“I wanted to see what Arthello saw and what drew him to this lake,” she says. “And when I got there, I saw it right away. I saw the magic of this lake.
Beck’s best friend, fine art photographer Carl Sidle, says they used to “chase the light” through the Texas Hill Country, East Texas and into Louisiana and Mississippi, from morning at dusk.
The classes Beck took at Lincoln High School were his only formal art education. He was otherwise self-taught at the Dallas Central Public Library.
“Before, I spent hours in the library, but I never read a book,” he once said. “I may have missed a lot, but I only read the photos.”
Mae Beck first saw her future husband at Lincoln High School when she was a freshman and he was a senior, already known as an artist. She never spoke to him then.
They connected years later, on the campus that is now Paul Quinn College.
In the 1960s he was painting scenes related to the civil rights movement, “and he felt the pain of the struggle”, says Mae Beck.
She told him to start painting happy things, and that’s how they came up with the idea of depicting ordinary life. He was criticized for “painting black”, she says. Some of his most famous paintings are religious, depicting Jesus and other biblical figures in black, part of the liberation theology that influenced him.
“He wanted a gallery when I met him,” says Mae Beck.
She also wanted a gallery early in their marriage because her husband filled their apartment with paintings and often invited people to see them.
“It wasn’t where I could feel comfortable after work,” she says. “Two or three people at a time came to see his art.”
Around 1969, they rented a green shotgun house on First Avenue near Fair Park, which became a gathering place for artists, poets, and musicians. The gallery moved to Ledbetter and then to Saner in Ramsey before buying the two-storey building on South Beckley which is still the Arthello Beck Jr. studio.
The gallery was open from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, as Beck worked full time and was there all day on Saturday and half days on Sunday.
Mae Beck opened a daycare center outside their adjacent house in 1978. Many of her husband’s “ordinary life” paintings are based on photographs he took of children who were enrolled there.
“He was a gentle giant” is a common thing people say about Arthello Beck Jr.
Beck was 6ft 4in tall and an engaging conversationalist who knew everyone in the neighborhood, his friends say.
He died aged 63 in 2004.