Local artist donates 'Big Band' painting to Columbia Public Library

Thursday, July 11, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:45 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 11, 2013
Ben Cameron sits with his painting "Big Band" outside his office Tuesday at Columbia College. The oil painting was chosen from among hundreds of Cameron's work to be donated to the Columbia Public Library.

COLUMBIA — Paintings of various sizes leaned against the white walls in professor emeritus Ben Cameron's office at Columbia College on Tuesday afternoon. The largest painting in the room, "Big Band," rested between the wall and the door.

The 72-by-60-inch canvas painting, inspired by dance bands in Chicago from the 1940s, made its move into the public arena Wednesday as Columbia Public Library's newest piece of art.

"Big Band" now hangs in the first floor lobby of the library. In August, it will move to its permanent location at the top of the main staircase on the third floor.

Deborah Jewett, a former art student of Cameron’s who works with the library's bookmobile, said Cameron was receptive of the idea of donating a piece from his personal collection. His paintings “capture the energy of a person,” she said.

Cameron worked with Aimee Leonhard, the library's art archivist, on paintings the library wanted and that Cameron thought would make a good fit. The two looked for space in the library to fit Cameron's large paintings while keeping lighting in mind.

“The more art you have up, I’m in favor of,” Cameron said.

Leonhard and Cameron narrowed the choices to “Big Band” and “Spring,” a line of dancing women.

The Columbia Library Board decided on "Big Band" because of its connection to music programs at the library, Leonhard said.

“His paintings are very lively, happy and interesting,” Leonhard said. “We hope it resonates with folks in Columbia.”

Both "Big Band" and "Spring" were shown during Cameron’s 2012 restrospective exhibit at Columbia College. He's been teaching at the college since 1974. The show featured about 100 paintings, many of which were inspired by 1940s and '50s movie stars and the entertainment industry of the time.

Cameron also oversees the Sidney Larson Gallery at Columbia College. Larson taught art and served as the chair of the Art Department at Columbia College for decades. He was well-known for his own art as well as his restoration of historic artwork. Larson also has a piece of art in the Columbia Public Library, "Courthouse," that was donated in 1971.

"I really enjoy the library because it is for everyone," Cameron said. "It's a good place to go. I am just really flattered and honored that they have one of my paintings."

Supervising editors are John Schneller and Katie Moritz.

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