Joe Beddall article for State College Magazine by Jill Gleason – Dec. 2008

Inside Joe Beddall’s charming old house on the corner of Osmond and West Beaver hangs a painting – one of his own – entitled "Turning Point." It is as fine a work as he has ever created; dark in palette and graced with worn concentric circles, it combines three–dimensional elements (including a somewhat ominous pendulum hanging from the center of the piece) and a Plexiglass, industrial-themed frame into a meditation on what the artist terms "the destructive capacity of nature."

Though it is a nod to global warming, and what many believe to be the soon–to–be irreversible effects of climate change, the title of the painting could also title this chapter of Beddall’s life. As he concludes the first year of his presidency of the State Theatre board, as he continues to ramp up production of his art and begins the arduous process of promoting it outside Pennsylvania, Joe Beddall is at a turning point.

That Beddall is now able to devote himself to his passion is thanks, improbably, to his business, Honeybaked Ham, which he opened on South Atherton in 2003. While few small business owners hang out their own shingle in hopes of garnering more off-hours, Beddall has spent his non–artistic life in the hospitality field, a notoriously time and energy-consuming pursuit. A soft–spoken man with a wide, easy smile and a friendly manner, he says of the venture, "It’s challenging. But we’re one of the most successful franchises in the system. We have a very strong catering and lunch business."

If art is his passion, Beddall’s great loves are his wife of 24 years, Dr. Vivienne Wildes, Penn State assistant professor of hospitality management, and his two daughters, Alexandra and Abby, both Penn State students. Graham Curtis, proprietor of Curtis Signs and Graphics, is a long-time friend of the couple’s (it is Curtis whom Beddall trusted to frame "Turning Point.") He observes, "I think Joe is a very grounded guy. His family is extremely important to him, and he has always done what he has to do to make a living. But when you’re busy doing all that daily stuff, you don’t necessarily find much time for your artwork."

Beddall and Wildes met in high school in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania. A native of Reading, Pa., Beddall moved with his mother and seven siblings to the city following the death of his father. Entranced by art since childhood, he graduated from Kutztown University in 1978 with a degree in art education. The intent, however, was never to go into teaching. "I wanted my energies to go toward making art," Beddall explains. "It’s about taking an idea and giving birth to it, about making things that I want to see come to life."

Following the recommendation of a friend, Beddall and Wildes moved to Washington, D.C. It was there he discovered the process that would give birth to "Waterworks," a series of utterly unique paintings created in collaboration with nature. One day, as he worked in his studio, Beddall noticed a cup with a paintbrush he’d neglected to clean sitting in it. As the water in the cup had evaporated, linear patterns of pigment had been left behind. This observation sparked the development of the method that would ultimately – almost 30 years later – produce "Turning Point."

To create "Waterworks," Beddall submerges panels of aluminum into tanks of water (these tanks reside outside his home, in what the artist calls his "art garden"). He often adds powered pigment to the tank, which, as the water evaporates, leaves patterns on the sheeting. Beddall may also choose to paint the panel itself with acrylics, or add a matte medium, which causes the paint to slough off underwater, or gesso, which adheres more strongly to the aluminum. Mother Nature does her part by, depending on the season, creating frost patterns; snow, rain and summer temperatures also produce singular designs.

Renowned visual artist Gregory Coates, a former New Yorker who now resides in Allentown Pennsylvania, calls invention "one of Joe’s strengths as an artist. Art is not really made, I think – it’s discovered, and Joe does that. I haven’t seen any other artist use weather in the way Joes does to create their work." Continues Coates, a friend of Beddall’s for over 20 years, "His work reduces me to a childlike state. I look at it and just go, ‘Ahhhhhh.’ It’s difficult to put into words what you’ve never seen before."

In 1993, seeking a more family–friendly environment, the Beddall–Wildes clan moved to State College. Beddall spent the ensuing decade as manager of Centre Hills Country Club before making the leap to Honeybaked Ham, which not only gave him the time to make art, but also to help diversify and strengthen the cultural offerings of Happy Valley. Now wrapping up his first term as president of the State Theatre board, Beddall declares, "I really love the idea of the community having something of its own…no offense against Penn State, but the State Theatre is one of the few arts venues that isn’t wrapped up around the university."

Though Beddall notes that garnering financial support from the community "isn’t easy in tough economic times" he adds of the theatre, "we’re surviving. We had a $5 million renovation, and we have to try to retire that debt through donors. Right now, our debt is about $3.5 million. The fundraising never really stops. That’s part of the life of this kind of enterprise – we depend on the charity of others to survive."

Mike Negra, executive director of the State Theatre, believes Beddall is "a great leader. His personality is nothing but positive, and because he is an artist, he knows the challenges and struggles of that world and has a special appreciation for it. You know, it’s a key time in the theatre’s life. We’ve left the working board of directors that got the theatre off the ground, and now we’re transitioning into an operational board. Identifying and engaging the next generation of leaders is probably our biggest challenge – but that is something that Joe has done. He’s been able to identify new members who are going to help us make the decisions that create the sustainability of the theatre."

As this year fades into the next, Beddall’s intent is to continue making art – and to seek spots in New York City and Washington to showcase his work. (During the 80s, Beddall exhibited and sold his paintings in galleries throughout the D.C area). He has had two recent successful one-man shows in his native state – in July, at the State Theatre, and in late 2007, at Mainstreet Galleries, in Kingston. Of the 28 pieces at Mainstreet, 10 of them sold, including the most expensive single piece of art ever purchased at the gallery.

Despite his mastery of the "Waterworks" process, Beddall acknowledges he still has much to learn from nature, including the ability to let go. As he gazes at "Turning Point," he muses, "I was ready to scrap this piece, but my daughter, Abby, saved it. I had put it in the tank last winter, and for a month, it was frozen solid. When there was finally a thaw I pulled it out and so much had deteriorated. It wasn’t what I expected. The thing with this process, I have to be really willing to take what it gives me and not be so focused on imposing my will on it. I’ve really learned that through this piece."

Artist Statement

The Post Modern art world offers a plethora of directions, processes and medium for today's art makers to explore. So much is produced in the name of art today, and the challenge to introduce new ideas is a daunting task. As always, this test-of-time challenge remains at the core of the creative process.

Currently, my work involves two different directions: one heavy on process (Waterworks), the other explores alternative materials within the scope of traditional abstract art (Screenworks). Although both methods tend to fall into the category of painting, it is the three-dimensional world that plays a significant role. I like to think that Van Gogh turned painting into low-relief sculpture, so, I've always thought of paint as a 3-D material with sculptural form.

Waterworks are created in the 3rd dimension: flat, painted panels of aluminum are submerged in vats of diluted pigment which causes the low-relief painted surface to rise from the panel. Sediments of pigment settle on the high spots of this raised surface to form a 3-D visual quality. Upon drying, the surface again becomes flat; yet, evidence of its previous 3-D form remains.

Screenworks emphasize the 3-D quality of paint by “freeing” the impasto on a porous surface. The opaque application of paint stakes a claim as a solid material casting a shadow on the surface behind it. The paint has valid dimension instead of being used to create the illusion of 3-D space. The screen's surface also offers interesting options. For example, pushing paint through the mesh introduces textural qualities and possibilities; or, painting only the mesh creates transparent imagery and playful give-and-take between surfaces.

Creating something that hasn't been seen or experienced before, something truly original may seem impossible at this point in time. But I am reminded of George Kubler's theories in The Shape of Time: Remarks on the History of Things where changes in the development of art are seen as links in the chain of artistic evolution. That is a worthy, more practical goal as I address the contemporary art scene.

Is innovation still a key component in the creative process? Does anyone truly make a clean break from the past? I think we all stand on the shoulders of those who have pushed the idea of progress in art forward. We have our springboards for ideas. How we give form to those ideas may or may not meet the criteria to be considered as a “link in the chain.” The important thing is the making and the journey it takes us on.