Unique and wonderful art "oozes" from every nook of this artful home.
Written by Amy Shuman, with Photography by John Shuman
On the north side of downtown Cumberland, Maryland, is the second floor apartment studio home of Bev Walker, a place she has grown to love in the last five years. Her garden balcony sports all types of seasonable flowers plus lots of catnip for her two cats, Sanuki and Sabai. Their names mean “fun” and “contentment” in Thai. Bev loves being in the country and this oasis outside her kitchen window reminds her of open space.
After twenty-five years of free-lancing art and design, principally in portraiture and liturgical design, Bev returned to college in 1984 to earn a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts in painting (1989) and a master’s degree in linguistics, her second love (1992). She took a break from painting and exhibiting for six years following graduation in order to fully integrate her teaching career into her life. After eighteen months as guest lecturer at Bangkok University, Bangkok, Thailand and some time in Oregon, about thirteen years ago, Bev decided to settle in Cumberland. “I’ve lived in many places around the world. My sister, Shirley Giarritta, lived here and I just always loved Cumberland when I visited and thought maybe I’d live there one day.” Bev now combines her interests in visual arts and linguistics by teaching a variety of courses in art and English at Allegany College of Maryland.
Bev never thought she wanted to be a teacher. However, in graduate school, something happened. “I fell in love with the students. I wish I had discovered this interest twenty years earlier! I just find language fascinating! Combining art and linguistics makes me a better teacher.” Bev reminisces, “I tried to ‘get discovered’ as an artist for twenty-five years. Now that I have a ‘real job,’ I am free to explore whatever has personal and spiritual meaning. My big paintings are serious stuff. I finish about one serious work per year and they usually represent what’s going on inside of me.”
Bev has perfected a technique using several layers of tightly packed corrugated cardboard, to form a canvas, from which she artistically helps 3-D forms emerge by cutting away and then painting the various layers. “It was just my invention, I guess, part of my passion for recycling.” Bev once cut out all types of cameo shots from magazines, to make one large face representing all ages, races, people all over the world. The end result formed a huge Byzantine style face of Jesus. Bev especially enjoys participating in the weekly drawing group that meets at the Cumberland Theatre. After four years of “life drawing” in college, which became hum-drum, she enjoys finding various ways to make her “two paintings a week” of the human form interesting, often by concentrating on one part of the body, for instance, and adding a surprise element like a Santa hat, a cat, a wild pattern or an unlikely object like a bicycle. “When I paint the human body, I choose to capture the beauty of the human form and use the figure, or part of it, as a major part of the composition.”
Bev also enjoys making sculptures from all types of found items, like chicken wire, beads and other cast offs. On her mantelpiece is a beautifully intricate foo dog, which she re-created in clay. The inspiration came when, while teaching in Thailand, she walked to class every day, amidst many unpleasant sights. When she passed a Chinese temple where the huge foo dogs stood, they always made her smile. Bev’s whimsical painted wooden furniture, where she replicates her rendition of “old masters” paintings, wrapping the details over and around chair seats and legs, for instance, is an especially interesting use of recyclables.
Bev loves being surrounded by artwork. Her living room, with gorgeous fireplace, houses comfy furniture and many of her ‘larger than life,’ very spectacular designs. They include “In the Palm of His Hand,” a self portrait, “Blue Tattoo II,” and “The Family,” Bev’s depiction of the human race, which includes a beautiful African woman, Father Abraham, Jesus, The Holy Spirit and the Universe. The beautiful round oak table in her dining room doubles as her framing center.
Bev admits having a fondness for shoes and has them neatly arranged in a double-stacked case in her bedroom, amidst art from the past and from local artist friends and family. Included are Bev’s portrait of her mother, Heidi White’s cute city scene, Maggy Wagner’s beautiful fruit painting, Chris Nelson’s field of daffodils, Charlie Thomas’ photo of a cat, Greg Malloy’s artful flowers and her sister, Shirley Giarritta’s, painted moonscape design. Her studio is a perfect hideaway, with light streaming in from the north. There is ample room for many projects to be “in process” at all times. Open books that document items Bev is researching or using in some way are scattered throughout, at the ready. “I will admit that I do have paint on my pajamas,” Bev smiles as she talks about responding to inspiration at any hour.
Bev has been a faithful participant in Mountain Maryland Artists Studio Tours held the first two weekends of November each year. She welcomes this opportunity to share her work because teaching full-time keeps her busy the rest of the year. “I really don’t focus on selling my art. I enjoy showing it, communicating about it. These things are much more important to me. So, then, I feel that selling my art is like an adoption process. It has to go to a good home!”
Bev is a member of the Allegany Arts Council, has served on their Board of Directors and was gallery co-coordinator from 1996-1998. She is serving now on the boards of the Cumberland Cultural Foundation and the Cumberland Theatre. She has been a jurist for the Lobby for the Arts and the Rocky Gap Festival craft show. Currently, she is on the Board of Directors and assists with hanging shows at the Gilchrist Gallery. Bev’s wisdom is heartfelt: “I’ve always learned to laugh at life, move on and learn from it.” She enjoys attending retreats with fellow professors and, in the spring of 2008, wrote this philosophical poem while sharing time with them.
“May I be kindness in the face of rejection,
May I be peace in the face of threat.
May I be patience in the face of demanding,
May I be joy in the face of loneliness.
May I be creativity in the face of oblivion,
May I be happiness in the face of death!”