Playing Favorites: Sue Slick & Jack Beal

We’ve asked FWMoA staff the hardest question you can ask art museum people: so, what is your favorite artwork currently on display? As “art museum people”, we often get asked about our favorite artists, artworks, and the art we choose to hang on our own walls. Since not all of our staff are front-end, and not all of them write for the blog, this series gives everyone a chance to get to know them, too. Taking advantage of our rotating exhibitions of artworks, from painted portraits to sculpted bronzes, FWMoA staff from all departments are choosing artworks that enthrall and enchant them; or, in other words, playing favorites.

Suzanne Slick, FWMoA Collection Information Specialist. Image courtesy of FWMoA.

Managing the FWMoA library and collections database since 2015, Sue also writes the “Historical Highlight” posts that delve into the history of our museum and the city of Fort Wayne. Her current favorite? Jack Beal’s Pond Lilies, on display in Lush and Lavish: Blooms in Art (which she co-curated with Associate Curator of Special Collections & Archives Lauren Wolfer).

A lithograph of an overhead view of pond lilies floating on a pond. The top right and left are filled with the dark green lilies while the bottom left shows the darkest green reflection of trees and a small piece of blue pond water.
Jack Beal, American, 1931-2013. Pond Lilies. Lithograph on paper, 1971. Gift of A. Tannenbaum, 1977.30. Image courtesy of FWMoA.

Q: What is the first thing you noticed about this artwork? What drew you to this particular piece?

A: I’ve always loved the deep saturated colors in this print, and the contrast between the sun-splashed highlights on the water and white lily and the deep darks of the shaded surfaces. Don’t you feel that you could step into that cool water and be refreshingly submerged with the pond lilies?

Beal was a wonderfully talented Realist who rejected the Abstract Expressionist movement to make “beautiful paintings about life as we live it”. His work was called both corny and breathtaking, but Beal didn’t mind, he hoped his art would help to “lead people in a better direction”. Among his many paintings, prints, and drawings are major public works, including his murals The History of Labor in America, 1974-1977, in the Department of Labor headquarters in Washington, D.C. and his glass tile mosaics created for the Art in Transit Initiative in New York City. The two which portray the Greek myth of Persephone were installed in the 41st IRT mezzanine in the Times Square Station; The Return of Spring / The Onset of Winter, 2001/2005, plays on the underground theme of the subway environment and were inspired by Persephone’s abduction by Hades. She was dragged into the underworld to be his wife; ultimately, however, she was allowed to emerge back into the world of light and flowers for part of the year. Beal portrays her emergence in spring as a young woman purchasing flowers from a typical NYC flower stand. As winter approaches, Persephone is portrayed as an actress in a movie about to descend subway stairs into the NYC “underworld”. With tongue in cheek, Beal included himself as a jackhammer operator in The Emergence of Spring and as a spectator gazing heavenward in The Onset of Winter.

Q: Would you hang this artwork in your home? Why or why not?

A: Absolutely! It’s one of those pieces that brings delight and intrigue every time I see it.

Q: What does this artwork mean to you?

A: As I said earlier, I’ve always loved this print. While co-curating the exhibit, I developed a deeper appreciation for it in learning about Jack Beal. Here’s a guy who grew up as a sickly, only child who loved to draw. He began college in science (loving biology, anatomy, and botany) but ended up in art! He struggled with the Abstract Expressionism movement, but then found his niche in Realism and Social Realism. He and his wife, Sondra, had a beautiful home in Upstate New York, where Jack could fly fish, garden, paint, and sip red wine with his guests. And as you know now, he had a sense of humor that often emerged in visual puns in his work. Gotta love all that! And, he was an amazing painter!

Curator Tip: If you come to see Lush and Lavish: Blooms in Art, look for the little Roseville candlestick that is decorated with a water lily very like the one in Pond Lilies.

Q: Why did you choose to work at an art museum?

A: It’s great fun working in an art museum! We work hard, but we get to be immersed in wonderful, beautiful art, and to learn about it daily!

Q: What has been your favorite exhibition at FWMoA during your employment? What exhibition are you most looking forward to in the next year or two?

A: A recent favorite was Color X Color: Selections from the Chuck Sperry Archive; what an amazing array of dazzling images! Speaking of mythology, Chuck’s work often draws on those ancient tales and their heroines, too. One of our dazzling Chuck Sperry works included in his Archive is a hand-woven tapestry portraying Persephone’s mother, Demeter, whose heart was nearly broken when Hades took Persephone from her. Next time Demeter emerges from the vault, I’ll write about her!

Q: What kind of art do you have in your home?

A: An eclectic array!

Lush and Lavish: Blooms in Art is on display through August 28, 2022.

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