“Lamplight,” by Barbara Beebe, gouache
“Lamplight,” by Barbara Beebe, gouache
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If you have been spending time in Rockland you may have run into a very classy and stylish lady walking around in striking jewelry and colorful attire. I had the opportunity to speak to her this week about her upcoming retrospective show opening at Jonathan Frost Gallery.

Strong influences can come through family, and there are multiple family connections here, with Jonathan Frost being Beebe’s son-in-law and an artist. Her daughter, Susan, is also an artist. I would expect that Barbara inspired Susan with the same influences Barbara got from her own mother, who drew as a child but, once married and having seven children, had to give it up. The family lived on a farm in North Dakota, where Barbara’s mother encouraged her interest in drawing, giving her paper, a scarce commodity during those years, as a treat.

In an artist statement posted on the Frost Gallery website, Beebe says, “Each day in first grade, on my way to school, I passed by the blacksmith, pounding out plowshares with fire and hammer. This began my fascination with metal and jewelry.” Jewelry design is what she ended up studying in college, and custom-designed jewelry became her career for many years.

Another connection to this area is Friendship Long Island, her rustic Maine island home with no electricity or plumbing, where winters can be hard living — and so she found ways to travel, finding different places to visit each year for drawing and painting, including France, Mexico, Costa Rica and Martha’s Vineyard.

Her interest in painting began in 1996 after she had fallen that winter on the island and sprained her right arm. In order to work on gaining back control, Barbara was encouraged to draw by her daughter, already an artist herself. This is also when she began painting. 

Beebe’s favorite medium is gouache, with its mobility, quick drying time and brilliant colors. When I asked about the difference between gouache and opaque watercolor, she said gouache has richer, more vibrant color, is denser, and is less translucent. 

Beebe’s works have a strong sense of design and I think they show her belief in the importance of composition. Also, she says she’s been described as having a quirky sense of color.

She has been drawn to old buildings and architecture — along with broken-down, abandoned cars and trucks, churches and lobster traps. She sometimes puts together still lifes, juxtaposing different objects and backgrounds, such as using an amaryllis flower with a japanese kimono as a background. She generally works from life, and only very occasionally from photos. Gouache is her main painting medium, and rarely oil paint; there will be one oil painting in the show.

Barbara says this show will include a wide range of work covering her long career in the arts and it will include her jewelry designs and ceramics. I hope she chooses to include the masks and toys she has created also.

She refuses to say how old she is, and so maybe this means there are many more creative years ahead for Beebe to make art.

Barbara Beebe’s show at Jonathan Frost Gallery, 279 Main St. in Rockland, will be on view through October 26.