Shelly Bechtel Shepherd
36" x 28" Framed
Richmond Times-Dispatch Dated Jan. 30, 2013 – Randy Hallman
With her five-year fight with cancer nearing an end, Shelly Bechtel Shepherd didn't utter definitive last words. However, she left a final expression that punctuated her life perfectly — a last painting.
In December, she and her son gathered friends for an expedition to Washington — wine, dining, museums. Struck by the view from her hotel room, she broke out her ever-present watercolors and rendered her vision of the rooftops of Embassy Row.
It is a small painting, prized now by her son, Henry Shepherd Pitman of Los Angeles.
A Richmond resident, Ms. Shepherd taught art for more than two decades at venues including area schools, the Visual Arts Center of Richmond and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. She had a national reputation as a watercolorist and her art was widely collected.
She died Friday at an area hospital. She was 56.
Kim Holmstrom of Richmond was a friend and former student.
"As a friend she was fiercely loyal," Holmstrom said. "She was the one who, when your house burned down or your boyfriend treated you wrong, showed up with flowers and a basket of champagne, cheese and crackers."
As a teacher, Holmstrom said, Ms. Shepherd asked for and received serious work from her students. "She was very directed, very controlled," Holmstrom said. "She had great respect for her art and the tools of her art — the paint, the brushes."
Ms. Shepherd was born in Lexington. Her mother, Jeanne Shepherd of Bath County, was also an artist. Her father, Frank Shepherd, was a cattle farmer and a lawyer specializing in murder and arson. By the time she was 18, Ms. Shepherd was a professional artist. She studied art in Holland and continued to travel throughout her life.
With her sharp, controlled watercolors she was a Precisionist, an important school of art since the 1920s.
Her paintings have been featured in dozens of juried and solo exhibitions and are in many permanent collections, including those of Capital One; Media General Inc., parent company of the Richmond Times-Dispatch; the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond; the Virginia General Assembly; VCU Medical Center; and the Ringling School of Art and Design in Sarasota, Fla.
She imparted elements of her style to her students, Holmstrom said.
"You can recognize her influence," Holmstrom said. "You'll see a painting and realize — that's a work by one of Shelly's students."
Among those students at the Visual Arts Center was her son. As a youngster, he found that taking a class from his mother was not easy. "She picked on me a little," he said, laughing. "I liked the pottery classes better."
Now 30, Pitman is a professional cook. He has operated an art gallery in the past and is determined to open another. He credits his mother's influence for his willingness to risk such a change.
"We always had a great bond," he said. "She did what she wanted to do. She lived her dream. When we were traveling, she would see something she wanted to paint and she would pull over and get out her watercolors and paint.
"Being an artist was a choice that sometimes made it hard to make a living," he said, "but life was always fun with her. For me, that was ordinary. I thought all parents were like that."
So it was in Washington on that last trip. Ms. Shepherd saw what must be painted, broke out her tools and gave her friends and her son a last expression of art and love.
Survivors include her son and her mother.
A celebration of her life will be held Saturday at 2 p.m. in the watercolor classroom at the Visual Arts Center of Richmond at 1812 W. Main St.