Bea Chavez: Verde Valley artist, craftsperson
Bea Chavez was born to a mining family in Jerome. She admits that she was not fond of sewing when she took Home Ec in high school. But she found a niche in her early years and was among the founders, and is a stalwart, of the El Valle Artists.
Bea graduated in 1955 from Miami High School. Her father had moved the family from Jerome to Miami when the when the Mingus mines closed in the early '50s. She laughs at the story about her Home Ec teacher, who attempted to teach her to sew as a sophomore in Jerome High School.
"I think you had to take Home Ec if you were a girl and have Shop if you were a guy. But I didn't want to sew and the first semester was sewing. So I went in there and just goofed around. The teacher, Miss Berg, said, 'Bea, you are going to have to sew something tomorrow so I can give you a grade.'"
"The next day she had a piece of material all cut up and said, 'sit in front of this machine, you are going to sew an apron.' I don't know how the apron turned out, but she gave me a grade and I passed.'"
Bea says that's when she moved to Miami, finished school and got married. But she and husband Cruz returned to the Verde Valley six years later with her parents when the Inspiration Mine closed in Miami. Cruz got a job at the Verde Lumber Co., then located in Old Town Cottonwood on Main St.
"I was forced to learn to sew because we were not making a lot of money." Her husband worked a forklift all day at the lumberyard and wore out the seat of his pants. "So, I cut open the legs and made little pants for the boys to crawl around in. No sense in buying something for them to crawl in."
"I used to make pants, shirts and little vests for the boys. And I used to sew for myself."
When she returned to the Verde Valley, she had gotten a job at Fairway Foods, in downtown Clarkdale. "And who should come in but Miss Berg. I told her, 'you are not going to believe this, but I am doing a lot of sewing. I am even doing a lot of wedding dresses.'"
She later worked for Penmore, a sewing factory which did production sewing at a shop off Sixth Street in Cottonwood.
El Valle Artists started their association about 30 years ago, says Bea. Local artists met at a lady's house a couple of times and then wanted a name for the association. It was Bea's brother Paul Jr. that gave the group its name. Paul had been in a serious mining accident at the Crown King Mine in Humboldt. A small rock came down a chute and gained so much momentum that it knocked him into a hole when it hit his hard hat. He had a spinal cord injury and became a quadriplegic.
"My brother, by then, was in a wheelchair and had taken art as therapy. He was right handed, but had more control over his left hand. An art teacher, Marie Black, taught him how to paint with oils." The first attempt was to paint Bea's 4-year-old daughter from a picture. The painting "looked just like the picture." Bea still has the first of Paul's paintings.
Bea was president of El Valle Artists during its early years and is still an active member.
Today, Bea is also a member of the Clarkdale Quilting Club that has just completed the Clarkdale Commemorative Quilt that bears copies of historic photos taken from the 2007 Clarkdale Calendar. Proceeds from the auction sale of the quilt will benefit the upcoming 100th anniversary of the town's founding in 1912. She also participates in the 50th anniversary celebration of Clarkdale's incorporation. The quilt will be on display during the July 4 activities this year in the Town Park.
She is the specialist at the Wal-Mart crafts department a couple of days each week.