Story By: Susan Lee
Photography By: Tonya Perry
Rebecca Marcussen spent most of her life in Effingham, yet she is a newcomer to Effingham County. To clarify what might sound confusing, she moved to Effingham County, Ga., coincidentally from Effingham, Illinois.
Becky’s story is one of self-discovery and of finding your passion, no matter how long it takes. Three years after moving here, the talented and experienced artist, described as one who creates her own vision of reality, is comfortably settled in our Effingham.
Back in Illinois, Becky was just a few years out of high school when she went to work for the Yellow Pages, laying out ads by hand. Then one day a neighbor asked if she could hand letter a sign on his truck. It wasn’t long before she opened her own sign shop, a business she ran for many years until, in her early 40s, she went back to school to study art.
“My children were grown by then and I just decided it was time to do what I really wanted to do,” she said. “And while I was in school, it felt like being on vacation, enjoying myself and focusing on what I love.”
She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Eastern Illinois University with a bachelor’s degree in 2-D studio art, and went on to earn her master of arts degree in painting and ceramics. In 1997, she joined the faculty at Lakeland Community College of Mattoon, Ill., teaching painting, drawing, understanding art, and art history. In 2005, she became the art instructor and program developer for ARC Community Support Systems, where she developed the arts program and brought out the creativity and expression of physically and mentally challenged adults.
Becky also established her own art studio where she taught afterschool and evening classes to children and adults. “I usually had 25 students in my studio throughout the week, 4 or 5 at time,” she said, adding that she especially enjoyed teaching children. “It’s exciting when it really clicks with some of your young students and you see them get scholarships and go on to college.”
Her students now are mostly retired but nonetheless young at heart and always eager to learn. Once a week, Becky teaches art classes at the Pooler Senior Citizens Center to students who have become almost like family to her.
Dianne Klevinski is one of her regular students at the center and is also one of her biggest fans. “She’s an excellent teacher,” she said. “She knows art history, theory, color and composition. You name it, and she has a deep knowledge of it and understanding of it all. If you say you’re interested in trying another medium such as pastels or oils, the next class Becky has everything you need to give it a try. She is so willing to help you travel new artistic avenues. I feel I have grown substantially in my artistic abilities and overall knowledge of the art community this year because of her guidance.”
In addition to being a great teacher, Dianne said she’s a great person. “She’s fun and comfortable to be around,” she said. “Our class appreciates her sense of humor and loves joking around with her.”
Becky has also taught several workshops for groups in the Savannah area, including watercolor, pastel, calligraphy and painting in oil or pastel. She is an active board member of the Savannah Art Association and shows some of her paintings at the SAA’s new gallery on Chippewa Square. “Becky is friendly, outgoing and just a great gal to know,” said fellow artist and SAA member Andrea Stark. “She’s also an admired and well-respected artist. She does many mediums, including pastels, watercolor, acrylic, charcoal and clay. She loves art so much and is always trying new things as they come along.”
Continuing education is important to Becky, who still attends two or three-day workshops throughout the year. “There’s always something to learn,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve ever taken a workshop where I didn’t walk out and feel like I learned something.”
One of the workshops she splurged on was in New Hampshire with an artist named Koo Schadler, a world-renowned artist and instructor of egg tempera. “It’s an ancient medium that uses finely ground pigments, egg yolk and water,” explained Becky. “It’s done with lots of tiny strokes and layered so you can get a lot of depth and translucence with it. For me, this workshop was kind of like fulfilling a dream.” Since then, one of her egg tempera paintings won Best in Show at an Illinois show and another won Best in Wildlife at the Georgia State Fair. She also has several others hanging in the SAA gallery.
Among Becky’s favorite artists are Winslow Homer, Andrew Wyeth and John Singer Sargent. She also loves and is inspired by contemporary artists Chuck Close and Janet Fish. “I would be thrilled to watch any of these artists at work,” she said. “I find watching favorite artists at work is an inspiration and educational experience that enthuses me and encourages me to have new art experiences.”
The change in scenery from Illinois to coastal Georgia resulted in a shift in subject matter, from still lifes to the great outdoors. “I love the landscapes and wildlife in the area,” said Becky. “The outdoors climate here is so fabulous I’m just drawn to it. Effingham County is a cornucopia of subjects which I find exciting. I’ve painted the Ogeechee and many of the rustic buildings in the area.”
She moved to Georgia to be closer to her family: her son, Brian Marcussen, in Canton, Ga., her daughter, Savannah nature photographer Jill Buckner, and her 5 grandchildren and 5 great-grandchildren.
Becky often spends mornings with Jill at the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge, quietly observing its inhabitants. “I love to paint light and color, especially the early morning light,” she said. “We also spend a lot of time looking for birds. We took a bird watching class out there and since then we bought bird books and make notes of what we see. It’s fun and doesn’t cost anything.”
She gets especially excited when she sees animals she would never have seen in central Illinois. Becky describes in great detail seeing six or seven black skimmers flying over, dragging their lower bills through the water to catch fish and leaving what looked like a jet stream behind.
The mother and daughter took a trip to Florida last year and Becky was thrilled to see Sand Hill cranes. “I’ve heard they can be a nuisance down there, but I had never seen them before,” said Becky. “It’s always great to have Jill with me because she started taking pictures and ended up with more than 500 shots,” photos that Becky could later use for inspiration to recapture the moment. They also visit Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge and anywhere else they can be close to nature.
Becky attended a workshop once and the instructor told her, “Some people just see it, and you see it.” And judging by the visual splendor so beautifully depicted in her paintings, she definitely does see it.