James Belton Bonsall
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James Belton Bonsall (1926–1999) was an American painter who is usually associated with New Orleans, where he lived for many years. Bonsall experimented with contemporary styles, using oils, watercolor, acrylic, and pastels.
He was born on the remote village of Grand Chenier, Louisiana. Farming, commercial fishing, and oil exploration were the mainstay of the community, and though Bonsall's father, James was a popular local figure, Belton just didn't seem to fit in. Among the few serious artists representing this French-speaking, coastal region, Bonsall’s interest in art was cultivated by his mother and younger sister, both school teachers and amateur painters. His father had been a farmer, peace officer, postman, and storekeeper, and was primarily interested in the outdoors (hunting, fishing, trapping). Bonsall’s sister, Connie, believed that Belton’s main interest in the outdoors was the collection of clay with which he practiced sculpture (indoors).
After high school, Bonsall moved to Lake Charles, Louisiana, and was a student at McNeese State Junior College (now McNeese State University) when he was drafted in 1944. He was assigned as a replacement to F Company, 393rd Regiment, 99th Infantry Division (United States) in the winter of 1944-1945. Bonsall served as rifleman and scout, and during the occupation used his language skills to interrogate German prisoners.[no citations needed here] After serving in the Occupation forces, he was discharged and returned to college to complete his studies in fine arts at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. He lived in California for some time, where he was employed as a newspaper reporter and painted sets for theater, television, and motion pictures. He became quite involved in acting, and attempted to break into motion pictures, though his only documented movie role was a minor part as a deputy in the film noir 'Damn Citizen' (he is depicted smashing slot machines in the promotional posters).[no citations needed here] He later returned to New Orleans and spent many years in the French Quarter where he painted and worked in advertising, high fashion, and eventually social work.
Due to limited space in his French Quarter apartment, most of Bonsall’s paintings were kept at the family estate in Grand Chenier. In 1957, Hurricane Audrey decimated this low lying area with a massive storm surge that took some 600 lives. The family home was set afloat with his parents and 15 refugees from the storm aboard. All survived, though significant damage was done, and many paintings were lost.[no citations needed here] The home was completely destroyed by Hurricane Rita in 2005.
One example of Bonsall's painting style, 'Goddess of the Wind', was painted in 1947 and depicts a woman of brick against a stark scene with evidence of wind motion. The woman bears an unusual resemblance to Bonsall’s mother, Bernie Bonsall, who suffered from crippling arthritis. Restoration of this painting required removal of mud and grass fibers that were embedded under the stretcher boards since Hurricane Audrey. Bonsall produced a variety of unusual images over the years, such as hollowed out shapes or the mirror image of a shapely nude that resembles a clove of garlic. Trees were a repeating theme as were various depictions of the nude figure and geometric shapes.