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Acclaimed artist Beverly Erschell, who has maintained a high-profile national art career and paved the way for America to embrace full-time female artists, has been named the recipient of the 2019 Distinguished Alumna Award by the University of Cincinnati.
A 1971 graduate College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning with a Master’s of Fine Arts degree, Erschell is a prolific artist whose notable work has spanned over four decades. Her oils and acrylics center on landscapes, domestic interiors, still life and portraits sporting vivid colors that reflect her gusto for art and life itself. Her work graces the most prestigious galleries in Greater Cincinnati and has been exhibited in such high profile venues as Walter Wickiser Gallery in New York City; VenableNeslage Gallery in Washington, D.C.; Sherry French Gallery, Boca Raton, Florida; and the David Dike Gallery in Dallas, Texas.
“It was not easy for a woman to persuade a gallery to accept an art piece during those early years after graduation,” she recalls. “I used my initials B.H. Erschell so people had no clue I was female. At that time only five percent of artists were female. Now I understand it has risen closer to 60 percent.”
Erschell is modest when called a trailblazer. “I just kept doing what I love to do. In fact, after my first painting sold at Cincinnati’s Miller Gallery in one week I became in their staples. Then they told me I was so prolific that I was flooding the Cincinnati art world! But it wasn’t that easy elsewhere. Sometimes I had to be persistent and lug in my paintings for a gallery to view. They either liked my spunk or wanted to get rid of me because gallery after gallery accepted my work. I exhibited in D.C. for 20 years, then Texas, Palm Beach, Boca. I had a big show in New York."
The fact that her art continues to sell so well is no surprise because Beverly Erschell blends a genuine kindness and contagious art obsession with a gutsy, unstoppable determination. These traits are the basis for her inspirational story.
She attended the rigorous DAAP program thanks to a scholarship and launched her career while raising two children, teaching at various colleges and then coping with a stage-4 breast cancer diagnosis when her kids reached high school. At that point, she was not only painting daily and caring for her family, but teaching art at the University of Cincinnati. In fact, she is the first woman to teach at the UC Fine Arts Program. She also taught at the Cincinnati Art Academy and Northern Kentucky University.
“I did what the doctors told me to do. I had surgery during the holiday break followed by 20 radiation treatments. They told my husband I wouldn’t last a year. But I beat the odds. I went into 100 percent remission. I have such a love for what I do that it was like a factor in my healing.”
Her recovery meant continuing to teach, writing a book and becoming a proud grandmother and now great grandmother of six. It also signaled her return to commissioned projects. Erschell’s work is represented in numerous private, corporate and museum collections including the Cincinnati Art Museum, Dayton Art Museum, American Financial, Procter & Gamble, Cincinnati Financial, Cincinnati Bell, Corporex and the University of Cincinnati. Her current works can be seen in the Eisele Gallery, Banz Studios, Kurtinitis Gallery, Fabulous Frames and the Art Museum Shop in Cincinnati; Framed NKY in Northern Kentucky; and Classic Bookstore and Palm Beach Book Store in Florida.
"The Art of Beverly Erschell" includes her most noted works spanning a 40-year plus career. She wrote and illustrated "The Lucky Greyhound," the story of her adopted greyhound Maple. It is filled with art portraying a special dog’s life.
Erschell has fond memories of her DAAP studies. Though she was just one of a handful of women in the program, the whole group’s camaraderie was like an invisible glue that bonded them together. She remembers all of her fellow students as “sharp and serious.” Most were poor, struggling Master’s students. Erschell was the only woman simultaneously raising a family.
“An old house on Scioto Street is where we worked on our painting and sculpture,” she recalls. “Talk about turning lemons into lemonade! We were all so poor that one person bought some lemons, another brought in some sugar and one fellow managed to make a big bowl and squeeze a garden hose through the window so we could have some lemonade to get us through those long, hot studio days.
“We were required to take painting, sculpture, print making, ceramics, drawing and art history. Art history is so important. You learn why art looks like it does. It’s all-encompassing. Paintings are two-dimensional. When you make a sculpture it gives you a 3-D look at your composition…and the world. I discovered at that time that I paint to learn. And I never stopped learning.”
While at DAAP, Erschell supplemented the family’s income by charging $25 for a portrait. Her husband Fred (Fritz) worked tirelessly as an up and coming funeral director. He eventually retired from the thriving Dobbling, Muehlenkamp-Erschell Funeral Homes with locations throughout Northern Kentucky.
What’s remarkable is that the couple’s long-time home in Fort Thomas, Kentucky, is just a few miles from where Beverly got her start at the DAAP program. It goes to show that you don’t have to move far to make a serious mark on the national art scene.
The Erschells were always grateful for the scholarship that got Bev through school so they turned to philanthropy as a way to give back. She says, “first we were giving $1,000 a year. Then someone approached me and said this was ridiculous. It didn’t make a big enough difference. So we now make a greater impact adding yearly to a $10,000 endowment. It provides scholarships for two students a year. We meet for lunch and tour the gallery together.”
The Beverly Helmbold Erschell Endowed Scholarship was founded in 2012 to support graduate students studying in the School of Art at the University of Cincinnati.
When asked about her legacy, she shows little hesitation. “I do hope I’ve been some sort of inspiration to other artists in that you can create what you want and make a good living out of it. I hope my success as an artist, especially as a female, offers just a little inspiration to pursue what you love and also have the kind of life that you want.”
With her unwavering determination, positive attitude through adversity, an all-consuming love for her craft, and ongoing national success, there is no doubt that Beverly Erschell is one of UC’s outstanding role models and worthy of the 2019 Distinguished Alumna Award.