Eugene Peart Bennett, 88, passed away at Rogue Valley Medical Center on Tuesday, November 2, 2010, after a short illness. He was born on December 20, 1921, in Central Point, Ore., the son of Edward Carl Bennett and Mable Anne (Peart) Bennett, and the youngest of four children. Gene graduated from Medford High School and attended the University of Oregon as a music major, before answering his country's call. He served in the Navy from 1942 to 1946, attaining the rating of Yeoman First Class.
An early interest in visual arts blossomed while in the Navy and upon Gene's discharge, he decided to focus on this. He was accepted at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1947, and received his bachelor's and master's degrees there. Gene taught at the Art Institute and at New Trier Township High School while obtaining his master's. In 1954, Gene moved to Europe for a year, staying primarily in Florence, Italy, but also traveling to other areas of Italy and to France.
Gene returned to acclaim in Chicago in 1955, but elected to return to the beauty and familiar landscape of the Rogue Valley in 1958. He taught art and worked with other artists to found the Rogue Valley Art Association and its Rogue Gallery. Gene also continued to exhibit in Chicago, New York and San Francisco. He became an "advocate for the arts" and "a tireless supporter of local arts groups" (Oregon Arts Commission, December 2, 2002.)
Gene was truly a renaissance man. He composed music, including a piece used in an Oregon Shakespeare Festival production in 1940, and acted in a Shakespeare play that year. Gene was in the Master Dance Group at the University of Oregon, he designed and constructed rentals on Grape St., in Medford and, after moving to Jacksonville, he restored and extended the Eagle Brewery Saloon. His talent in the visual arts included watercolor and oil painting, collages, assemblages and sculpture, including the back bar for the Salishan Lodge and poles that graced the entrance to the Oregon Pavilion at the 1962 World's Fair in Seattle, Wash. Gene's interest extended to the community he lived in. He helped develop the historic preservation standards for Jacksonville, was the first chairman of the Jacksonville Preservation Commission, and served on the Planning Commission, as well as other committees.
Gene's sense of humor and joy in the beauty around him was contagious, and will be missed by his many friends and his family. He is survived by his sister-in-law, Darlene Bennett; nephews, William and Robert Bennett; niece, Betty (Bennett) Stephenson; and several grand nieces and nephews; as well as a multitude of friends and admirers.
Acquiescing to his wishes, no service will be held. He will be buried at the Jacksonville Cemetery. Memorial contributions may be made to the Rogue Gallery and Art Center, 40 S. Bartlett St., Medford, OR 97501, or to the Oregon Community Foundation (memo line: Eugene Bennett Scholarship Fund), 818 W. 8th St., Medford, OR 97501.
The Rogue Gallery and Art Center is planning a public memorial and tribute to Eugene for the spring of 2011. Watch for an announcement, or call the Gallery at 541-772-8118, after March 1, 2011, for details.