Vermeer. Rembrandt. Van Gogh. Think of artists who hail from Holland and those are names that spring to mind. Annelein Beukenkamp may not. But there's still plenty of time to get to know her because, unlike those long-dead master painters, she's only 37 and living in Burlington. This Dutch girl became a Vermonter at age 13, when her parents moved the family from Wassenaar to Londonderry. Though not a trace remains of her accent, Beukenkamp is still multilingual, and multicultural -- at the University of Vermont, she majored in French. After graduation, though, her minor -- art -- took over. Et voilà.
If you've shopped at Boutilier's Art Center on the Church Street Marketplace, you've seen the tall, blonde, blue-eyed artist at her day job. And if you've been to Furchgott Sourdiffe Gallery in Shelburne, the Green Mountain Fine Art Gallery in Stowe, or any number of summery group shows around the state, you've probably seen Beukenkamp's work.
This year her cheery floral watercolors -- actually, one in particular -- caught the attention of the Easter Seals, the national organization that supports people with disabilities. "White Lily" was recently chosen to appear on the 2006 stamps. Beukenkamp had seen an ad for the competition in an artists' magazine and decided to give it a try. For more than 70 years, the charity has been mailing out sheets of the artist-designed stamps as a fundraiser. A virtual gallery of all the images can be found at easterseals.com (though Beukenkamp's wasn't yet posted as of this writing). In 1952, Easter Seals incorporated the lily, "a symbol of new growth and renewal," as its official logo. "Now seals are being traded on eBay," Beukenkamp notes.
Unfortunately, the honor won't make her a household name -- artists are not credited on the seals. Nor is there any cash prize, and Easter Seals even gets to keep the original artwork. "The thrill of being on the thing" is the reward, Beu-kenkamp says. This spring, more than 15 million Americans will receive miniature, adhesive versions of her painting in their mail. A good share of them will stick the seals on outgoing envelopes or in scrapbooks -- and, eventually, trade them.
Easter Seals is not the first nonprofit to enlist the luminous beauty of Beukenkamp's watercolors. Her work has graced the posters, brochures, calendars and greeting cards of local causes, from the Flynn Center's annual Fine Wine & Food Festival to an affordable-housing group in Bennington. Everyone, apparently, loves flowers.
"There seems to be a particular appeal in the dreary days of winter," suggests Scott Noble, who has represented Beukenkamp at Green Mountain Fine Art for four years. And her technique stands out among watercolorists, he says. "She has a very loose, vertical style that enables her to create a unique effect -- the drips create a stemlike effect for the flowers. Annelein gave a demonstration here last summer and it was heavily attended by both purchasers and other watercolor painters."
Noble clarifies that Beukenkamp actually paints with her paper on a vertical -- as opposed to the more typical slant or horizontal surface used by watercolorists. "It's impossible to control, so there's a lot of serendipity," Noble adds. "But it seems to work out very well for her."
Why are her subjects nearly all bulbed flowers? "I just like them," says Beukenkamp, conceding that the vast flower fields of her beloved birthplace left a lasting impression. "It allows me to use all the colors in those tubes of paint," she adds. "Poppies aren't always red; you throw in a little orange . . . And the leafy greens aren't just green -- there's brown, blue, ochre." Sounds like Vermeer.
While Beukenkamp's "White Lily" painting for Easter Seals was necessarily simple -- just a single blossom mingled with rays of color -- her paintings more often depict an unfettered riot of them, as flowers are found in nature. She doesn't rely on plein air, however; Beukenkamp works from memory in her cozy studio, a renovated garage in Burlington's Old North End. "Flowers are what I know," she says. "I garden." Besides, her blooms are not rendered in precise realism -- she interprets them. "She has an ability to leave her subject really loose, which is appealing in watercolor, but to depict exactly what she wants -- a daffodil, a hydrangea, poppies -- in vivid color," says Noble. "They are somewhat abstract, but you know what she's showing you."
So how to explain the rooster fetish? Her portraits of proud fowls "fly out the door, in a manner of speaking," Beukenkamp says with a smile. It probably got started when she painted a rooster more than 10 years ago for
The Chanticleer, a restaurant in Man-chester. "I did one, and someone bought it up right away," she says. A spinoff restaurant called The Little Rooster purchased a chicken triptych. Beukenkamp notes that, as with flowers, the roosters' multihued feathers also allow her to take liberties with pigment. She's not sure why customers like them so much, but sales of her images -- birds and blooms -- have multiplied.
Beukenkamp's art career continues to blossom, too; she's become a perennial presence in the state's most prestigious exhibits. She's a Signature Member of the Vermont Watercolor Society -- an honor achieved only "if you get accepted into three shows in three years' time," she explains -- and an associate member of the New England version of the artist group. Beukenkamp hasn't tired of her challenging medium. "I'm going for color, composition -- it's feel-good, happy work," she says. "I'm not striving for any kind of statement." She credits the late, great Vermont watercolorist Barbara Smail with enormous influence. "She was just everything to me," Beukenkamp says. "Every opportunity I had to see her work, I'd go."
In the next generation of artists, some aspiring watercolorist may say the same of Annelein Beukenkamp -- that Dutch artist.