Beverly Carden Amundson in her home studio in Lenexa, Kansas (photo by Nathan Lang)
In plain sight, you can see that Beverly Carden Amundson was born to create art — it’s her passion.
“En plein air” is one of the ways she does it.
First, a base in watercolors. Then, broad strokes with the soft pastels and details with the hard pastels . . . Or perhaps it’s an oils day. Quick, quick, quick before the light changes.
All it takes is a spark of inspiration and Bev is engrossed in her work.
“Painting still lifes made me realize that everything has a soul,” she said, while demonstrating techniques for handling pastels.
Looking around Bev’s home studio in Lenexa, Kansas, you can begin to map out her lifelong journey with art — paintings, art supplies, awards, keepsakes, a sewing machine and even a loom fill the space.
A quick scan of the walls reveals a portrait of her husband, Jerry, a fellow artist who passed 15 years ago; a gumball machine and the painting inspired by it; stacks of plein air pieces that Amundson completed in less than two hours each; easels and art kits ready for the next adventure; stacks of awards and some articles documenting her career, including one about the first piece of art she sold in junior high to the American Pencil Company.
One will also likely notice a prized possession — a coffee tabletop that she and Jerry worked on circa the summer of 1957, before they were married.
Jerry found out a local glass company discarded their glass scraps in barrels behind their building and asked permission to go through the pieces. The couple collected their favorite colors, created a mosaic on a hollow door and added legs. It was a prominent piece in their living room for years before they took the legs off and began using it as wall art to fondly remember that season.
Other moments during that season of life were more challenging.
AN UNFORESEEN OBSTACLE
The couple married in February 1958, during a snowstorm. All of their family crammed into Bev’s parents’ living room, with the pastor backed up against a fireplace, sweating buckets.
“The poor minister,” Bev said, letting out a little chuckle.
Bev was in her junior year at the Kansas City Art Institute when she got married. She had begun at the school on a full scholarship at age 17. She spent most of the last three years commuting, taking two buses a day with all of her art supplies in tote, back and forth from her parents’ home to get to school.
Her parents didn’t think it was necessary for a girl to attend college and couldn’t have afforded it anyway. So, she felt privileged to be there.
With the marriage finalized, she proudly reported to the school office to let them know she’d be going by her married name.
“Things were different in those days,” Bev explained, as her gaze shifted with the sting of the memory.
The news of her marriage initiated a revoking of her scholarship.
“The thought was that a married woman wouldn’t take art seriously.”
Jerry, who had finished up at KCAI and UMKC, settled into a job at an ad agency and Bev, knowing there was no money to pay for her final year in school, shifted her focus to raising a family.
The sudden shift in circumstance didn’t mean Bev gave up her dream. She would take care of her family by day and do portraits, mostly of kids, on the side. She sewed and even took up weaving.
“My husband, being an artist in the beginning, was great, because we were each other’s best constructive critics and encouragers,” Bev said. “We made a pact when we first got married that I’d help him get his business going and take care of the family and he would help me have a career . . . He had every intention of it happening and it just wasn’t in the cards. And you have to play the cards you are dealt. You don’t have a choice.”
By the time the youngest of Bev’s three children was in middle school, Jerry had a successful design and printing firm, The Amundson Group. They rented a J.C. Nichols building, where they had full photography, a full commercial department, 13 artists and typesetting. Bev ran the typesetting department.
“It was a true family business,” she smiled. “There were many nights when we were at the presses in the middle of the night, trying to keep our kids entertained while finishing up press checks.”
When her youngest headed off to college, Bev officially picked up painting again. She would start in the evening and paint until 3 a.m., producing work for one local gallery and one in Chicago.
As she settled into a new creative rhythm, tragedy struck.
Jerry was diagnosed with lung cancer.
“It was another immediate game changer. I had to learn how to run the business. I even did the bookwork, and I had never even balanced our checkbook.”
Bev said Jerry’s doctor pointed to his “mind over matter” attitude that helped him overcome the health obstacles thrown his way over the years. But as one health-related issue would get resolved, it seemed another would pop up.
“Each time I’d go back to painting, he’d have another health problem. He was sick for 24 years and we were married for 48 years.”
She pointed to a portrait she painted of him after he had come back from a hunting trip, donning a cowboy hat and warm coat. She described him as tall, strong, handsome. Equal parts businessman, entrepreneur, outdoorsman.
During one particular stretch of illness, they weren’t sure Jerry would make it.
He had 50 percent chance of surviving an upcoming surgery and a 7 percent chance of surviving a year after it.
“My husband said he figured it took a few lives to make up that 7 percent, so he figured he’d be one of them,” Bev noted.
He was one of the 7 percent.
Since Jerry would need to focus on his health, Bev took over the business. Their son, Eric, also began working for the company, initially only when he was back from college for breaks and, eventually, full-time.
Early on, she had a pattern of “cry, pray, go to hospital, pray, go to the office . . .”
But despite huge obstacles, Eric and Bev took their company international, eventually opening offices in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Dongguan and Taipei.
Life hardly ever goes the way you plan. Bev has accepted this.
“I always hoped I would be a full-time professional artist,” she said without any tone of regret in her voice. “Well, I have found that there is more to life than just being known.”
The last 15 years have brought great sorrow, with the passing of Jerry, and great joy, seeing three of her grandchildren become professional artists.
Even without being in a studio “full-time” as an artist in the scope of her career, Bev has made a name for herself.
In her personal art journey, Bev has excelled at pastels. In 2006, she even went to New York to study with Daniel Greene, considered the father of pastels.
She’s won many awards and holds shows across the region, including multiple at Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art.
Holding a Master Painter ranking, Bev is a former president of the MidAmerica Pastel Society. She’s also a Signature ranking member of the Pastel Society of America in New York and a Charter Member of the Portrait Society of America.
In 2018, she branched out into illustration with local writer Jason Sivewright’s book “My Sweetest One,” a book benefitting the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.
Even the past year, during the pandemic, Bev has stayed active — doing a few online competitions, regularly heading outdoors to capture nature’s beauty, featuring pieces in galleries and even doing a show.
It’s the joy of creating and having someone appreciate that creation that keeps her going.
“One of the biggest joys is when a painting finds a home because you think, ‘Somebody is going to love this like I loved painting it.’”