God’s Little Acre. That’s what Bethany Simpson’s best friend—her granddad—called the Eastern Shore when she was growing up playing in the remote beauty of Red Bank, a wild twist of blue waters and emerald green marshes on the lower Shore’s seaside.
“My mother didn’t believe in TV, so we were forced to get out and in nature,” the 27-year-old artist explains, adding a “Thank God” and a bright smile for emphasis.
Being homeschooled, she had more time to build forts, hunt for arrowheads and go crabbing, all the while having her senses immersed in a sea and sky world. Now as an adult, this inspiring panorama flows from her paintbrushes.
Simpson’s paintings breathe brilliant life into Shore scenes with the brightest blues and greens, the intense orange and reds of local sunsets, and rivers of vivid yellow and magenta.
Photo by Cecil Watts
Her kaleidoscope-colored coastal folk art caught the eye of the environmental group Citizens for a Better Eastern Shore (CBES), organizers of the 25th Anniversary Between the Waters Bike Tour, held this year on Oct. 28. They commissioned her original painting to represent the tour.
“It’s a landmark year for our bike tour, an event that helped to get folks thinking about how ecotourism could be a sustainable industry here,” says CBES President Arthur Upshur. “Bethany’s work draws attention to what CBES works to protect and does so in a uniquely beautiful way.”
Many of Simpson’s paintings depict the quintessential elements of the Shore’s waterside villages; deadrise boats, crab shacks and docks often inhabited by a waterman in white boots, his black lab silhouetted against a rainbow of primary colors. When the subject is local farms, it’s a surprise of rows and rows of extraordinarily colorful crops, perhaps not found in nature but in the passion of imagination.
In all Simpson’s work, the joy between painter and subject is palpable. “Loving the Shore, I never get bored of painting the Shore,” she says. “I’m so blessed to be able to do the work I love and earn a living.”
As a child, Simpson felt a calling to be a painter, but that passion was nearly derailed by her own disappointment in not being able to emulate her mother’s talents as a realist painter.
“I tried and tried but realism—it just wasn’t working for me,” Simpson explains. “I was upset because I always believed I was born to be an artist.”
It wasn’t until she was 20 that she decided to try painting again on her own terms. Though she appreciates the beauty of realism, she says her style is more “messy, crazy” and also “busy” in a fascinating way.
“I like to cram the canvas, cover it with little details,” she laughs. “A man who bought one of my paintings texted me the other day saying, ‘I just now noticed this little boat.’”
After selling her first painting to a very appreciative buyer, she started to believe the idea of painting for a living could be a reality. Seven years later, it is.
Simpson is a resident artist at the Lemon Tree Gallery and Studio in Cape Charles, and her paintings fly off the bistro walls of the Machipongo Trading Company located near Eastville on Lankford Highway/Route 13. Her work is also showcased on her Facebook page: Bethany Simpson, Artist and soon a website.
When not painting, Simpson and her boyfriend work at restoring a century-old home in Nassawadox. The tiny town’s Native American name means “land between two waters” and is the title of the painting she donated for the bike tour.
In the past, CBES has promoted the event through the creative eye of a local artist. In the beginning years, T-shirts donned the popular work of Eastville artist Mary Sawyer Miller, who graciously donated her Eastern Shore vignettes, to the delight of cyclists.
For the first time, the tour will have professional bike jerseys for sale. A vibrant design was needed that also embraced the essence of what makes the region so special. Simpson’s work was the perfect fit.
She enthusiastically embraced the purpose of the Bike Tour mantra Pedal to Protect the Eastern Shore and agreed to paint and donate a special work.
“I love what CBES does, and this is a way I can help,” she explains. “I want to see the Shore protected, its history its culture and not turned into Ocean City [Md.] I want my sister’s kids and maybe someday my kids, to have what I had.”
The 25th Anniversary CBES Between the Waters Bike Tour is held Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017. The ride begins at Sunset Beach Resort with 25-, 40-, 60- and 100-mile tours.
A raffle for Bethany Simpson’s original Between the Waters 16 x 20” acrylic painting valued at $500 and ready for hanging can be found on CBES.org for $20 per chance or 3 for $50. All proceeds support Pedal to Protect Virginia’s Eastern Shore.
Bethany Simpson can be reached at email@example.com.