Will Benton: The man behind FAVO

Artist of the month

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PHOTOS COURTESY OF WILL BENTON

PHOTOS COURTESY OF WILL BENTON

There is an old saying: “Where there is a ‘Will’ there is a way.” In every aspect, that describes Will Benton and his journey to create the Faith Arts Village, commonly known as FAVO. Benton’s story begins on a cattle farm in Beaver Dam, Kentucky. The youngest of four boys of a Methodist preacher, his love of classical and church music led him to the University of Louisville and later to Kentucky Wesleyan College to get his master’s degree in classical piano and organ. Every weekend, you can find Benton playing those instruments at three different church services.

Benton’s journey as a visual artist was something quite different. When dropping off art supplies at the Maitland Art Center, he saw a painting of a simple, round, orange circle. His reaction was, “I can do that!”

“I went home, sat on the floor with a peanut-butter jar, but I was at a complete loss. I don’t have any art training at all and had to watch what the other artists do. It soon gave me a real sense of instant gratification,” Benton said.

 

Benton had fought his own battle with cancer and was devastated when one of his brothers lost his life to that dreadful disease.

“I felt like a dead tree in a living world, empty and full of fear,” he said.

Out of that loss came the need to create real art. His pieces often reflect that sorrow, as his intricate trees have no leaves and are carved from wood with a wood-burning device. Benton experiments with all sorts of mediums and often uses glass and resins with his paints. He sometimes collaborates with his friend Geoff Gregory and, because his pieces are mostly very heavy, he counts one his brothers to build the frames.

Benton’s journey to create FAVO is best explained with his artist statement: “As with my music, painting goes deep within my soul, searching for answers to all kinds of questions… A smile or a tear can be one melody or brush stroke away from a masterpiece.”

 

Benton has a deep interest in encouraging other artists to find their meaning. When the Davis family gave their Colonial property to the Park Lake Presbyterian Church, Benton’s creative spirit began to soar. The financial crisis of 2008 did not see the profit hoped for by selling the old motel space.

“Instead of a church parking lot, I saw a creative, working village,” Benton said.

At first, he had to convince the church of the value of his vision. Benton began with four rooms. They had been abandoned with unmade beds and with drugs and money scattered throughout. Benton cleaned up those rooms and turned them into four studios.

“There was a contemporary space, a traditional space, a music studio and even a sewing studio. Then we had a Father’s Day luncheon where we invited everyone to tour those studios,” Benton recalled. “Over 40 people brought in their art for people to buy.”

The people who attended ended up paying for the project. Benton thanked City Commissioner Patty Sheehan, who convinced the city to not shut off the water, as the project proceeded. They now use 22 rooms and have hopes for expansion with the 21 rooms in the front. Benton’s vision is “to make it a destination” where art thrives and grows in our City Beautiful.

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