William Henry Blakesley, Jr. was born in Columbus, Ohio on June 21, 1921. He was the eldest of 8 children. His childhood was not an easy one, growing up during the Great Depression. He attended seven different grade schools because his family had to move frequently, being unable to pay the rent. One of his first grade teachers told him that he had talent and should consider becoming an artist – and that is what he did.
Bill was the first in his family to attend college entering Ohio State University in 1942. He was drafted into the US Army in May 1943 after completing 2 years of college. After 4 ½ months of basic training he served 16 months in the European Theater of Operations during World War II, as a member of the Headquarters Company, 15th Army under General George Patton. Immediately before being shipped overseas, Bill married Virginia Ames, a fellow art student.
Bill’s troop ship was torpedoed by a German submarine in the English Channel on December 24, 1943. He was wounded, but rescued. He continued to serve in Belgium, France, and Germany until he was honorably discharged on April 5, 1946. He was awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star. Bill wrote many letters home during the war, illustrating them with drawings of his fellow soldiers and civilians.
After returning home, Bill went back to school on the GI Bill, graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts from Ohio State University in 1946. A year later he completed his Masters degree. Between 1948-1950 he completed over 60 credit hours towards his PhD. He worked as a drawing and water color Instructor at Ohio State from January 1947 until September 1949 when he was hired as a Professor of Art at Muskingum College in New Concord, Ohio. His son, William was born a few months before the move to Muskingum. A daughter, Barbara, followed in 1953.
With the exception of one summer of teaching at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Bill spent his entire teaching career at Muskingum (1949-1975) serving as the Chairman of the Art Department. He also taught evening classes for ten years at the Zanesville Art Institute and along with his wife Ginny, taught childrens’ Saturday art classes for many years.
Beginning in 1955, the Blakesley family travelled to Martha’s Vineyard Island in Massachusetts to spend their summers, at first working as House Parents at the American Youth Hostel and later owning and operating the Blakesley-Accorsi Gallery and the Blakesley gallery from 1960 – 1973.
Bill exhibited his work for over 30 years in competitive, invitational, and group shows throughout the U.S. and won numerous awards. A partial list of one-man shows includes:
1960 – The Columbus Gallery of Fine Arts
1949, 1969 – The Toledo Museum of Fine Arts
Numerous years – Zanesville Art Institute
Numerous years – Muskingum College
1970 – Bluffington College
1972 – Central Michigan College
1957, 1962 – Old Sculpin Gallery, Edgartown, MA
1961 – 1975 – Menemsha Gallery, Menemsha, MA
1973, 1974 – Field Gallery, West Tisbury, MA
Bill retired from Muskingum in 1975, and moved to New England. For several years Bill and his second wife Liz lived in Vermont and New Hampshire, before permanently relocating year-round to Oak Bluffs, MA on Martha’s Vineyard. Bill and Liz continued to live on the Island where he worked everyday in his studio until his death on September 17, 2012 at the age of 91.
A memorial was held for Bill on what would have been his 92nd birthday on June 21, 2013. Following the program, friends and family viewed his studio for the last time.
A number of his water colors and serigraph prints will be listed for sale by his daughter. For more information, click here.