The Brick Man Passes Away
Bennie O. Morrison, 1941 - 2013

A driver on Georgia Route 77 in Oglethorpe County could easily pass the mobile home out in the pine trees where Bennie Morrison sat in his tiny studio, with his tiny dog, painting tiny scenes on tiny objects. Like finding his trailer, truly appreciating Bennie’s art requires a much closer look. It’s unfortunate if you passed by unaware, for you have missed meeting a genuinely sweet man who created amazing works of art.

On December 28, 2013, artist Bennie O. Morrison passed away quietly in his own home. He was 72 years old.

Bennie grew up in the countryside here and never traveled very far, unless you consider military service in Southeast Asia a long trip. During the Vietnam War, Bennie served on a US Navy boat patrolling the Mekong River and the Pacific shoreline. Although he was not inclined to discuss his problems, his military experiences apparently exacted a toll on his health, and he told friends that he had a rough time recovering from the war. Typical of Bennie though, the war story he preferred to tell was that he had learned to climb a boat ladder carrying a cup of coffee for the CO without spilling a drop. “You know, if you spill it, you have to mop it up. And you have to go get another cup of coffee for the CO, who is going to be mad that it took so long.”

When Bennie started to paint, he put that steady hand to good use. Many of his paintings required him to use a magnifier and a brush with one single bristle. Using acrylic paint, he reconstructed the details of farm life that he recalled from his youth onto almost any object he could put his hands on. Some of his most remarkable work was painted on old worn bricks or flattened magnolia leaves. Other canvases were stones, wood scraps, saws, shovels, kitchen pots & pans, baskets, hats, flower pots, railroad spikes, turtle shells, and old satellite dishes. The possibilities were endless.

The intricate farm scene on a brick contains details that you might not notice without a magnifier of your own. There are fields and barns and farmhouses of course. But there are individual cornstalks or cotton plants growing in the fields. There are hay bales in the barns and window curtains in the farmhouse. The cracks and worn places on the bricks were incorporated into the landscape, usually becoming rivers, lakes, and ponds. There are ducks on the ponds of course. There are almost always an outhouse with a crescent moon and tire swing hanging in a tree. The scene continues on the four sides of the brick, and sometimes also on the top or bottom. Bennie could point out every tiny detail and weave them all together into a story, told with twinkling eyes and a devilish smile.

If the driver had been paying attention and did not miss Bennie’s driveway, the old yellow school bus in the yard should be a clue that you are in the right place. There are some passengers and a driver painted on the inside of the windshield. At one time Bennie thought he would use the school bus as living space or studio space, but found it was too cold even with the phonebooks he had stacked inside for insulation. The phone books became useful for pressing magnolia leaves flat before they were embellished with paint and imagination. Bennie reassured customers that the painted leaves were strong enough to last forever, “unless you let some kid play with them.”

Bennie Morrison was a cheerful man of few words who led a quiet life. He loved to paint more than anything, and he was always thrilled when his work was appreciated. He left behind some fantastic art objects that are not known to many people. If you come across his art, remember it’s worth a closer look.

- Karen Mack, 2014
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