William H. Blakesley Jr.


Longtime local artist William Blakesley died on September 17, 2012. He was featured in the June 23, 2011, MV Times on the occasion of his 90th birthday.

Bill Blakesley, as he was mostly known, was born on June 21, 1921, the eldest of eight children born to William Henry Blakesley Sr. of Milton, England, and Catherine Zoog of Columbus, Ohio.

He graduated from Ohio State University with a Master’s Degree in Fine Arts after serving in Europe in the U.S. Army during WWII. He was awarded the purple heart and the bronze star during the war. He taught art at the University of Florida and with Roy Lichtenstein at Ohio State. He was Chairman of the Art Department at Muskingum College in New Concord, Ohio, where he taught for 26 years, retiring in 1975.

Mr. Blakesley began summering on the Island with his family in 1955, as houseparents at the American Youth Hostel in West Tisbury, along with his wife, Virginia, and two children.

In the late 1970s, Blakesley remarried and moved to Lebanon, New Hampshire, where he set up his studio and residence in a converted Christian Science Church. He continued to maintain his summer studio in the historic Alley’s Grocery Store located in the Martha’s Vineyard Camp-Meeting Association. With his second wife, M. Elizabeth Cornell, he converted the back of the studio into living quarters, and they became full-time Vineyarders in the late 80s. A handwritten sign on the studio declaimed, “Studio open by appointment, or by chance.”

During many of the Oak Bluffs years Bill and Liz, known as Mrs. Cornell to her decades of Oak Bluffs grade school students, bicycled most mornings over to Edgartown and back. Later he was a breakfast regular at Linda Jean’s.

His work is included in collections of the Toledo Museum of Fine Arts and the Columbus Gallery of Fine Art, both in Ohio. He received prizes awarded by the Ohio Print Makers, Boston Printmakers, and the Ohio Watercolor Society. Awards include the Roulet Medal, The Erdis Robinson Prize in oil and both portrait, and graphics prizes at the Columbus Art League shows.

His love of the Vineyard and its inhabitants will survive in his many, many works, from illustrations for the book “Jumprope Rhymes for Vineyard Kids,” written by wife Elizabeth Cornell, to thousands of paintings and sketches depicting people engaged in activities.

Unfortunately with his death comes an end to many unwritten tales of Martha’s Vineyard life and its vibrant art community, from 1955 to 2012.

William H. Blakesley is survived by his beloved wife of 35 years, M. Elizabeth Cornell of Oak Bluffs, his first wife, Virginia L. Blakesley, and son, William B. Blakesley, both of West Tisbury, his daughter, Barbara A. Blakesley of Boise, Idaho, his grandchildren Alexander J. Blakesley of Edmonds, Washington, and Katherine A. Grey of Boise, Idaho, and his siblings Pat, Dick, Nancy, Virginia, and Jim of Ohio and Texas.

A memorial will be scheduled in the Tabernacle on his birthday next summer. Donations may be made in his name to Doctors Without Borders USA, P.O. Box 5030, Hagerstown, MD 21741-5030.