As you travel around Hickman County, you may notice in many businesses and homes watercolors in a certain style. For years, Dr. I.B. Beale painted scenes of Hickman County and sold them all over the region, and they are prized by those lucky enough to have one. “Doc”, as he was known to many of his friends, started painting as a young boy in Martin, Tennessee, where his father was an optometrist who often took goods and services in place of money. One of his patients offered art lessons and young Irvan was the reluctant recipient of that particular service.
World War II and college interrupted his painting, but he kept in practice by doing cartoons and illustrations for air base publications. After the war, Beale followed in his father’s footsteps as an optometrist and settled with his wife in Centerville, where they raised three children, one who is a well- known artist in his own right. Painting re-entered his life in 1954 when his wife Mary gave him a set of oil paints for Christmas. Unfortunately, or perhaps serendipitously, Mary was allergic to turpentine and Beale switched to watercolors.
In the 1970’s, Beale became friends with Mr. and Mrs. Ray Sims, Maury County art dealers, who agreed to represent him in their art gallery. His fame spread across Middle Tennessee and he was in demand to paint scenes from not only Hickman County, but surrounding counties. Minnie Pearl had several of his works in her Nashville home – one of his popular subjects was the “Colleytown Bridge”, which could be seen from the porch of her childhood home.
“Doc” taught art lessons in Hickman County and conducted workshops across Tennessee, and his influence and style can be seen in other artists who followed him. One of the first lessons he taught his students was to “Look out the back door first. The best subjects are close to home.” He was a common sight around the county, setting up his French easel wherever a scene or building caught his artist’s eye. “I like to be able to walk up to that old barn and feel the texture of the wood,” he said. “I can walk outside and hear the sounds the farmer heard. It’s easier to make the painting live. That’s what every painter tries to do.” Whether in his misty depiction of an old iron bridge, the delicate tracery of a spider web, or the bittersweet nostalgia of a weathered barn alone in a neglected meadow, Beale succeeded in bringing his subjects to life. His death in 1996 was a loss for the community, but his works have given its citizens cherished reminders of vanished scenes around Middle Tennessee.
Beale also created black and white drawings of local scenes, such as old country stores, local landmarks and Centerville native Minnie Pearl, many of which were donated to local organizations for use in fundraising. He was a prolific worker, spending much of his spare time either painting or looking for scenes to paint. Occasionally, you can find a piece of his work for sale, although most owners are reluctant to part with their treasures. Examples of his art can be seen at Breece’s Café, where he had a gallery upstairs and taught lessons for several years, and the Hickman County Public Library, which features the works of several local artists. Prints of one of his black and white drawings of Minnie Pearl are available for sale at the Hickman County Chamber of Commerce office.
A few more examples of Beale’s works can be seen on his son David’s website at http://www.davidbealeartist.com/blog/content/i-b-beale/04/irvan-beale-s-paintings.html