It was almost dark, and Mikey was still running. He heard sirens and urgent, imploring screams. Still, he ran. First, down the oil-stained highway, and then into the cool rushing waters of New Jersey’s Passaic River.
As a 700-pound calf, Mikey was destined for the slaughterhouse. But then, he dodged fate. His grand escape from the butchery made such a scene — attracting so many news crews and caravans of onlookers — that his captor agreed to release him to Woodstock Farm Sanctuary, a haven in High Falls, New York. That’s where he met Kim Beller.
A Wilmington native, Beller spent time working as a Montessori teacher and art instructor in North Carolina. But when her husband accepted a job in the Hudson Valley, she headed north and started working as a humane educator at the sanctuary.
When Beller first met Mikey in 2018, he didn’t like anyone to enter his pasture. He even tried to charge her. But one afternoon, she began playing her harmonium and chanting the Sanskrit mantra “Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu,” which loosely translates to, “May all beings everywhere be happy and free.”
“Mikey sauntered up to me and looked me in the eye,” Beller remembers. “He even got slobber on my harmonium. It was a beautiful, peaceful experience. There was no fear.”
Since then, Beller has moved from the Hudson Valley to an 11-acre homestead in Sandy Mush, a lush rural section of northwestern Buncombe County. But her abiding love for Mikey and all other sentient beings remains a guiding force, both in her day-to-day life and in her paintings.
“My [paintings] begin with layers and layers of mantras,” says Beller, who uses acrylic and mixed media on canvas. Sometimes, the artist will literally cover canvases with the words “Be Love,” a refrain tattooed on her wrist. Other times, there’s simply an unwritten hope — “a wish that all beings be free from suffering.”
After setting these intentions, Beller allows another realm to take control. “I feel very connected to the natural world,” she explains. “While in the forest, I receive messages that come through on the canvas.”
Rife with azure blues and verdant greens, the pieces nod to Beller’s saltwater-cured childhood and budding mountain roots.
“My mother was an artist, so I grew up with this swirl of creativity around me,” Beller says dreamily. She also grew up on the water, camping with her father on the spoil islands along the Intracoastal Waterway. “There was so much inspiration to draw from.”
Beller’s coastal upbringing shows itself in crashing waves, charcoal-gray whales, and sailboat-esque forms. More pervasive is the shorebird. A symbol of enduring independence, birds remind the artist “to simply be free.” Mikey reminds her of that, too.
“I could tell so many stories about the animals in Hudson Valley and what they brought to my soul,” Beller says. “But Mikey just stands out, both because of the trauma he endured and because of our mutual exchange of love and compassion.”
Kim Beller, ArtPlay, 372 Depot St. #44 in the River Arts District. “echoing,” an exhibition with Elizabeth Porritt Carrington, debuts at ArtPlay on Friday, Nov. 4, at 5pm. The exhibit runs through Sunday, Dec. 18. Additionally, Beller will be teaching art-journaling and other classes at ArtPlay in October and November. Visit artplay-studio.com for dates, times, and rates. Beller’s work is also sold at Atomic Furnishing & Design (124 Swannanoa River Road, Asheville, atomicfurnishings.com) and at Ravenworks Studio in Johnson City, Tenn. See kimbellerart.com.