Charles Benner Ferguson, 99, of Bloomfield, Connecticut, and Fishers Island, New York, died in his sleep early Sunday morning, January 7, 2018. Charlie, as he was known by all his many friends and family members, was still winning cribbage games and playing his harmonica in the weeks before he died.
Born on Fishers Island, NY, to Henry Lee Ferguson, Sr., and Marion Benner Ferguson, in 1918, Charlie traveled far yet always returned to Fishers every summer, to his beloved shack, “Flounder In.”
Charlie attended Greenwich Country Day School, the Pomfret School and Williams College, where he studied Fine Arts, and Trinity College, where he received his Master’s degree, while teaching Fine Arts and Art History. He was one of the first art historians to take Art of the Americas seriously, and developed one of the first courses on American Art that included Aztec and Mayan art, while teaching at Trinity. He was also a painter, winning numerous prizes and running the Red Barn Art Gallery on Fishers Island for 67 years, where he exhibited his Fishers Island seascapes, which always featured birds, another of Charlie’s passions. He published several books that feature Fishers Island seascapes, golf holes and birds. Additionally, he was president of the HL Ferguson Museum of Fishers Island from 1978 until 2003, when he became director emeritus.
During WWII he served in the Signal Corps, stationed in Washington, DC, Australia and the Philippines, coordinating messages from radio operators behind enemy lines about Japanese troop movements, work which earned him a Bronze Star. Yet, even while defending his country he always found time for a sailing race or a round of golf. While in DC, he met Alice Joys, a Smith graduate code breaker, and after the war ended they married in 1946 and spent 62 years together until her death in 2008.
After attending the Art Students League in New York, Charlie taught at Eaglebrook School and the Hill School, before the growing family settled in the Hartford area, where Charlie taught at Trinity College and the Loomis School, before being named Director of the New Britain Museum of American Art, where he worked until his retirement.
In addition to his work as an artist, Charlie was a devoted sportsman and naturalist, whether playing a round of golf at the Big Club, fly fishing in the Bahamas, winning Bullseye sailing races, identifying shorebirds or migrating hawks, or simply looking at the sky and wind direction and accurately predicting the weather.
Charlie is survived by his daughters, Marion “Marnie” Briggs and her husband Christopher “Kit” of Washington, DC, Alice Hartley Ferguson and her partner Esther Torrego of Bilbao, Spain, and Julia Hulslander and her husband Stephen of Williamsport, PA; his grandchildren, Alexander Briggs, Jessica Hulslander and Emily Hulslander; and his great-grandson Logan Ferguson Briggs. Besides his wife and parents he was predeceased by his brother H. Lee Ferguson.
A gathering to remember Charlie will be held in the Fishers Island movie theater on Sunday, July 1, in the early afternoon (time to be determined). All are welcome. Memorial contributions in his honor can be made to the Henry L. Ferguson Museum, PO Box 554, Fishers Island, NY 06390, or online to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.