Page 33 - South Mississippi Living - December, 2023
P. 33

 The skilled potter began creating the Happy Fish about 15 years ago and takes meticulous time with each sculpture. “Labor intensive” is how he described the creative process that goes into each 5-inch fish. He also sculpts crabs that are similar, but jiggle when touched or tapped. “I paint each of the colors three times to get the right shade,” he said.
And he illuminates his serious creations with as much dedication and passion, a method that has yielded numerous artistic awards. His pottery piece “Nature’s Mother” has won several art praises and Benigno said the sculpture represents the essence of the natural world. “She’s nature’s mother,” he said. “She’s sad because we abuse her so much. She’s crying and the birds represent the people of the world feeding on her.”
He has other thought-provoking sculptures, including “Three People” which portrays three people who had a wonderful and direct impact on his life. Each sculpture has a tiny heart in a different place. “They represent some kind of love, whether it’s love, hard love, or enduring love,” he said.
Another piece highlights a person with only half of their face and head and is meant to illustrate the innumerable elements and layers of emotion inside an artist. The viewer is meant to draw their own conclusions about which emotions the sculpture represents. “Everyone experiences art in their own way,” he added.
As a child, Benigno was fascinated with drawing and painting. He was introduced to pottery in high school, but never really thought much about how creating any kind of artwork could wedge into his adulthood. “It just kind of hung with me somewhere in the back of my mind,” he said. “I really fell in love with pottery making, but it wasn’t something I could do to support myself or a family.”
But then something magical happened and art found a way.
Benigno enlisted in the military and spent 10 years in the U.S. Army as a Fixed Prosthetic Specialist in dental labs. “I was carving teeth and making new teeth and creating gold bridge work,” he said. “It was all carving and casting and had me utilizing my hands. And it was hard, but it led me here.”
Although the path did eventually lead Benigno to the Gulfport Arts Center, he took a slight detour. When he separated from the military, he opened a jewelry shop in Gulfport and crafted his own line of custom jewelry. “I spent the better part of 20 years doing that,” he said. “Once our children were out of school or in college, I had the time to start my clay work again.”
Now Benigno’s newest exhibit “Inside Out” is on display at the Gulfport Arts Center, where he also shares his gift by teaching classes to aspiring potters. “It’s a little different than I normally do,” he said. “It's straight-up sculptural work rather than the functional sculptural work I normally do.”
Visit for more information or check out Benigno’s artwork as well as other artists’ creations at the Gulfport Arts Center at 1300 24th Avenue in Gulfport.

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