Artist at home with cars or portraits

November 03, 2003|by RICHARD F. BELISLE

FALLING WATERS, W.Va. - It took a 200-mph race car to bring Beth Beckner-Mills back to her easel and canvas.

Mills, 56, of Falling Waters, worked for years in Africa and the Middle East as a consultant for the U.S. State Department under contract with the U.S. Agency for International Development.

A Hagerstown native, she earned a bachelor's degree in biology with an minor in art followed by a master's degree and doctorate in education. She taught school and spent five years off and on in the Peace Corps with assignments in Africa. As a consultant for the Agency for International Development, she did in-service training for the State Department in Africa and the Middle East.

During those years she continued to dabble in art, painting an occasional portrait or scene.

Her interest in art goes back to when she was 5. By the time she was in seventh grade, she drew a "recognizable" portrait.


"My teacher hung it on the wall," she said.

In 1994, she married Douglas Mills, 61, also of Hagerstown, and a national road-racing champion. He drives the circuit from Watkins Glen, N.Y., to Lime Rock, Conn., to Daytona Beach and Sebring in Florida, and to tracks around the country wherever Grand Prix road racing is under way.

Beth Beckner-Mills retired from her consulting job with Agency for International Development when she got married.

Her interests turned toward racing when her husband returned to the circuit in 1998. In 2000 and again in 2001, he won the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona Endurance Race.

"I fell in love with racing," she said. "It's a pageant, noisy and colorful. I became part of my husband's pit crew."

Racing eventually led to her return to art. Her husband, as an award for winning a race, received a painting of him with his car.

"He told me I could paint better than that," she said. "I had been away from painting for about 30 years."

She took it up again by painting portraits of winning drivers and their cars. She's done about eight so far, she said.

Her repertoire extends far beyond race drivers and their cars. She has a book of prints of her paintings that shows her real forte - portraits. They include single subjects, entire families and animals. She also does landscapes, including scenes from the Tri-State area.

Her paintings can be seen in the Mansion House Art Gallery in Hagerstown, in a gift shop in Thurmont, Md., and once a year at Valley Mall, she said.

Her commissions come from those venues, she said. She also sells prints of her original works.

Beckner-Mills works in watercolors, oils and pastels.

Prices for her paintings range from $35 for a portrait of a pet to hundreds of dollars or more for her major works.

One of her latest commissions will pay about $1,000, she said.

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