Batesville Herald Tribune, Batesville, Indiana

February 28, 2014

On eve of retirement, muralist leaves her mark

Debbie Blank The Herald-Tribune
The Batesville Herald-Tribune

---- — Rebecca Davies was a waitress, ad agency employee and bank teller. For the past 17 years, she has been the Batesville Intermediate School art teacher, currently teaching three and a half days a week until her June retirement.

Throughout it all, art has been a constant.

Almost 30 years ago, after five years of teaching art at East Central High School and losing that job due to a reduction in force, she started painting seriously. “Almost everything was an interesting subject at that time.”

Since then, the Dillsboro resident has produced “hundreds” of acrylic paintings, too many to count.

About 23 works created within the last four years will be on display at the Batesville Memorial Public Library from March 1-31. Area residents may chat with Davies during an artist’s reception Saturday, March 8, from 1-5 p.m.

“I refer to this as my Good-Bye and Thank-You, Batesville, Show. I appreciate having a space to show this work and let my ‘kids’ see the painter side of me.” The paintings will be grouped into several themes – inner landscape, family portraits, environmental commentary and three pieces she calls her Midwest fig leaf paintings.

The painter is particularly proud of the inner landscape series. “I have five in the show and another on the easel. This started as a commission from a woman who wanted a portrait without using her physical image. What happened through the process of working with her personal symbols resulted in an idea that is still growing.”

Davies will leave a lasting mark here. Over two decades she and students have created at least nine murals, including two in public areas, funded by the Arts in Education Program of Rural Alliance for the Arts or John W. Hillenbrand Vision Fund for Quality Education. In 1992, the artist and former Batesville High School teacher Charm Seright oversaw students design a Batesville history mural that hung for years at the corner of Walnut and George streets. Some remaining panels are on display at the Big Four Cafe. On the side of the Batesville Area Historical Society Museum is a more recent history piece also created by BHS artists.

School murals beautify many spaces: one with Batesville Middle School seventh-grade art students, another called “Biomes” with the help of artist Andrea Grimsley and Batesville Primary School third-graders, and a third with St. Louis School seventh-graders entitled “…And a Child Shall Lead Them.”

Four more murals adorn the walls of her home school, BIS: “Our Enchanted Forest” assisted by Grimsley, Indiana history and Indiana wildlife with fourth-graders and one exploring the music curriculum with fifth-graders.

Two she painted single-handedly at BPS, “Food for the Land” in the cafeteria in 2008 and one about music during Christmas break in 2011-12. She recalls, “I moved into the music room ... and painted night and day till it was finished. That was a really fun and productive way to work. I brought in a little bed, lots of food, CDs and all my supplies and painted. No distractions, just the work and a few visits and care packages from a good friend!”

Education: Dillsboro High School and the University of Cincinnati

Teaching young artists: Third-graders are artistically fearless. They will try anything and feel good about their creations. By fourth grade, they are noticing that the way they draw and the way things look are not the same and often insecurity about their ability creeps in. I like to think that I have been helpful to many kids to learn some drawing skills so that they do not give up at this juncture. I hope that I have helped students understand that art is so much more than what something looks like. I can be goofy sometimes and this age gets me. They are my people! ... The art that comes out of kids this age is so very creative. I love their ways of expression. There is so much sincerity and often such a very deep level of thinking in their work, if one really looks and asks questions. Every year I encounter a few potential art superstars.

Proudest achievement: I’ve had lots of great moments with many children. I’ve seen faces light up because they were able to achieve something new in their work, and I had a part in their achievement. I have laughed genuinely and fully countless times with my students.

Painting places: I have a large studio right outside of my house. Most winters I set up a small studio in the house near the wood stove and it offers great light and beautiful views. I must say that the birds and the beauty of the winter are often a big distraction.

Music a must while creating: Northern Kentucky University has a great station with singer-songwriters, old and new. It’s a favorite. Also, rock and classical.

Moments frozen in time: When I am painting from vintage photos like my grandma as a toddler ... looking into that innocent face and knowing about so many trials she will be facing ... So many subjects, so little time!

Art honors: Numerous awards regionally, two group shows in Chicago and exhibits in various locations in Cincinnati and northern Kentucky

Artistic philosophy: No matter what the subject, I am always trying to make peace with the surface – to find that just right place up close and at a distance. And working the surface, every change affects something else. As my eye has developed to see beauty in the simple line, or a fresh, quick stroke of bright color against a tightly painted area, I am sometimes at odds with liking something too soon and my quest to push to get the most from the piece. You know what they say – “Less is more” – but sometimes more is never enough.

Future ambitions: Continue growing as a painter and work on getting it out there. I also have summer art camps and will continue those opportunities for kids. Years ago I had women’s creativity retreats at my farm. They were amazing. I may offer those again. And I would really love to paint murals at schools, homes, wherever, just give me a big wall! I also want to grow food and be helpful.

Advantages of being retired: Losing the alarm clock. Driving less. I am ready for the next big adventure. Thank you, students and colleagues. I have lasting memories of so many of you. Please look me up if you want to talk about art and life.