• Marian Beck’s exhibit at the Pratt Museum celebrates colors, colorful people of historic coves
By Naomi Klouda
The history of Kachemak Bay, past human interactions in its coves and bays, aren’t written down so much as remembered by individuals still busy living.
That’s why Marian Beck’s collection of 17 paintings and 17 stories at the Pratt Museum form a valuable retrospective. Hers isn’t a record of timelines and data. Rather, all together it summarizes an impression of what it was like to live on the bay from its remoteness in the 1950s to its status as a highly sought tourist destination today.
Creating the exhibit for “Merged Lifestyles in Kachemak Bay” was the biggest artistic challenge of Beck’s life. When commissioned by Pratt Museum Curator Holly Cusack Mcveigh, Beck’s assignment was to create more than a dozen paintings and narratives illustrating a 50-year block of time. It was to take an entire year, beginning with sketches.
“I never paint from photographs, I make sketches. For one, I stood in the back of my truck and sketched it (Mud Bay) over by the hockey rink,” Beck said.
The lifelong Halibut Cove resident sketched about 20 scenes from July to Oct. 1, mindful of the historical narrative theme tying each one together. Then she painted while at her winter home in Hawaii. In February she came back to Halibut Cove to finalize each one in their own setting. In an exceptionally cold winter, her studio in a warehouse structure matching the cannery buildings of the historic cove was heated by a slender Montgomery Ward stove.
“One day as I painted, I was cooking smoked caribou stew. I felt really Alaskan,” she said. “The Montgomery Ward stove did a fantastic job.”
Husband Dave Beck, an artist in his own right and a commercial fisherman, did chores tending the horses for her while she painted from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week. By May 15, she had completed the 17 paintings.
“I wrote the narratives last. I can’t write a narrative without a painting,” Beck said. “After painting I sat down and tried to understand it, the story in the paintings. The paintings were about me seeing what I had said. I didn’t know if I could do a good job telling the story about the developing of the bay, from a cultural view, if it would really say what I wanted to say.”
In the end, she felt satisfied, but acknowledged it as the most difficult artistic challenge of her life so far.
Kachemak Bay drew a collection of individuals, tough and creative, in its relatively short human history.
“Each person brought with them what they knew from their homeland and applied it to an unsettled landscape, geographically unique,” she wrote. “The south shore, through rugged, was settled because the bays offered shelter for fishing boats.”
Memories came to the fore of fish camp, trials on waves, sight of her dad’s (Sen. Speaker Clem Tillion) campaign poster still on a store wall, berms cast by ocean power and stories much older than her own.
“What occurred to me were the waves of people who came to Kachemak Bay and how they envisioned what their life was going to be like on all different levels,” Beck said. “Sometimes it didn’t happen the way they imagined. They didn’t know winters would be so long. There were all kinds of results.”
Beck was born at the old Seldovia hospital in 1953, the daughter of Diana and Clem Tillion. She deck-handed on her dad’s fishing vessel. By the age of 10 it was expected that she should know how to drive the boat while her dad picked salmon from nets. By the time she was 13, she could drive a skiff by herself in Kachemak Bay. She is the daughter of adventurers, she tells us, in the first narrative of her exhibit.
She learned art from her famous mother, then studied art and animal science at Cal Poly University in San Luis Obispo, Calif.
“I was trying to see what it felt like to live there. It’s interesting to have someplace go from wilderness to now, and all the things I observed that were part of my lifestyle. When you are done viewing the exhibit, you will have a view of the development of Kachemak Bay since 1953,” she said.
“I decided to do it as one thing. I felt like I wanted to say one story with 17 pieces. I wanted it to show how much everyone loved the lifestyle and all the hopes and dreams,” she said.
Marian Beck and the museum curator are talking about how to preserve the exhibit and narrative in another form, perhaps a book, to make available for archiving. The exhibit stays up until the end of summer, Sept. 30.
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