OWOSSO — Local artist Linda Beeman this fall was able to take advantage of a Michigan program that granted her wide access to an Arizona national park — with the aim of sharing her experiences with others through art.
Beeman was awarded a professional development mini-grant from the Michigan Council for Art and Cultural Affairs, and spent most of October at Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona as an artist in residence — drawing inspiration for future projects.
Part of the grant award is a stipend of $1,500, but due to the state’s inability thus far to pass a budget, Beeman said she hasn’t received the funds. But that doesn’t matter to her — the opportunity to enjoy unfettered access to 144,000 acres of a national park to use for her art was reward enough.
“The National Park Service has over 50 programs for artists in residence,” Beeman said. “I could have applied to any of them. But I’ve never been out west. I wanted to do something different and challenge myself with a different landscape. Being from Michigan, we have water and trees everywhere. It took me a week to get a grip on what I was seeing becuase it was so different.
“The desert was incredible. I had unprecedented access, and I could go anywhere in the park. We would be hiking, turn around and there were petroglyphs. Those are from thousands of years ago and they’re still there. That’s amazing to me,” she said.
Beeman will be creating park-specific artwork over the next year, donating one piece to the national park permanent collection and exhibiting work at Shiawassee Arts Center in September 2020.
Beeman said her first memories of creating art were encouraged by her grandmother. Like many other artists, she began with simple tools.
“Always in my family, everyone said I was an artist from the beginning,” Beeman said of her path to becoming an artist. “My grandma always had crayons, paper and a desk for me. That’s what I always remember doing.”
After graduating from the University of Kansas, she attended art school in Ontario, Canada. She experimented with several different kinds of art, but after participating in a five-day workshop at Kendall College in Grand Rapids in 2008, she learned a new discipline — mokuhanga — a traditional Japanese technique that uses carved wooden blocks and water-based inks to create pieces of art on paper.
“I tried everything before I found this in 2008. Artists try to find their home,” Beeman said. “Some like to bounce around from genre to genre. I think we all do that until we find what we want to do. I ended up in print making, and then I found a wood block. It kind of zeroed in and I was like, this is what I want to do. I haven’t done anything else since.”
She added that she began creating art with this technique, but the history of it was intriguing to her.
“It’s very rare. There’s very few in the world that do this,” Beeman said. “For a lot of historical reasons, but mainly because it’s so labor intensive. It used to be, back more than a century ago, there were workshops of men that did it. It was like a Ford assembly line.
“It’s not feasible economically any more. It almost died, because people didn’t want to do it. The masters started dying off. There were some Japanese artists who started teaching foreigners again in the 80s that’s allowed us to learn it and keep it going,” she explained.
Beeman carves a block for every color in each piece she does. The process is labor intensive, and it takes Beeman 10 days to a month for an individual print.
But she tries to plan in advance and set up numerous projects at the same time, so she can operate as a “production line,” or as close to it as she can.
“I’ve become a pretty fast carver,” Beeman explained. “My process is different; I plan out a whole year of artwork before I start. I kind of assembly line it. I’ll get five or six prints all carved before I start actually printing. As soon as I get home, I’ll start in June and will be pretty busy until the showing at the SAC.”
Beeman, who winters in Florida, said she’ll begin with a round of carving in June, and will to have her finished prints ready in time for a Septemer showing of her work at the Shiawassee Arts Center in Owosso.
In addition to the residency in Arizona, Beeman has worked as an artist in residence at Mt. Fuji in Japan, and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and the Porcupine Mountains State Park, two of her favorite places, in Michigan. She has also attended workshops with world-renowned artist Tuula Moilanen in Helsinki, Finland.
Beeman will be teaching workshops in Washington state and Cleveland, Ohio. But she plans on being in Owosso for the remainder of 2020, and has an open studio at The Armory scheduled from noon to 8 p.m. Dec. 10.
“I have been on the road a lot for several years teaching,” Beeman said. ” I’m going to cut that back and try to teach exclusively in Owosso and bring people here. I worked really hard to establish a reputation as a teacher. I get a lot of calls to teach in places. We have great artists here and I want to augment that, and bring people in if I can.”
Beeman is hesitant to describe her work, but related a story she believes gives a good idea of what people who see her work feel.
“Most people tell me they feel a sense of calm or peace,” Beeman said. “I had worked at the University of Michigan hospital several years ago, and I got an email from a woman who was there. She was on the transplant list waiting, and she would walk down the hall and look at my work and feel peaceful. I think that’s the best compliment I’ve ever gotten. She got her transplant and she’s doing fine, by the way.”
For more information, visit Lindajbeeman.com.