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Friday, October 8, 2010

American Fresco Painters

Of all the art media which have migrated to this country from our European artistic traditions, one simply did not make the cut.  Oil painting, watercolor, egg tempera, stone carving, bronze casting, and nearly every conceivable style and movement made the transition to these shores except for the art of true fresco painting.  Even mural painting flourished in the depression era, but these paintings were more akin to canvas paintings applied to dry plaster walls much like wallpaper.  True fresco is ground earth-tone pigments applied to damp plaster.  What little true fresco painting that was done in this country in the 1930s came not from Europe, but from Mexico in the work of Diego Rivera, Jose Orozco, and David Siqueiros.  Perhaps the reason for this is, while true fresco flourished in Europe during the 1500s and 1600s, by the time Europe  began to export art and artist the medium had begun to fade from favor to be replaced by large-scale canvas painting.

During the past 35 years however, true fresco has arrived in the United States, from Italy in the work of an American artist by the name of Ben Long, and his associate, Chuck Kapsner. (Better late than never).  It first came ashore in the unlikely venue of Beaver Creek in the western hills of North Carolina.  Ben Long is not an immigrant.  The grandson/student of a portrait painter turned Presbyterian minister turned portrait painter in retirement, Long was classically trained, attending the Art Students' League in New York before serving a term as a Marine Corps artist in Viet Nam.  There he became interested in the art of true fresco.  After the war, he spent seven years as an apprentice to the leading fresco painter in Italy, Pietro Annigoni, where he worked with the master on several projects as well as completing others on his own.  It was there he met his associate, Chuck Kapsner, and collaborated with him on additional commissions it what he terms an "art loving country."

Returning to the U.S. and working as a portrait painter in oils, Long found he couldn't even give away fresco paintings.  It took him two long years to arrange his first "commission" and even then he donated his time and effort in return for the cost of materials used.  It was a 3 by 6 foot hanging plaster panel entitled Mary Great With Child for the tiny Beaver Creek Episcopal congregation.  The artist created it as a hanging panel so that if the congregation didn't like it, the painting could be removed.  Fortunately, they liked it a LOT.  It was highly acclaimed throughout the region.  Long painted a companion piece of St. John the Baptist.  In 1974, his work in fresco both in this country and Italy led to numerous awards as well as a number of larger scale religious and secular commissions over the past 35 years, ranging from Catholic churches to banks and police stations.  Unlike other art media, which were essentially "exported" to this country as talented Europeans arrived on these shores, true fresco, in the talent of Ben Long, had to be "imported".

The fresco work of Ben Long can be seen at:

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