William Norwood Beckwith was born in Greenville, Mississippi, in 1952 and educated in the public schools of that city, long known as an arts mecca because of its many writers and artists as well as the influence of planter, attorney, poet, and arts patron William Alexander Percy. As a memorial to his father, US senator LeRoy Percy, Will Percy commissioned Patriot, a bronze statue of a medieval knight in armor created in 1930 by Malvina Hoffman, an internationally acclaimed sculptor who had studied with Auguste Rodin in Paris. Percy later sent his protégé, Leon Z. Koury, the son of Greenville grocers who had immigrated from Syria, to study with Hoffman in New York. After returning to Greenville in 1961, Koury worked as a sculptor and a painter and was a leader in the local arts scene for three decades.
Beckwith became an apprentice in Koury’s studio in 1966 and studied with him for four years before moving to Oxford to earn bachelor of fine arts and master of fine arts degrees in sculpture at the University of Mississippi. There, under the guidance of art professor Charles M. Gross, Beckwith became “as hooked on casting bronze as an addict is to heroin. If you have ever poured molten metal or held the sun in your hand, you understand the power and the energy. I was hooked bad.” For his senior thesis in 1974, he built a complete foundry behind Koury’s studio in Greenville; the project won Beckwith an award as the best student artist on campus. The building became Vulcan Studios and Foundry, Mississippi’s first commercial fine arts bronze foundry, and the enterprise enabled Beckwith to cast for other sculptors as a way of financing his own work. Vulcan moved to Greenwood in 1976 and to Taylor, a small village south of Oxford, six years later.
Beckwith operated the foundry until 1986, when he stopped casting for other sculptors and began working only on his own projects. He has shown his bronzes in numerous single and group exhibitions, including shows at the Frank Marino Gallery and Splashlight Studios in New York, the 1984 World’s Fair in New Orleans, and the National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, D.C. His commissioned work includes several life-size or larger monuments, among them William Faulkner, Oxford; George Merrick, Coral Gables, Florida; Chief Piomingo, Chickasaw and Elvis Presley, Tupelo; B. B. King, Indianola; Jefferson Davis, Biloxi; and Flag Bearer, Mississippi 11th, Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania. Beckwith has sculpted portrait busts of Jim Henson, Eudora Welty, Tennessee Williams, Richard Wright, Herman Melville, L. Q. C. Lamar, Margaret Wade, and numerous others. He received an artist’s fellowship from the Mississippi Museum of Art in 1989, and the Village of Taylor was recognized with a Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts in 2001. In 2014, Beckwith received the Noel Polk Lifetime Achievement Award from the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters. He currently works out of a studio in Taylor and teaches part-time at the University of Mississippi.
- William N. Beckwith website, www.williamnbeckwith.com
- Patti Carr Black, Art in Mississippi, 1720–1980 (1998); Patti Carr Black, The Mississippi Story (2007)
- Hank Burdine, Delta Magazine (September–October 2009)
- Barbara Shissler Nosanow, More Than Land or Sky: Art from Appalachia (1981)
- Arthur Williams, The Sculpture Reference (2005); Arthur Williams, Sculpture, Technique, Form, Content (1989)