Monday, May 4, 2015

A Conversation With Beverly Erschell, Famed Artist & Fort Thomas Native

Beverly Erschell in her Fort Thomas home studio. 
After entering grand double doors and walking through a tiled entry I find myself in a large, art-filled living room. The back wall is made up of floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook a sweeping landscape, which includes the winding Ohio River. The room breathes with artistry—that of the view and of the walls covered in large Beverly Erschell paintings. And then, of course, there's Erschell herself—effortlessly elegant in black with memorable jewelry and enviable white hair.

Born Beverly Helmbold in 1934 in Fort Thomas, Erschell—one of Cincinnati's most talented and well-received artists—resides here still today. She's prolific (she's painted thousands of pictures she says) and well-known. Her paintings have been featured in exhibitions at Weston Art Gallery, Contemporary Arts Center, and Dayton Art Institute, and her work is in the permanent collections of Cincinnati Art Museum, and many corporate and family collections. She has had solo and group shows across the United States, in Palm Beach, New York City, Chicago and Dallas. And she still paints, about four hours a day, and has a calendar filled with the life of an artist—gallery showings and requests, museum exhibits, and travel.


We walk downstairs to her light-filled studio, and I take in her finished work, her work in progress, her selections for an upcoming show at a museum, her impeccable organization (she's hired her granddaughter to help), her brushes, her paints, and her large easel covered with marks of paintings past.

"I was always an artist," Erschell says. Reading a book was childhood drudgery but drawing, cutting, painting, making—that is what she loved. "I was a great average student," she says. In college she got straight As in courses on art history and straight Cs in courses on Western civilization. And then it clicked—she succeeded most when viewing something as perceived by the arts.

Erschell credits her mother, Stella Bauer Helmbold, for a love of art, and her father, Dr. August Helmbold, a trained surgeon, for good eye-hand coordination. After attending various schools Erschell graduated from Highlands High School in 1952.

Erschell received an associate's degree in arts in 1954 from Stephens College in Columbia, Mo. Upon graduation her parents gifted her with a grand tour of Europe, which Erschell took with her friend, June Steinman. "I took the Queen Elizabeth there and the Queen Mary back," she says. The duo traveled for nine months and that trip, in particular, inspired a lifelong love of travel. "I saw a lot of the world and developed a love for the exotic," she says. "Back then it was a traveler's world." 

Erschell married Fritz Erschell, also from Fort Thomas, in 1955. They welcomed two daughters, Barbara and Victoria. Erschell mothered and painted, selling some of her work in small, local shops. Eventually she went back to school, this time at Art Academy of Cincinnati. And in 1971 she earned her master's degree in fine arts in 1971 from University of Cincinnati College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning.

Erschell then taught at Northern Kentucky University for more than 10 years. She, along with Amy Burton, ran the art department. After brief teaching stints at University of Cincinnati and Art Academy of Cincinnati, Erschell decided to paint full time. "I'd rather grab the brush and do the work myself," she says.

Not only did she paint, she pushed herself, hard. She took a painting to Miller Gallery in Hyde Park and it sold within a week. They asked her to come into their stable and so she did. Today her work is sold in various local galleries, including Eisele Gallery of Fine Art, Bowman's Framing Inc., Ralice Custom Framing & Art Gallery, and Fabulous Frames & Art, as well as around the United States. "Don't be timid. There's a lot of competition," she tells aspiring artists. "Get yourself out there, push yourself ... go to other places—Cleveland, Columbus—get to know people." 

Erschell lives with her paintings for awhile, displaying them in her home before selling. A large painting of a horse, titled "Star of the Arena," is displayed in her dining room—that one, she says, she'll never sell.

In The Art of Beverly Erschell by Sue Ann Painter (Cincinnati Book Publishing), Phillip C. Long, director emeritus of Taft Museum of Art writes, "In Erschell's work we encounter the liberation of color, the reduction of space and form, a tendency toward abstraction, and spontaneous brushwork. She frequently combines landscape, still life, and portraiture into a single painting, thereby acknowledging the three primary subjects of Western Art." 

Erschell points to some dots in one of her paintings and tells me dots, in all her paintings, represent light and energy. "I like energy in a painting," Erschell says. "I like a painting raw."

To see examples of Erschell's work, visit her website here. Children and adults alike will appreciate Erschell's picture book The Lucky Greyhound (Cincinnati Book Publishing), which features her paintings and a story about Maple, a rescued greyhound who lived with Erschell and another family for many years.

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