Those of us who knew Bevan Chipman knew a man who dedicated his life to people. We knew him as the social worker that guided many, as the traveling painter who loved to ask directions if only for the opportunity to engage in conversation with the locals, and as the man who befriended, painted and so generously gave to the Sudanese population in Salt Lake City. We know that he accomplished much from being instrumental in starting the Avenues Street Fair to serving on the board of the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company.
How one lives can often be reflected in how one dies. So it was of my dear friend, Bevan, who passed away in September due to cancer. He and I had been friends for many years, traveling to Eastern Europe together, crossing paths daily at our studios in the Rockwood building, and exercising at the same gym. The last seven months of Bevan’s life, I was honored to be able to spend Sunday dinners with him. Through this process, I witnessed first hand that Bevan’s death was handled just as his life was, and getting ready for this end of life journey differed little from the way he would prepare for an art show. He was completing his ultimate masterpiece and paying attention to each and every detail.
In early 2007, Bevan realized that chemo and radiation were not likely to cure his cancer, so he chose to forego treatment and retain the quality of life that he could. He also chose to accept and go very consciously to the other side and set out systematic goals to accomplish this.
Bevan’s first concern was to move out of the studio where he had painted for many years. For the April 2007 open studio at Rockwood, he instructed me to sell everything: furniture, paintings, and his collection of penguins. He divided up his supplies and donated them to other artists and children’s organizations; he donated paintings, both his and some of the collection he kept at the studio, to Art Access and the Salt Lake County collection. His art books went to the University of Utah art library. He made arrangements to have the remainder of his art collection, which included works by LeConte Stewart, Gaell Lindstrom, Orsal Allred, Earl Jones and Dennis Phillips, donated to the Fairview Museum of Art.
Once his studio was moved, Bevan set out preparing for the inevitable. He wrote his obituary. I typed it. He read aloud the typed version, refining it until it was just as he wanted it. He planned his funeral and recorded a conversation about his life with Tom Goldsmith. He passed out copies of this to friends and visitors as they stopped by to see him. In planning his funeral, he was very specific as to how long each of us was to speak and the general idea of what the content of our talk should be. He chose a headstone and included what everyone who has ever known Bevan has said about him: “he was a nice guy.” And then, amidst preparing to leave, Bevan found new life and a few things that he wanted to live for before departing.
In 2002 while visiting Ruth Lubbers at Art Access gallery, Bevan saw a photo of a Sudanese refugee living in Salt Lake City. He instantly knew that he wanted to paint these women and began arrangements to meet them. Upon meeting them, his life was changed. Not only did he enjoy painting them, but he enjoyed them: their culture, their songs, their children. And they all took to Bevan as well. In May of 2004, The Women was exhibited at the Forum Gallery with a grand opening celebrating Sudanese culture including song, food, and colorful attire. Profits were used to establish a scholarship fund for the children. Before his passing and with the help of his nephew, Paul, Bevan set up additional scholarship funds for the children of his Sudanese friends.
After a few years of continued friendship, Nyayien, one of the Sudanese women, was due to have her seventh son and asked if she could name him “Bevan.” Bevan never had children of his own and was deeply touched and honored to be bestowed this privilege. And, he wanted to live long enough to meet the new little “Bevan.” He gathered gifts, blankets, diapers, his own little bronzed baby shoes, special toys from his childhood, and anything else that he thought would let this little boy know the man who was his namesake. Baby Bevan was due September 8th which turned out to be the day that Bevan passed but he was born 5 weeks early and the two were able to meet. They were photographed together, and Bevan was able to personally bestow all these gifts upon him. One week before his passing, Bevan called Susan Quaal, volunteer coordinator for the south Sudanese community of refugees, insisting that he must see the baby. It took 2 to 3 hours to set up babysitting arrangements for the other children and transportation before we were able to arrive at the care center. Bevan called repeatedly, afraid that we wouldn’t arrive in time. We arrived and he was able to once again hold little Bevan. All the nurses came in to see the baby, as Bevan had won the hearts of the staff at the center. We had a short but nice visit, took more pictures, and a left a very exhausted but peaceful and fulfilled Bevan.
Although he had always held an interest in the arts and was an avid collector, Bevan didn’t really begin painting until he became a school counselor in 1967. This gave him free summers to travel and the opportunity to pick up the brush and paint. Upon retirement in 1995, he dedicated his life to art. He rented a studio space, studied with the best instructors locally and internationally, including Burton Silverman, Martha Manns, Earl Jones, and Ken Baxter. He continued to exhibit regularly in group and solo shows. Just as he was quitting chemo treatment, the Utah Arts Festival called Bevan to ask him for an exhibit. Knowing that his painting days were limited, he suggested a retrospective. As he arranged to borrow paintings from collectors, he hoped that he might still be around to see the exhibit, which was months away in August. I believe his appearance opening night was one of his last outings. Yet, he made it just as he had hoped to.
After his interview with Tom Goldsmith, Bevan realized that there was more he wanted to say, more he wanted to leave behind, and he decided that he would like to put together a book of his life and paintings. I bought him a hand held digital recorder and instructed him to start talking. It was upon meeting Meg Brady, through Claudia Sisemore, that new life came back to him. Meg is an English professor at the University of Utah and a specialist in recording oral histories. She came every morning for weeks recording Bevan’s life story. My Sunday visits now became about making notes of stories that he wanted to remember to tell Meg. He pulled out all of his slides and sorted them into bags of which travel they were from and the three of us set down to look at them and decide which were “bookworthy.” One day, during the interview, he finished a story and he and Meg looked at each other and knew that it had all been told. Meg and I were left with very specific instructions to complete this book and our last words to him two hours before his passing were “It will be done and it will be beautiful.” Although he isn’t here to see this last project completed, his friends and fans have yet to see one more of his works come to life.
Bevan had told me that he’d like to go in the fall. He passed on September 8th. When I asked, he said, “No I’m not scared” and that actually “I’m excited to see what’s next.” He lived his life and his death just as he wanted to. For me, it was a wonderful, although difficult, journey to witness. In our culture, there is a denial about death and it was refreshing and inspiring to see a man step into it consciously and with dignity.
Bevan was giving and guiding and making plans until the end just as he had been doing for 72 years. John Donne’s poem, “For Whom the Bell Tolls”, one of Bevan’s favorites poems sums up how he lived his life and his love for others.
No man is an island, / Entire of itself. / Each is a piece of the continent, / A part of the main. / If a clod be washed away by the sea, / Europe is the less. / As well as if a promontory were. / As well as if a manner of thine own / Or of thine friend’s were. / Each man’s death diminishes me, / For I am involved in mankind. / Therefore, send not to know / For whom the bell tolls, / It tolls for thee.
In honor of Bevan, food donations to his Sudanese friends are needed and welcomed. Please contact Susan Quaal at 363-1228.
UTAH’S ART MAGAZINE SINCE 2001, 15 Bytes is published by Artists of Utah, a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah.