On January 15, 2021, our colleague, nationally recognized artist and papermaker Beck Whitehead (1951–2021), passed away at her home in San Antonio, Texas.
Beck will be remembered for her distinctive art and her tremendous impact as a teacher and leader in our field. Her work was exhibited in museums and galleries throughout the US, Canada, and Mexico. She travelled widely across the US, teaching papermaking at many colleges and art centers, including Haystack in Maine, Pyramid Atlantic in Maryland, and the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. Beck was a generous supporter of many paper organizations and hosted the annual meeting of the Friends of Dard Hunter in 2004 at the Southwest School of Art in San Antonio, and a peer-to-peer Pulp Painting Symposium in 2010. She also served on the board of directors of Hand Papermaking for many years.
Beck and I first met when we were both fresh out of grad school in the early 1980s. Beck received her MFA from the University of Texas, San Antonio in sculpture in 1980, and I had just moved to San Antonio to help start Picante Paper, at the Southwest Craft Center, now called the Southwest School of Art. Beck was an artist-in-residence at the school and started working with me in the paper studio in 1984. She became obsessed with all things papermaking and took over as chair of the Papermaking and Book Arts Department when I left a few years later. She devoted her life’s work to the school for the next 30 years and retired in 2016. Along the way, she created a wonderful new and expanded papermaking studio when the school moved into the old Sears building across the street. Beck was a teacher and mentor to hundreds of papermaking and book-arts students.
Lata Gedala, one of her former BFA students in papermaking, remembers her fondly. ”I first learned to make paper from Beck at Southwest School of Art. My interest in papermaking soon became a passion. I will always feel her presence around me every time I make paper.” Printmaker and book artist Léo Lee, who was Beck’s caregiver after Beck’s cancer returned last spring, thoughtfully reminisced, “When I was sitting with Becky in her last weeks, many friends called, expressing their gratitude for the gift of her time, her knowledge, her love. She will long be known in our community as someone who not only provided but often orchestrated opportunities for all of us to flourish.”
Beck’s husband of 47 years Chuck (Charles) Whitehead, preceded her in 2020 and they are laid to rest together in La Vernia, Texas, humbly under a tree in a shroud, “giving their own bodies to nourish the earth,” said Léo Lee. “Not only that,” she continued, “Becky left seeds in each of us and we will continue to reseed the world with everything she gave us.”
Donations in Beck’s memory can be made to the Papermaking Visiting Artist Fund and mailed to the Southwest School of Art, 300 Augusta Street, San Antonio, Texas, 78205, or online at https://www.swschool.org/giving/memorials-honors.
Beck Whitehead, Desert Car, 2007, 11 x 14 x 2 inches, abaca and cotton rag, pigment. All photos courtesy of Jim and Janice Whitehead unless otherwise noted. below: Beck Whitehead (left) and the author unloading the press, 1985, Picante Paper Studio, Southwest School of Craft. Courtesy of the author.
Beck Whitehead, Caught, 2009, 15 x 15 inches, abaca and cotton rag, pigment.
Beck Whitehead, Underground, 2009, 15 x 15 inches, abaca and cotton rag, pigment.
Beck Whitehead, Strata Series installation, 2016, variable dimensions (columns are 83 inches high), abaca, pigment.