“Whenever it is determined that we must depart,
it is essential for us to leave with a strong soul and a happy heart.”
Albert William Beck was born April 4, 1931, in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and grew up in Scarsdale,New York. Despite his East coast upbringing, Al found a greater connection to the land and people of the Midwest, where he lived, created art, and taught legions of students for most of his adult life. He passed away in Quincy, Illinois at the age of 87 on May 16, 2018.
After spending time in the greater Cleveland area, a brief year in Kansas City, followed by life in Quincy, Illinois and summers working in western Massachusetts, Al finally settled on 76 acres outside of Monroe City, Missouri, which he fondly named Rocky Hollow. There, he designed and built a Japanese-style earth shelter home, accompanied by a geodesic dome plant nursery and a personal art gallery christened the Pyrapod, a triangular building with copper sheeting. In this quiet, peaceful location with his devoted third wife, the artist Carmen Federowich, he created art, wrote poetry, and regaled family, friends, acquaintances, and guests with folk songs (accompanying himself on the banjo), stories, philosophy, and home cooking. Following Carmen’s death in 2013, he retired to Good Samaritan Home in Quincy.
The first-born of Joseph Emmanuel Beck and Celia Frances Garfinkle, Al had a younger sister, Deborah Ciora Beck Rosenberg. Al grew up in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania before his family moved to Scarsdale, New York. Al attended Northwestern University from 1949-53 and – among other exploits – served as Northwestern’s team mascot, Willie Wildcat. His education at Northwestern was interrupted when he was drafted into the U.S. Army and worked as an Intelligence Analyst during the Korean War (1953-54). While stationed overseas, he also taught night classes in English at Daegu College.
Following an honorable discharge, Al returned to Northwestern, graduating in 1956 with a B.A. in Art. Al then spent a year touring France as an American folksinger on behalf of the U.S. Information Service while, at the same time, he attended both the Sorbonne and the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere in Paris, earning a Certificate from the Sorbonne in 1957.
Al worked as an Elementary Art Specialist in the Ashtabula (Ohio) City Schools from 1957-59. During this time he married his first wife, Katrine Aho (1935 -2018), with whom he raised three children. Following his position in Ashtabula, Al taught art and became Chairman of the Art Department at Eastlake North High School until his move to the Kansas City Art Institute in 1967. While at Eastlake, his leadership and creativity earned Ohio’s Outstanding High School Art Department award from the Columbus College of Art and Design (1966).
During the summers beginning in 1958, Al also began working at Camp Taconic in Hinsdale, Massachusetts. Al worked at Taconic as the head of the waterfront until 1976, missing only one summer along the way, 1968, when the Beck family moved from Kansas City to Quincy, Illinois. Al is remembered by generations of campers and counselors for his bold portrayal of various Nightclub characters and for his singing the annual end-of-summer duet “That’s a lot of Bunk!” with camp director Bob Kinoy.
In 1967, Al was appointed Dean of Students at the Kansas City Art Institute, but left that position after only one year upon discovering that being an administrator did not suit his personality, that he preferred to teach. It was at that time that he joined the art department faculty at Culver-Stockton College in Canton, Missouri (a department he later chaired and where he also served as Gallery Director from 1968-88). Al retired from Culver in 1996 as an Emeritus Professor.
Over the course of his creative career, Al’s areas of artistic pursuit included ceramics, drawing, poetry, photography, papercasting, fabric design, glass fusion and casting, assemblage, graphic design, printmaking, painting, and cinematography. His teachers and mentors included George Cohen and Bill Stipe at Northwestern and later, with respect to his clay work, George Kokis.
Al’s post-graduate studies included summer workshops at the Penland Art School in North Carolina (1988-89, 1991); the Haystack Crafts Center in Deer Isle, Maine (1982-83, 1990); the Appalachian Crafts Center in Smithville, Tennessee (1984-86); and the Oxbow Art Center in Michigan (1981). He also enjoyed study sabbaticals taken in Black Mountain, North Carolina (1991), in Rome, Florence, and Cortona, Italy (1983), and in Athens, Greece (1976).
Al Beck’s art has been exhibited at Northwestern University, the Raymond Duncan Gallery (Paris, France); Erie Art Museum; Cleveland Museum of Art; National Print Exhibition (Chicago); Butler Museum (Youngstown, Ohio); 451 Gallery (New York City); Quincy (Illinois) Art Center; Incorporated Gallery (New York City); Illinois State Museum; Ceremonial and Liturgical Objects Exhibit (St. Louis, Missouri); National Glass Exhibition (Baltimore, Maryland); and National Works on Paper (Columbia, Missouri), among others. He has also won prizes and awards in painting (Farancy Painting Prize, Northwestern, 1956); graphics (Purchase Award, 1st Place, John Wood Community College, 1987); and glass (First Prize, Muscatine (Iowa) Art Center, 1988). In 2018, he was one of two recipients of the George M. Irwin Lifetime Achievement Award from Arts Quincy.
Al was predeceased by his parents and his wife Carmen. In addition to his children, Al is survived by his sister, five grandchildren, many nieces and nephews, and hundreds of former students, campers, friends, and colleagues from days past and present.
Al Beck was an original; one of his life’s mantras was one he had learned from an art teacher at Northwestern: “If you wish to be more like someone else, then who shall be like you?”