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

Ben Cameron sits with his painting “Big Band” outside his office July 9, 2013, at Columbia College. He donated the painting to the Columbia Public Library.

Benjamin Cameron spent 48 years teaching students in Columbia across three different colleges. His own works still hang on the walls around the community and tell a greater story of his life.

Cameron came to Columbia in 1967, when he began teaching at Stephens College. He then taught at MU until 1974 and then at Columbia College until his retirement in 2015.

He ran the Larson Gallery at Columbia College and with Kathleen Shanahan created the “Paper in Particular,” an annual juried art show.

Cameron, 80, passed away in his sleep peacefully Feb. 5, 2021, according to an obituary written by his wife.

His first degree in speech and dramatic art was earned at St. Louis University in 1962. He then spent time studying fashion at Traphagen School of Fashion in New York in 1964.

He later focused on visual arts and spent time studying studio art and art history at Washington University in St. Louis from 1963 to 1965. He obtained a Master of Arts in painting from the University of Iowa in 1966 and a Master of Fine Arts in painting at the University of Cincinnati in 1967.

His wife of 54 years and fellow artist, Brooke Cameron, recalled some of his interests beyond teaching.

He and his wife enjoyed traveling for the history, culture and scenery. Brooke Cameron said their strangest trip was to Tibet, where they climbed the Potala Palace. He has also traveled with the MU Florence, Italy, six-week program.

“He liked bizarre things,” his wife said. “He wasn’t a Hallmark Card.”

Those bizarre things included a fascination in people, portraits and groups. He went to flea markets, garage sales, estate sales and auctions. He would collect old group photos, and that fascination made its way into his work.

Two of his large canvases, “Big Band” and “Spring,” hang on the walls in the Columbia Public Library, both of which have groups of people as the subject.

“Big Band” was donated to the library in 2013 as a gift after it had been shown in his retrospective show honoring his retirement from Columbia College. It focuses on a group of orchestra players, dressed fancily like those of the big band era of the 1950s.

Cameron’s mother was a musician. She was a choral director and would use her son in the choral. Later in life, Cameron sang with the MU Choral Union.

“He had a good voice,” Brooke Cameron said. “Most people don’t even realize.”

“Spring” was donated in 2014. Cameron’s friend and neighbor Robert Bussabarger also had a work of art in the library. When he passed away in 2013, Cameron wanted to have a work of his next to his neighbors’ art.

Cameron’s diverse artistic interest also included theater. His wife mentioned the multiple paintings of actors that hang in their living room.

“His background in theater really came through in his work,” Brooke Cameron said.

Cameron’s art is in private and public collections around the country.

Melissa Williams, who runs Melissa Williams Fine Art, an art gallery in Columbia, discovered his work in 2018 and displayed his and his wife’s prints as a two-person art show.

“He taught art, so in a way, he’s an academic artist,” Williams said. “You think of those people often as being insiders in the art world. I think from the way he did things, he was always just not trying to participate in insider conversations; he was always on his own path.”

Williams had found out about Cameron’s prints when visiting his wife, Brooke.

“They just had a spirit of a sense of humor and vitality that I was really drawn to,” Williams said.

Williams currently has an exhibit at the gallery of his prints for people to view.

Benjamin Cameron left the art community but not without leaving his own mark.

“I talked to several people who had studied with him,” Williams said, “and they all use the same word. They all said he was a very kind teacher.”

  • Cameron Barnard is a reporter for the Columbia Missourian. You can reach him at 303-250-7689 or on Twitter @Cameron_Barnard.

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