Jennifer Monet Cowley in her studio. Cowley designed a sculpture that will be dedicated to Arthello Beck Jr. at Twin Falls Park this summer.

Portrait by Yuvie Styles

Classroom posters and textbooks didn’t depict Black people when Arthello Beck Jr. was growing up in Dallas.

His children’s schoolbooks didn’t show Black kids either.

That’s why the self-taught artist from Oak Cliff began painting Black families in ordinary situations in the 1970s.

“We didn’t have portrayals of ourselves unless it was negative,” Beck’s widow, Mae Beck, said at a recent gallery talk.

An exhibit called HUMANIZATION: The Artistic Eye of Arthello Beck Jr. at the African American Museum of Dallas recently showcased 35 paintings, including many of those “ordinary” pictures, along with rural baptism scenes, one abstract work from 1960 that’s in the museum’s permanent collection, a richly symbolic self-portrait titled “Lost Identity” and paintings of the bald cypress trees at Caddo Lake, which he produced at the end of his life.

Artist Jennifer Monet Cowley curated the exhibit, and she designed a sculpture in Beck’s honor that is expected to be dedicated at Twin Falls Park this summer.

The sculpture is based on a photograph Cowley took of her friend, the Dallas-based artist Riley Holloway, with his wife, Kelsie, and their kids, Riley and Bailey. It is of a mom and dad sitting back-to-back.

“It’s like, ‘I got your back,’” Cowley says.

The father is reading a book with his son, who’s in his lap holding a beach ball. The mother is doing the hair of her daughter, who is doing her doll’s hair. Behind them is a marsh tree, symbolizing the ones that fascinated Beck.

Cowley visited Caddo Lake twice last year.