Like a rare coin camouflaged among common change, Arthello Beck, Jr.’s Studio and Gallery located at 1922 S. Beckley Ave. in Dallas, Texas, stands amid old car repair shops, corner grocery stores, and gas stations. Callers will hear the voice of Mae Beck, widow and gallery manager, on the gallery voice mail service. Mae personally books by-appointment-only viewings at no charge, Mondays through Saturdays 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. The walls of this very common two-story structure, originally built as a family dwelling, houses hundreds of Beck’s painted originals – fine art canvases depicting African American life since the early 1950s.
A native of Dallas and a product of a loving family, Beck sketched since childhood and took every art class available until he graduated from Lincoln High School. Though he enrolled in a few classes at the Art Institute of Dallas, he typically taught himself to paint by checking out books at the library. The results of art lessons learned throughout those years flowed onto thousands of canvases as scenes depicting African-American culture and experiences in the South from his perspective. Many of Beck’s paintings have been sold across the United States and abroad. The remaining originals and prints are on display at his studio and are currently for sale.
“Arthello painted positive images of African-American people and culture,” said Mrs. Beck. “And Black people saw themselves respected by him as an artist – they saw images they could identify with.”
Beck’s friend of more than thirty years and fellow artist Lovita Irby recalls working closely with Beck as they each manned their own booths at the State Fair of Texas from 1968 until he died in 2004.
“He was inspired by life around him,” said Irby. “Anything that influenced him that week, he painted it; and so he painted thousands of scenes.”
Evidence of his inspirations is apparent in each of the originals that shroud nearly every inch of the gallery walls. Congregations at river baptisms, ladies at a beauty shop, children learning, sports scenes and dads reading to their babies are just some the everyday scenes Beck captured on canvas.
In addition to the baptisms, other religious art graces the gallery walls as well. Brown-faced disciples and other biblical characters including Moses and Christ hang next to portraits of black angels and heavenly scenes.
Beck also appreciated his people’s past. His elaborate portrayals of the Buffalo soldiers and of families working in cotton fields represent just some of his historical creations.
And there is also evidence of his travels around the world. He painted scenes of the beaches and the busy market places of West Africa, Brazil, and Central America, all communicating a sense of family, community, pride and joy.
But Beck was not oblivious to the struggles of his people, and there are indeed memoirs of a tougher existence sprinkled throughout the gallery. In his twenties, he was angry about injustices against African Americans. His emotions speak loudly in the paintings he completed during the civil rights movement.
“During the 60’s, some of the faces he painted were sad because people did not have a lot to smile about,” said Mae. “But after the civil rights movement, he did not do a lot of the civil rights paintings unless requested by someone.”
A visit to the gallery proves to be more than a mere stop to view the paintings of a gifted man. The venue was once the Beck family residence. Mrs. Beck, who has been known to personally guide tours with an outpouring of verbal history, shares with patrons the places within the structure where Beck actually painted. She speaks with ease concerning Beck’s life journey as revealed through the changing styles of his displayed works.
“I never met anyone like Arthello,” mused Irby. “I felt like I was in the presence of black history when I was around him. He painted what really was and what he felt. He did not paint to sell.”
It is a joy to visit the gallery and to visit with Mae. It is as though the visitor steps back into the historic times of this African- American Dallasite and walks the journey of the deep soul that was Arthello Beck, Jr. His works have been displayed in many prestigious venues such as the Biblical Arts Center in North Dallas, where curators showed his work during the Spring of 2012. However, such a display cannot replace a sense of almost being a part of Beck’s world, if but for an hour or so, by visiting his studio and gallery. Paying no admission, experiencing Mrs. Beck’s warmth and exploring the place where Beck created some of the finest art in the United States, make for a highly recommended, moving experience for art lovers.
Visit Arthello Beck, Jr.’s Studio and Gallery by contacting Mrs. Mae Beck at 214-941-2276 or 1-800-824-3347. She is also available at firstname.lastname@example.org. See some of Arthello Beck, Jr.’s works at www.b17.com/beck.