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 Ben Harry Cummings  (1909 - 2003)

About: Ben Harry Cummings
 

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Lived/Active: California      Known for: water and mountain landscape, diorama

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Ben Harry Cummings
An example of work by Ben Harry Cummings
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following, submitted July 2004, is from Earle W. Cummings, son of the artist.

Ben Cummings was born in a rural northern California setting, Healdsburg, in the Sonoma County wine country. He grew up when California was still an emerging economy, and as a farm boy, he learned the skills of plowing, handling a team of horses, milked cows, butchered hogs, hunted and fished with his dad, and helped with house-hold chores. From an early age, he sketched, illustrated, and cartooned. He admired the illustrations of Howard Pyle and Earnest Thompson Seton for boy's adventure stories, and hoped to be a professional artist.

His father expected him to be a farmer, but his mother encouraged him to attend Santa Rosa Junior College and the University of California, where he took courses in chemical engineering and fine art. By the time he graduated from U.C. Berkeley in 1932, he had concluded that an artist might starve during the Depression, so he completed a degree in Chemical Engineering.

While attending Berkeley, he associated with the Sierra Club, which gave him an opportunity to travel widely in the Sierra Nevada, and cemented his love for mountaineering and wild places. Many of his paintings reflect scenes and vistas he encountered on club-sponsored High Trips, club outings and family travels around the world. He was an avid fly-fisherman and hunter, and admired the sporting illustrations of Maynard Reece, and Lynn Bogue Hunt, among others.

As Prohibition was ending, he was able to find work as a chemist in a winery, and subsequently moved to Shell Chemical Company. He worked in their development arm in Emeryville, California where he worked on improved distillation processes. He then worked in the development of synthetic rubber during World War II when natural rubber was controlled by Japan. This led to his working in Houston, Texas in 1943 through 1946. He returned to California then, working in Shell's San Francisco office, and in 1948, he moved to the corporate headquarters in New York. He retired from Shell in 1962, and returned to California, moving to Santa Rosa, where his wife, the former Grace Codding, had family.

In Santa Rosa, he worked several years from 1962 to 1965 to develop a natural history museum to display wildlife specimens collected by his brother-in-law. These displays included life-size mounted animals, in dioramas with painted backdrops he created. Although he had continued painting throughout his working career as a chemist, his productivity as a painter increased enormously as he finished the museum displays and began producing watercolors and acrylic landscapes for sale in the late 1960's.

The years from 1966 to 1996 were his most prolific, but his wife Grace became increasingly afflicted by Alzheimer's syndrome, and his care for her was sufficiently demanding that he had little time to paint. A series of small strokes also left him with a numb left hand, and as he was left-handed, he had to paint painfully slowly when he could find time to work. The last painting in the family collection was painted after her death from a photograph of Grace at Rainbow Bridge, and is dated 1999.





This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Ben H. Cummings was born in Healdsburg, CA on May 18, 1909.  Cummings graduated from UC Berkeley in 1932.  While a chemist for the Shell Company, he painted while on outings with the Sierra Club.  He studied painting with Millard Sheets and Vernon Nye.  During 1941-63 he worked in Houston, TX and NYC.  He then returned to Santa Rosa, CA and lived there until his death on Feb. 16, 2002. 

Exh:  Nut Tree (Vacaville), 1972; Wild Wings Gallery (Santa Rosa), 1978; Wildlife Gallery (SF), 1983.  Dioramas:  Codding Museum (Santa Rosa).
Source:
Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
Interview with artist or his/her family
Nearly 20,000 biographies can be found in Artists in California 1786-1940 by Edan Hughes and is available for sale ($150). For a full book description and order information please click here.

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