Beverly Wilson, known for her captivating vineyard scenes that appeal to locals as well as tourists, has turned her artistic attention in another direction — buildings.
Rather than focusing on palatial wine country chateaus that attract visitors to tasting rooms, she has become intrigued with some of the older, “iconic” buildings in town.
Wilson began her Landmark Series nearly a year ago when she heard that Shackford’s Kitchen store was being sold to a new owner.
“I didn’t want Shackford’s to change because I love it so much,” Wilson said.
The realization that the beloved, family-owned kitchen store, established by John Shackford in 1975, might cease to exist as it had for decades, pushed Wilson into action. The same day she found out about it, she started going around town looking for other buildings that are dear to the community—places that suggest stability in a rapidly changing environment.
“The fact that they (buildings) are still here is really intriguing to me because I’ve seen the city change so quickly in the last 10 years,” Wilson said.
She took photos from various angles at all times of day of the buildings she selected. Afterward, from her studio, she used the tools she has come to trust over a lifetime – oil paint, brushes and canvas to begin creating her new series.
Wilson said she feels “energized” by the work she is doing and hopes it will bring “attention and honor to our town history.”
So far, Wilson has painted Shackford’s Kitchen Store, Butter Cream Bakery, Napa Mill and a detail shop that is on the corner of 3rd and Church streets, across from Val’s Liquors.
Wilson has been a customer at both Shackford’s Kitchen Store and Butter Cream Bakery for decades.She said she has always appreciated being able to find even the most unusual kitchen gadget at Shackford’s Kitchen Store and fondly remembers the old-fashioned receipts.
When it comes to Butter Cream Bakery, Wilson is a big fan of the building with pink and white stripes and enjoys sitting at the counter because she likes the food and the atmosphere. “It is always busy in there,” she said.
Wilson said that when she started her Napa Mill painting, she was hoping to show it to Harry Price, the owner of the Napa Mill Complex, while he was still alive.
“He’d been here a few times and liked my work,” she said.
Price, a developer, preservationist and history buff who is credited with putting “the Napa riverfront on the map,” died on Feb. 12.
Wilson said she intends to do some historical research on the Landmark Series paintings she has already done as well as on those she is planning to paint.
“I felt a lot of these (buildings) were from the same era,” she said. “Thankfully, they haven’t changed much.”
Details, such as a station wagon with the rear hatch opened inside a car detailing establishment with a blue car outside, and an owner writing up a ticket for a client create an authentic believability in another painting in Wilson’s new series.
“I’m getting out of my normal routine,” she said. “I’m trying to include the ordinary things around the buildings. I’d never painted a car before — or a lamp post or a stop sign, but I found these details are just as important as the building itself.”
Wilson is using different proportions for her Landmark Series than she has on her previous paintings. Her newest paintings are almost square.
“I went out and bought different size canvases for these and did brown and white sketches of the buildings,” she said. “I started all four at the same time.”
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Wilson laments that some places are gone now that she wishes she had painted but this knowledge motivates her to capture, through her paintings, what remains.
She is scoping out a number of places in town as well as places throughout the valley for future paintings in her Landmark Series.
“I’m planning to do Zellers Hardware store downtown because that’s going to be gone,” she said.
The Food City Shopping complex, on Jefferson Street and Old Sonoma Road that houses Family Drug, a cornerstone of Napa for over 60 years, is also on the list, Wilson said.
Though her paintings portray the buildings accurately, they are — somehow — more beautiful than the original.
How does she do it?
“My way of doing this is to add the vividness, to exaggerate what’s there but I really haven’t changed the reality — just color and composition,” she said.
She said she gets “excited” about turning what is sometimes “dull and colorless” into something beautiful with her own color pallet. One of her secrets is leaving grey and brown out “even though, in reality, they are there.”
“I like to call attention to things that most people just drive by,” she said. “That’s what my focus and purpose has been.”
She isn’t sure where her new series will be displayed but expects to have them at her studio during Open Studios. “I’d like to have them together somewhere,” she said.
Her ability to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary springs from a lifetime of devotion to painting. Wilson started art lessons from Carmelo de Simone, an Italian artist in San Mateo, when she was 10 years old.
During the early 1970s, she was a student of Richard Diebenkom at UCLA where she earned her BFA. Influenced by Impressionist painters and colorists, she developed her own vibrant style.
While traveling through Italy for a year, she fell in love with the vineyard regions of Tuscany and Umbria and supported her travels by selling her paintings.
In 1983, after working as a graphic designer in San Francisco, she moved to Napa Valley, which reminded her of the Italian countryside. She operated Beverly Wilson Design here for nearly two decades before devoting herself full time to fine art.
Her work is in many fine collections including those of Beringer Vineyards, Franzia Winery, The Doctor’s Company, The Banff School of Fine Art, Justin Vineyards, Lasgoity Vineyards, Demptos Cooperage, U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, and Mr. and Mrs. David Wolper.
Her painting “Cabernet Harvest” hangs in the state Capitol building in Sacramento.
Her work is also at Calamity Jane’s Trading Company in Napa.
In her book, “Napa Valley Impression,” published in 2011, Wilson’s paintings pay tribute to the natural beauty of nature and to the agricultural laborers she sees working in the vines near her home studio during harvest and pruning season.
While Wilson is throwing herself into her new Landmarks Series, she has not abandoned painting pastoral life.
“One of my favorite things is to take something overlooked and ordinary and turn it into something that is going to really call attention to it,” she said.