The first time Rebecca King Hawkinson walked into a field with her landscape box to paint en plein air was unforgettable — and not just because she happened to be in the South of France.
“I went out in the middle of the day and came back sweating,” she recalls. “I thought that’s how you were supposed to do it.”
The Black Mountain native, then a rising Montreat College freshman, was quickly advised otherwise by internationally renowned American artist and fresco master Benjamin Long IV, whom she met while he was finishing The Prodigal Son fresco for the college, and with whom she had secured a five-week apprenticeship at his studio in France.
Hawkinson learned to beat the heat and get the best light in the early morning or evening. By the time the magical summer of 1999 was over, she had completed nearly 35 paintings.
“I was in heaven in France,” she says. “When I came back to Black Mountain, I had a show and about half my paintings sold, so I thought, ‘I guess I should do this.’ I was young enough to not know the potential for failure.”
As a child she loved art museums, and on her first visit to the National Gallery with her mother, she was spellbound by the works of Renoir, Monet, and Rembrandt, as well as the canvases of Romantic painter John Constable, an innovator of landscapes. “By the time I was in middle school I yearned to understand how oils worked,” she says. “From what I could tell, oil produced a much deeper and more resonant result than acrylic and watercolor.”
Long “had an enormous influence on my appreciation of working from life, that observing created the best sort of art — to capture how it feels to be in that place at that moment.”
After earning her BA in Literature in 2001, the newly married artist continued to travel — “so important in landscape painting”— with the support of her husband Paul Hawkinson. She made a home studio and taught drawing and oil painting at the Fine Arts League of the Carolinas in Asheville. The birth of her first child in 2008 did not compel her to hang up her traveling shoes; instead, she brought Ezra to Ireland with her, along with her mother, who held the baby as she painted. “That was pretty challenging, and I didn’t do it again.” She did have four more babies, though — including twin girls in 2015 — and she continued to travel to paint.
Hawkinson has not been to Europe since 2019, so she turned her eye to the beauty close to home — “rhododendron forests, misty mountain views, and the brilliant colors of fall.” In May, she spent many hours on the Library Terrace at Biltmore Estate, painting Mount Pisgah for Preserving a Picturesque America, a series of engravings first printed and bound in the 1880s and now revived by Asheville-based nonprofit Preservation Through Art.
Hawkinson homeschools her five children — the curriculum includes art — and continues exploring new expressions for her own work. “There is still so much I want to paint — I am excited about the years to come.”
Rebecca King Hawkinson, Black Mountain. Hawkinson’s work is represented by Seven Sisters Craft Gallery (119 Broadway Ave., Black Mountain, sevensistersgallery.com); by Martin House Gallery (1098-12 Main St., Blowing Rock, martinhousegallery.com); and by Crossnore Fine Arts Gallery (205 Johnson Lane, Crossnore, crossnore.org). For more information, see rebeccakinghawkinson.com.