Fine art of inspiration
Honoring the relationships that started at Ohio University
This feature appears in the fall/winter issue of Ohio Today as part of "The Common Thread," a series celebrating relationships that had Ohio University as their starting point. Tomorrow we'll share the last vignette from this collection.
by Mary Alice Casey
The words of Phoebe Beasley's high school guidance counselor were so motivating: "You can't be an artist. There are no black artists."
Beasley, BFA '65, would prove her wrong -- and then some. Her work has been exhibited in the Smithsonian Institution, featured as part of two presidential inaugurations and celebrated by private collectors. In 1998, she collaborated with Maya Angelou on a limited-edition book featuring the poems of Langston Hughes and several of Beasley's serigraphs (one appears on this page).
"It wasn't the easiest road," Beasley admits. "There was no script, no score."
Thankfully, she could draw on the advice of her professors: Aethelred Eldridge urged her to make her own path, not to follow
the Jackson Pollocks of the world. She did. Henry Lin wanted her to be, not the best potter, but a self- disciplined artist. She is.
"When I got to Ohio University, they were so supportive of me being an artist," says Beasley, who -- after her college graduation -- taught high school art for four years at Cleveland's Glenville High School.
There, she inspired one of her students to consider Ohio University.
"She was the main reason I decided to attend OU," says Robert Peppers, BFA '71 and MFA '73, an 18-year School of Art faculty
member who, like Beasley, has worked in both collage and figurative art. "She was a major influence in my art-making."
She also did for Pepper and other African-American students what her guidance counselor failed to do for her.
"She showed us other black artists' work," says Pepper, who recalls being inspired by Beasley to buy one of the first books he ever paid for himself, "American Negro Art" by Cedric Dover. "I remember how encouraging that was."
Mary Alice Casey is editor of Ohio Today.
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