Crystal Beshara has always known that she was destined to be a professional artist.
“I grew up on a little hobby farm, between Fournier and St-Isidore,” said Beshara, who now lives in L’Orignal. “Both of my parents were artistic. It was very normal, for me, to be exposed to creativity in general. In Kindergarten I knew that’s what I wanted to do, to be a professional artist.”
At home, her parents encouraged her ambition and the best part of her years as a student at Plantagenet Elementary School was when she had a chance to draw and paint.
“I drew and painted with vigour during all my elementary school years,” she said, then chuckled as she recalled seeing one of her early works, as a 10-year-old, that one of her teachers had saved.
In high school and, later on at university, Beshara noted, she “dabbled a bit” with sculpture and other three-dimensional forms of art. But for her painting was her primary mode of expressing what she felt when she observed the countryside around her. And she didn’t see things in terms of impressions or the abstract.
“Realism was very important to me,” she said.
More than two decades ago she took the leap to become a full-time professional artist. Since then her works have appeared in shows all across Canada and in the United States and other countries. One Ottawa gallery displays her pieces on a regular basis.
Beshara alternates working in watercolour and oil, depending on her subject matter, her own mood at the time, and the amount of detail she wants to put into the scene she envisages. Oil, she finds, is best visual impressions of landscapes or country scenes, while watercolour works best for her on broad stroke views of the countryside.
Most of the time she works at her studio, using photographs of various locations as reference guides for a painting. She’s been tempted sometimes to try setting up an easel on-site but finds it better to keep to keep to the studio for her projects, which focus on the barns and farms and other scenery of Prescott-Russell, for the most part.
“My career has been dedicated to rural art,” she said. Her latest series, Tales from the County, on display at the Arbor Gallery in Vankleek Hill, includes more than two dozen pieces, some recent and others from her earlier years as an artist, portraying various aspects of Prescott-Russell’s agricultural landscape, ranging from pastoral images to scenes from Vankleek Hill’s own annual country fair.
Some of the older pieces have acquired a heritage documentary status now, as they depict old barns that no longer exist now, due to the savage windstorm that blew across Eastern Ontario last year or else because time has taken its toll at last on the worn and weathered wooden structures.
“This exhibit, I think, reflects our heritage,” she said, adding that it dovetails well with an online project with which she has become involved.
Beshara is one of 175 members of The Heritage Barn Project on Facebook. The group page, which is open to public view, displays photos of barns, new, old, or unusual, found all over. Where possible, posters have included the location of the barn, and noted whether or not the owner of the property has given permission for artists to use it in their paintings and drawings. Beshara encourages everyone to visit the group page and share in the appreciation for this architectural feature of the rural lifestyle.