William Nathaniel Banks (1924-2019) was a four-time Colony Fellow and a writer. Banks earned degrees at Dartmouth and Yale (Phi Beta Kappa), and he was in residence at MacDowell in 1958, twice in 1964, and in 1965. He was a playwright, art historian, author, and lecturer, specializing in historic communities and architecture, whose work was featured regularly in the magazine Antiques. His plays “The Curate’s Play” and “The Glad Girls” were both professionally produced, and he was the longest standing member of MacDowell’s Board of Directors, having served since 1966. For the rest of his life he devoted himself to ensuring the continuation of the program he so loved. He was vice president of the board from 1972-1982 and vice chairman from 1987-2018 when he was honored as trustee emeritus.
He also poured his energy into his beautiful 1820’s Federal style home and gardens in Newnan that he and his mother had rescued and meticulously restored and reconstructed on his family’s property. He also maintained an important 19th century residence in Temple, New Hampshire as his northern base of operations. Both homes have been featured in Home & Garden alongside articles quoting Bill.
He was generous to many nonprofit causes including the High Museum where he was a life member of the board and as a Bryant Fellow of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Among many notable moments in the Colony’s history that benefited from Bill’s active leadership are his support of evolving to a governing board, a decision that was unpopular among the members but in his view necessary for the growth of the program. He persuaded some of his fellow artists but said he lost some of his closest friends in the process. In the mid-80s Bill was part of a leadership team that overhauled the admissions policies, including the implementation of three-year term limits for all panelists. This change set off an expansion of who the program might serve that continues to this day. In 1989, Bill took on the leadership of a crucial endowment campaign. He was effective and eloquent in telling MacDowell’s story to those who had the capacity to assure its continuation, and for his generous and on-going support, the board voted to name the William N. Banks Studio in 1992.
Bill’s gracious hospitality helped connect MacDowell with patrons (e.g. Stan Calderwood and Anne Cox Chambers) who became dedicated and generous donors, but perhaps most important, Bill actively participated in board meetings where he could be counted as a voice reinforcing the importance of keeping the artists at the center of every decision. In his essay for the catalog of MacDowell’s 1996 statewide celebration, “Community of Creativity, A Century of MacDowell Artists”, Bill said: “As a member of the board of the MacDowell and as a former colonist, I am a wholehearted celebrant of this national treasure. Grateful as I am for our splendid museums, libraries, and concert halls, which preserve the masterworks of the past, I fervently believe that unless we produce abundant new art – art that is vital, trenchant, and relevant to our time and place – we cannot claim to be a civilized nation.”
Portrait by Nancy Crampton