Born in Richmond, Benjamin Leroy Wigfall (America, 1930-2017) grew up in Church Hill. After taking classes at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts as a high school student, he attended Hampton Institute (now Hampton University), with partial funding provided by VMFA fellowships.
During the program, Eckhardt and Holmes will show videos of interviews with Wigfall from 2003 and 2016 and speak about Wigfall’s work and impact. In the videos, he discusses growing up in segregated Richmond, his engaging classes at VMFA, and his experiences at Hampton University as a student and professor. On his museum visits as a teenager, Wigfall was able to see works that inspired his budding career.
After graduating from Hampton, Wigfall earned an MFA from Yale School of Design and then went back to Hampton as a professor of art in the late 1950s and early ’60s. In 1963, he moved to New York to teach art at the State University of New York at New Paltz, where he also owned a gallery. Wigfall died on February 9, 2017, at the age of 87.
In 1951, VMFA acquired his painting Chimneys when Wigfall was just 21, making him the youngest artist to have a work enter the museum’s collection. A prestigious jury unanimously selected the work for first prize in an exhibition of Virginia artists. Chimneys is on view in VMFA’s Mid-Century American Gallery.
This event, which is free and open to the public, is part of the VMFA’s strategic initiative to bring more arts programming into the community. As part of its outreach to the communities that it serves, VMFA is excited to share this little-known and inspirational story about a national artist with roots in Virginia.
Members of Wigfall’s family are expected to attend.