The Boston Foundation announced earlier this month its newest fellowship program associated with the charitable organization’s Permanent Fund for Boston. The Brother Thomas Fund will provide grants of $15,000 to local artists biennially. The money will be distributed with no-strings-attached and aims to help emerging artists in the New England area.
Ceramicist Brother Thomas Bezanson, who died in 2007, devoted his last months to developing what became the Brother Thomas Fund in order to provide financial assistance to struggling artists. Bezanson was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1929 and trained as a potter there and later in Europe. He entered the Benedictine monastery Weston Priory in Vermont in 1959, where he created mostly utilitarian pieces and sold his works to visitors. In 1985 he moved to Erie, Pennsylvania to become an artist-in-residence at Mount Saint Benedict convent. Here Bezanson developed his well-known style, utilizing complex glazes with rich hues, uncommon shapes and textures, and the use of Chinese and Japanese techniques. He also caught the attention of Bernard and Suzanne Pucker, of the Pucker Gallery on Newbury Street in Boston.
During a relationship that lasted over twenty years, in which Bezanson and the Puckers remained in close contact and the Puckers exhibited and sold his works, the artist’s pieces became widely distributed, and continue to be represented through the Pucker Gallery. Currently, his works can be found in over 80 museums worldwide, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Art Institute of Chicago. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston owns 16 of his pieces.
Bezanson and the Puckers exchanged daily letters via fax. In one letter near the end of his life, he wrote: “My thought is simply to help other artists as I have been helped. I am not thinking of recognizing or rewarding successful artists but to give a ‘leg-up’ to artists in need. I am not thinking specifically of any one medium, although I certainly have a bias towards those working in the art of fire-and-clay, the potter… It is good work in the world to support what is Good, True and Beautiful.”
The first eight Brother Thomas Fellows are John Oluwole ADEkoje, a filmmaker and playwright who teaches at the Boston Arts Academy; Kati Agócs, a Hungarian-American composer on the faculty at the New England Conservatory of Music; Richard Hoffman, a poet and writer-in-residence at Emerson College; Barbara Helfgott Hyett, a poet and Pulitzer Prize nominee who is a visiting scholar at Harvard University; Brian Knep, a computer-scientist-turned-video-artist who is the first artist-in-residence at Harvard Medical School; Alla Kovgan, a filmmaker whose work focuses on the Boston dance community; Tracy Heather Strain, a filmmaker who is currently working on a feature-length documentary on the life of Lorraine Hansberry, author of Raisin in the Sun; and Heather White, a jeweler whose work can be found in the collections of the Museum of Art and Design in New York City and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.