by Grant Moser
Erdenheim artist Nancy Beck, 56, sold her first painting when she was in college for $25 to a friend. She doesn’t even remember what it was she painted. But that sale didn’t make her think of art as a career. “I was very worried about being able to support myself,” she said. “That feeling of comfort hasn’t come until more recently … If you’re going to be in the arts, you absolutely have to want to do the artwork because it’s not easy. I was lucky. I was married to someone who afforded me the opportunity to not do well some years.”
Nancy’s path as an artist began when she was just a young girl growing up in Rhode Island, drawing comic books for her brothers. It’s what made her happy, and her parents encouraged her. She attended the University of Utah in the late 1970s to obtain her fine arts degree. “The one thing I vividly remember was having to take figure drawing and painting, and part of that was going to dissect cadavers, so we would know where the muscles were. No heads, though.
“At the time I didn’t understand the value of it. But I can look at someone now and understand how the body is built, where the muscles begin and insert, and I think I can draw a better figure, paint a better figure, because I’m looking for the muscles to define the body.”
She moved back to Rhode Island after graduation and began working for the local NBC affiliate in Providence in their art department. She provided the graphics for the newscast, and since this was before the advent of computers, she’d have a fast deadline to create the image to put next to the anchors’ heads as they read the stories. She drew hundreds of these graphics over four years. “You were at the mercy of the news, but it was a great job.”
Beck was doing some of her own painting on the side, but hadn’t yet found her stride in terms of process. “I was initially much more of a drawer. It’s a much tighter process. I didn’t think I was good at painting; it’s so much more loose. I struggled all the time trying to make painting drawing. It wasn’t until I figured out they were two different things that I began to prefer painting.”
Nancy and her husband and children moved to Erdenheim about 25 years ago, and within a few years she began working at The Carol Schwartz Gallery. “We like this area. It’s a great place to raise the kids. It was wonderful. It was very storybook.”
So was her time at the gallery. “They really encouraged me. They’re the nicest people you could possibly work with. They’d see my paintings at my house, and not only did they encourage me to paint, but they would hang up whatever I brought into the gallery. They were fabulous.”
Beck’s paintings evoke warm memories. It’s about everyday things that we might not think much of at the moment but that come back later in life to stand out in our mind. Her paintings give these items depth and are more than just what’s in the picture but about what it makes you feel — like her “Olde Ball Game” painting that was part of the recent baseball-centric exhibition at The Carol Schwartz Gallery.
It took her over a month to come up with the concept for the painting. She shied away from the action pictures normally seen in sports paintings. She finally settled on a still life of a Phillies hat and a box of Cracker Jacks. Her painting evoked the game without showing the game, instead focusing on the nostalgia people feel for the game. “When you think of a sports team, you don’t think of a still life,” she explained, “but it worked.
“I paint at least three days a week. I don’t limit myself to painting one thing, like only landscapes. I like to paint a variety of things. With regard to my food paintings, the thing I like is the natural colors that are already random. The textures also appeal to me. It’s more than a still life, I’m trying to combine visual colors that wouldn’t normally be put together with all those textures.
“I also do a lot of seascapes, all of New England. The colors of nature are just so rich. I find the water very peaceful, and how the sky changes how the water looks. Painting is a process. When I first was starting out, I was timid about using too much color. It’s about finding that balance in a painting that allows you to use those strong colors.”
Beck and her family are moving back to Rhode Island this coming summer, but she will still be showing her work at The Carol Schwartz Gallery. For more of her work or to contact Beck, visit the Carol Schwartz Gallery at http://www.carolschwartzgallery.com/.