Charles Beck walked a delicate line with his artwork. Mostly, he made woodcuts inspired by the rural Minnesota landscapes — barns, trees and rolling hills — he found around his hometown of Fergus Falls.
Local farmers liked his prints. City-dwelling art connoisseurs did, too.
"Normal people could appreciate his work, but he didn't pander," said painter and musician Scott Gunvaldson, one of Beck's oldest friends. "He had the respect of the art world."
Beck died Tuesday night in Fergus Falls. He was 94.
Beck's early art pieces were mostly large, abstract paintings that were well received, but his work really took off when he started making woodcuts, said Gunvaldson, who first met Beck in the early '70s when he took a class from Beck at the local community college.
Over the years, Beck's art won local and national interest. His pieces were featured in galleries all over the region. Gunvaldson said Beck's simple, yet non-kitschy style changed the way he looked at the land.
"It happens a lot," he said. "I'll be driving and look out the window. I'll see a hill or a tree in the right light, and I'll think, 'there's a Beck.' It's life imitating art."
It was a skill Beck relished.
"I can show you the color of most of my skies in nature," Beck told MPR News in a 2013 interview. "Early morning, sunset ... you can find every color of the rainbow in the sky."
Four years ago, a stroke forced Beck into the local nursing home. Beck was really depressed at first, Gunvaldson said, because he couldn't make woodcuts anymore — the tools weren't allowed.
Then he took up painting again, and he was prolific.
"He made more paintings than I did," Gunvaldson said. "From the nursing home."
Gunvaldson decided to paint Beck's portrait two years ago. He said it was one of his most intimidating projects.
"You always worry with portraits," he said. "That a person won't like how they look, but Charlie knew about art too, so there was the potential for him to dislike it on many levels. Artistic levels."
Beck approved of the painting. He said it was a good likeness.
Beck's last art show was last month at the Kaddatz Galleries in Fergus Falls. He was there to talk about his work. When he was leaving, his spine was injured getting into the transport van.
He was in too much pain to sit up and paint. He declined rapidly.
Beck spent his life making art. Without it, Gunvaldson said he wasn't really interested in sticking around.