Benjamin Leroy Wigfall Biography

Benjamin Leroy Wigfall




Printmaker, painter, and sculptor Benjamin Leroy Wigfall was born Nov. 17, 1930 in Richmond, Virginia, the youngest of three to James Andrew and Willie Cozenia Johnson Wigfall. 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.

Following graduation he enrolled at Hampton Institute, now Hampton University, a historically Black private university where he received a VMFA student fellowship. He graduated in 1953 and received a Rockefeller Foundation scholarship to pursue graduate study. Before continuing his studies, he taught for a time at Hampton Institute and married fellow student Mary Carter. He enrolled at the University of Iowa's famed printmaking department under Mauricio Lasansky, and then formally began his graduate studies in printmaking at Yale University, graduating wit hhis MFA in the late 1950s.

Wigfall 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 moved his family moved to Kingston, N.Y., near New Paltz, and founded Communications Village, a printmaking workshop dedicated to bringing the arts to local youth. Over time, the workshop attracted such artists as Romare Bearden, Robert Blackburn, and other printmakers with a desire to teach. In 1988 he opened the Watermark/Cargo Gallery, which continues to showcase works by some of the nation's most respected artists.

Wigfall was named professor emeritus after his retirement from the University in 1991. He died on February 9, 2017 in New Paltz, NY. A retrospective of his work, "Ben Wigfall: the Artist Revealed",  was held at The Idea Garden gallery in Kingston.