December 28, 2005
To Members of the Bowdoin Community,
It is my sad duty to inform you of the death of Philip C. Beam, Bowdoin's Henry Johnson Professor of Art and Archaeology Emeritus. Professor Beam died on Sunday, December 25, at St. Mary's Regional Medical Center in Lewiston. He was 95 years old.
Phil Beam was a leading authority on the life and works of Winslow Homer and a beloved figure at the College for nearly seven decades. Born in Dallas, Texas, he earned his bachelor's and master's degrees, as well as his doctorate, at Harvard University. He was later awarded the Certificate of the Courtauld Institute from the University of London.
A former assistant to the director of the William Rockhill Nelson Gallery of Art in Kansas City, Mo., and member of the faculty at the Kansas City Art Institute, Professor Beam joined the Bowdoin faculty in 1936 as curator of the art collections and instructor in the department of art. He later became the youngest art museum director in the nation at age 28, holding that position at Bowdoin from 1939 until 1964. He was named professor of art in 1949 and served for many years as chair of the department of art before his retirement as a faculty member in 1982. He also served as a professor of art at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., in the summers of 1960 and 1970 and at the University of Vermont in Burlington in the summers of 1967 and 1969.
In honor of the leading role he played in the modernization and expansion of Bowdoin's art facilities, a lecture room in Bowdoin's Visual Arts Center was dedicated to Professor Beam in 1976. The same year he also received the Bowdoin Alumni Council's Alumni Award for Faculty and Staff in recognition of his outstanding "service and devotion to Bowdoin."
Professor Beam chaired the Maine State Art Commission in 1951-52 and was a member of the Board of Governors of the Portland Art Museum from 1945 to 1950. He also served for some years as a trustee of the Ogunquit, Me., Art Museum.
Professor Beam was the author of many books and articles on art. In addition to his award-winning book "Winslow Homer at Prout's Neck," upon which the widely acclaimed television documentary "Winslow Homer in Maine" was based, he wrote "The Language of Art" (1958), "The Art of John Sloan" (1962), "Winslow Homer in Maine" (1968), "Winslow Homer's Magazine Engravings" (1979), "Winslow Homer's Watercolors" (1983), and the section on American art in "The Visual Dictionary of Art." He served as editorial consultant for "The World of Winslow Homer" and "The World of John Singleton Copley" published by Time-Life Art Library.
In 1976 Professor Beam flew to Japan to lecture on American art in connection with a Tokyo exhibition which included more than 50 works by Homer from Bowdoin's museum.
Following his retirement, he remained at Bowdoin through the summer of 1983 as honorary curator of the museum's Winslow Homer collection, of which he was named curator in 1967. He helped direct a special exhibit of Homer's work at the museum in the spring of 1983.
Professor Beam taught "Art: An American Collection" at the Elderhostel Programs on the Bowdoin campus during the summers of 1983 and 1984.
Active in the life of the community, he served as chairman of the Brunswick Boy Scout Court of Honor, as campaign chairman and as a member of the board of directors of the Brunswick Area United Fund, and as vestryman and treasurer for St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Brunswick.
Professor Beam was married August 8, 1939, to the former Frances Merriman of Topsham, Me., who survives. He is also survived by son Christopher Beam and his wife, Joline, of Lewiston; daughter Rebecca Beam of Exeter, N.H.; and grandsons David Beam and his wife, Clare, of Arlington, Va., Michael Beam of Somerville, Ma., and Gregory Beam of Chicago. He was predeceased by his brother, Avera Grady Beam.
Donations in Philip C. Beam's memory may be sent to St. Paul's Episcopal Church, 27 Pleasant Street, Brunswick, ME 04011. A memorial service will be held at St. Paul's Church in the spring, time to be announced.
Phil Beam was a accomplished scholar and dedicated teacher who devoted his career to our college. We will miss him a great deal. I know that each of you joins me in expressing heartfelt condolences to the Beam family.