Art Live: Beech shapes

With women’s history month being right around the corner now, an interview with a trailblazing woman seemed appropriate for this week. Meeting with the veterinarian turned artist Jill Beech recently at her studio in East Fallowfield was a delight.

Jill Beech with her wire works

Beech is well known in these parts and not just for her art. Indeed, her art has been admired by local fans and collectors for some time now but Beech only began showing it, after retiring in 2011 from her veterinary career at New Bolton Center, the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine in Kennett Square. Notably, the Emeritus Professor of Medicine and Reproduction was a pioneer at Penn Vet. Graduating in 1972, Beech was one of the first women to pursue a career in veterinary medicine, not only within Penn Vet, but within the profession.

Figures by Jill Beech

Given her career, it’s no wonder she would also be adventurous about exploring new territory in her art as well, working with materials like clay, metal, paper and wire. When the time came to pursue art, it only made sense to Beech the researcher and educator, to study with the best craft artists working today. Beech makes a trek down to North Carolina at least once a year to study with the best in the business at Penland School of Craft including the renowned ceramic figurative sculptor, Cristina Cordova.

While Beech isn’t necessarily known for her figurative works, she does explore the form and she is heavily inspired by nature. Another graceful series brings to mind coral reefs of the tropics. It’s Beech’s aesthetic that is very much in line with artists like Cordova and Lisa Clague whom she also admires; her palette is light and minimal.

Beech uses porcelain, which exudes a creamy translucency. She was a very good friend and travel companion to the late Paula Winokur; artist and ceramic professor emerita at Arcadia University in Glendside, PA. Winokur said this about porcelain, “Porcelain is a material usually thought of as delicate, fragile and transparent. Considered the primary clay from which all other clays are derived, it comes from the earth as pure white, strong and durable. Fired it can resemble both snow and ice, depending on surface texture and treatment.”

Works by Jill Beech

Beech travels a lot and whether she realizes it or not at the time, she is definitely inspired by what she encounters abroad. Regardless of the material she is working with, she almost always engages in a labor intensive process to create a finished piece. Lately she has been working with kozo fibers; strips of bark from a paper mulberry tree. Between bleaching it by cooking it for several hours, cleaning it and beating it to a literal pulp, the paper takes a long time to make. She uses it to drape over forms she twists into shape with wire and even odds and ends that friends give her; like plastic webbed wrappings reminiscent of chicken wire.

Her work is organic, light and airy, most definitely fragile yet strong if it’s clay that’s been fired. It’s always tactile given the shapes and textures she creates, begging to be touched. Exhibiting work is important and an installation show would be ideal about now given the amount of work Beech has been producing lately. You can see Beech’s work at Square Pear Gallery in Kennett Square. Beech is also preparing for the Chester County Studio Tour happening this May 16th and 17th. For more information visit: https://www.countystudiotour.com/.

Other events worth checking out this week: In West Chester, come out on Thursday, February 27th to hear artists Dennis Beach, Roderick Hidalgo and Leah Wells talk about their work in the Black and White Exhibition at The Art Trust from 7:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Work by Karen Delaney at Gallery Duo

In Chadds Ford, Gallery Duo is kicking off a new exhibition on Friday, February 28th titled “Winter Blues”. The show features stunning works by artists Sus Iserbyt, Allesandra Manzotti, Karen Delaney and Katee Boyle.

Winterthur opens the exhibition “Re-Vision 20/20: Through a Woman’s Lens” on Saturday, February 29th. In celebration of the 100th anniversary year of the 19th amendment, it looks at objects in the Winterthur galleries through the lens of women’s stories. The objects will reveal unexpected stories that touch upon complex issues associated with gender, race, politics, religion, celebrity, and more.

In Philadelphia, be sure to see two intriguing shows; “Speechless” featuring recent work by New York based artist Rob Wynne and “The One Who Whispers” a show of ethereal paintings by Thomas Chimes at Locks Gallery. These shows run through March 28th.

Whatever you do this week, support the arts!!

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About Constance McBride

A native of Philadelphia, Constance McBride lived in Arizona for 16 years, where desert observations made a transformative impact on her work as a research based visual artist. Passionate about contemporary art, she was actively engaged in the local arts community. She served as a board member for several art organizations, managed an artist collective/gallery space, curated and juried several exhibitions and wrote for two arts publications in Phoenix. She taught ceramics at Shemer Art Center and Museum and exhibited her work both locally and nationally. McBride returned to Pennsylvania in 2018 and resides in Chester Springs with her husband and two dogs. In West Chester, she serves as a board member at The Art Trust Gallery at Meridian Bank and teaches ceramics at Chester County Art Association. She also teaches at Clay on Main in Oley, PA. She is a member of American Craft Council, Philadelphia Sculptors, and Women’s Caucus for Art, Philadelphia Chapter.

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