston, N.Y., near New Paltz, and in 1988, he opened the Watermark/Cargo Gallery, which has showcased works by some of the nation's most respected artists.

Benjamin Wigfall was named professor emeritus after his retirement from the University in 1991. He died on Feruary 9, 2017 in New Paltz, NY.