Remember Tippy theTurtle?
If you’re of…a certain generation…you’ll vividly recall the turtleneck-wearing, chapeau-topped cartoon character who would appear in newspaper ads beside the command, “Draw me!”
For Cleveland-based certified Master Printer and Professional Artist Karen Beckwith, her drawing of Tippy in the mid-1970s as a 12-year-old in rural Corry, Pennyslvania was nothing less than a significant touchpoint in her artistic journey.
“After I sent in my drawing of Tippy, this man came to my house and told my parents that I had potential and talent and could do a correspondence school or whatever they were selling,” laughs Beckwith. “It was one of the first moments when I remember thinking, ‘Ok, I can do this.'”
A few years later, when it came time to plot her higher education journey, Beckwith was laser-focused on going to art school. She credits the support of a school secretary and her junior high school art teacher as being integral to her putting together a portfolio of art for her college applications.
More than almost any criteria of her desired university destinations, the location of the school was key for this budding artist.
“I needed to to get away from home, but not too far,” remembers Beckwith. “I wasn’t adventurous to go to California, but I needed a big city where I—as a painfully shy person—could discover who I was as a person.”
That big city? Cleveland, Ohio.
Beckwith enrolled in a 5-year program at the Cleveland Institute of Art, originally thinking she would be an illustrator. All of that changed when she took a lithography course, and her love for printmaking exploded. One professor’s critique cemented her artistic direction.
“The teacher kept saying, ‘You can’t do that,'” says Beckwith. “He thought my work was too emotional or too political. Well, I don’t want to be told no. So I changed my major to printmaking at the beginning of my 5th year. I finally found my voice. I needed to say what I needed to say in the way I wanted to say it and not have some art director tell me how to do it.”
Beckwith explains that she is drawn to the physicality and the process of printmaking. She relishes the opportunity to make things with her hands and engage in problem solving when technology goes awry.
Plus, there are those big machines.
“I just geek out when there’s something on the press,” laughs Beckwith.
Her artistic focus is centered on the process of investigation, uncovering layers of meaning in home life, neighborhoods, and communities. This has resulted in a body of work that has been widely exhibited and is featured prominently in private and corporate printmaking collections across the United States, garnering the praise of everyone who encounters her art.
“A self-identified truth-seeker, Beckwith’s own work uses her formidable technical mastery to uncover the deeper, often overlooked stories of everyday existence,” says Megan Alves, marketing and program manager at the Artists Archives of the Western Reserve (AAWR), a Cleveland facility and regional museum.
As part of AAWR’s mission to increase the visibility of LGBTQ+ artists, collections registrar, curator, and lesbian rights advocate Kelly Pontoni helped establish a fund to preserve the legacy of regional queer women creators.
Though the archives already featured the work of several cisgender gay men like Robert Jergens and William Martin Jean, the archives will finally now be adding their first out lesbian to the roster of Ohio artists: Karen Beckwith.
“[Beckwith’s] addition to the museum’s canon will help to shine light on the historically under-recognized contributions of countless queer artists to Ohio’s rich visual culture,” says Alves. “We hope she is only the first of many to be illuminated.”
For Beckwith, being the first out lesbian in AAWR’s catalogue is most certainly an honor. She expresses great pride in this distinction and great satisfaction that her work will live on in the archives.
“I don’t have children, and I don’t think my cat would do much if I left my prints to her,” says Beckwith. “They would probably end up in the litter box.”
Even as her work will now forever have a home in AAWR, Beckwith still has an eye to the future. She is excited to both continue to create her own art as well as work with future artists to find their own voice, as she does at Ping Pong Press and K2 Art Studio. With years of experience behind her, she most definitely has some advice for future artists.
“Listen to that voice in your gut,” urges Beckwith. “That’s the voice that told me, ‘You have to get out of Corry, you have to move to Cleveland.’ Really listen to that voice and it will guide you as it continues to guide me today.” 🔥
- Learn more about Karen Beckwith and her printmaking by visiting her website.