The fine art and personal property appraisers at MIR Appraisal Services, Inc., are proud to have recently been able to examine and research many of the works by Michigan inhabitant, Betty Beeby, a prolific watercolorist, illustrator, muralist, writer and dedicated preservationist. Several of her works are showcased below:
Beeby depicts an artist’s studio within a domestic space, awash with light and color. Imbued with “joie de vivre,” the varied textile patterns, self-referential easel and displayed watercolors echo Henri Matisse’s sensibilities and approach. The exuberant yet pacific nature of the scene finds resonance with John Berger’s apt description of Matisse: “He clashed his colours together like cymbals and the effect was like a lullaby” (Berger 36).
The distilled forms and deep contrasts evident in this watercolor evoke the compositions of Katsushika Hokusai, as in The Dragon of Smoke Escaping From Mount Fuji. The peaks of the snowy cliff, suspended over a deeply colored body of water, create suspense and tension.
The still life shown above with fruit and porcelain is reminiscent of the watercolors of Andrew Wyeth in its striking effects of light and shadow, unusual perspective, and scrupulous, realistic detail.
Beeby received formal training at the Pratt Institute in New York, yet most of her life and oeuvre centers about the landscape and culture of her home state, Michigan. In 2008, she received the State History Award from the Historical Society of Michigan for Distinguished Volunteer Service, in appreciation of more than six decades of Beeby’s creative, philanthropic and preservationist contributions to Michigan.
Working in varied mediums, Beeby has served as staff artist for Time Life magazine, the Bahlman Art Studio and Sequoia Press, film strip artist for Captain Kangaroo on CBS, muralist for The Straits of Mackinac at the Michilimackinac Visitor Center (image featured above; the mural is recently restored) and cover art illustrator for Eardmans Publications Co. Her illustrations for Potawatomi Indian Summer, by E. William Oldenburg, Whistle Up the Bay, by Nancy Stone, and Just Josie—which she both authored and illustrated—received the Chicago Book Clinic Award for best printmaking in art.
Her discovery and preservation of several thousand historical letters and several dozen diaries stored in her family’s century-old barn led to a cluster of creative projects. Beeby’s book Breath Escaping Envelopes draws upon the content of this source material, as she conveys in her book the concerns of the women of Grand Traverse Bay during the turn-of-the-century. Beeby also created The Peterboro Letters, a series of nine lithographs depicting various locations mentioned in the historical letters. The lithographs, exhibited in a solo show at the Kalamazoo Institute of the Arts, inspired composer Lynn Palmer to craft The Peterboro Suite. The original letters and diaries are now preserved for posterity in the Archives and Regional History Collections at Western Michigan University.
Beeby also directly collaborated with poet Terry Wooten on A Book of Hours, an offshoot of the Elders Project; Wooten composed verse from Beeby’s autobiographical storytelling, and Beeby illustrated the collection. Beeby’s additional contributions include funding for the annual Pearl in Hand Scholarship, awarded to high school seniors in Antrim or Charlevoix County.
MIR Appraisal Services, Inc.
307 N. Michigan Avenue, Suite 308
Chicago, IL 60601
Phone: (312) 814-8510
Keenan, Marney Rich. “Artist Beeby Finds Inspiration in Regional History.” Detroit News. 1 Jul. 2008.
South, Carol. “Poet, Painter Combine Skills on Book.” Grand Traverse Herald. Aug. 12 2009.