Creative knowledge blossomed after devastating illness

Ben Stanford of Hessmer was “eight or nine years old” when he started getting headaches. He was misdiagnosed because what he was afflicted with “starts off as a cold.”

The diagnosis was way off because Ben had “meningitis and encephalitis.”

Meningitis is an infection of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord. Encephalitis is inflammation of the brain itself.

“My grades suffered, my vision suffered, it took awhile but I bounced back in six weeks but the damage lingered,” he said. “It affects the brain but I eventually got it all back.”

But after a year, Ben noticed some things were different.

He was able to play music and draw on a much better level. Although he had some skill before the illness, his talent ballooned.

“I was just a kid but everyone else noticed. When I was 12 or 13 I was playing the guitar as good as my instructor.”

With his painting he’d be asked how he could paint so well. “I see what’s in my head and can paint from memory, if I see someone I can paint them from my memory,” he explained.

Referring back to the phenomenon of what happened after he recovered, Ben said that he has heard of it and referred to people coming out of a coma who experienced what he did.

All this being said, Ben and I sat in front of one of his recent creations, a 20 by 18 foot mural of a bayou scene in an outdoor kitchen in Evergreen.

His first mural was painted in his bedroom when he was a teenager. “It was a scene of the ocean, mountains, the sun going down,” and even some dinosaurs.

The outdoor kitchen in Evergreen belongs to William “Swole” Ferguson who asked Ben to create something on the blank back wall, made of particle board, which according to Ben, is the hardest surface to paint on.

Because William left it to Ben the scene that evolved is as Cajun as the alligator climbing out of the mural.

The mural includes a typical wood sided cabin on a bayou surrounded by cypress, oak and pecan trees. There’s a pirogue waiting to be used as well as a crawfish trap. When I mentioned a turtle Ben said the turtle was under water waiting for the sun to come out.

It took Ben a couple of months to finish the scene , that still needs a sealer. He did have some help from his friends, mainly his mother, Lynn Deville and Sarah Ferguson, William’s wife.

“I can use people if they have any kind of inclination towards painting, I can trick them into painting beautifully. Art is just simple steps, people think it’s so difficult but I just break it down for them.”

Even though Ben sounds like a graduate art student, he has never taken an art lesson. He calls it “universal knowledge; it just comes to me.”

Besides using acrylics on his mural, Ben also used an air brush because it “softens the look, is faster and I don’t have to clean the brushes.”

In addition to the music and artistry, his other creative skills that came into sharper focus after his childhood illness are making silicone masks, sculpting, creative writing and he’s a tattoo artist.
Sometimes things that look bad are turned around to become something positive. Just ask Ben about it. He can’t quite explain what happened to him after his illness but he’s more than grateful and hasn’t wasted a bit of his giftedness.

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