Wonderful Life: Artist finds ‘absolute freedom of expression’

Painter Bebe Krimmer draws inspiration from life, nature in Santa Fe

Ana Pacheco | The New Mexican


Lake Michigan has long been a source of inspiration for former Chicagoan Bebe Krimmer. “The constant movement and color changes in the lake’s essence has been a major influence in my work,” says the 78-year-old artist.

Krimmer found similar inspiration from nature when she and her husband, Dr. Burton Krimmer, moved to Santa Fe in 1993. “The first thing that inspired me was the sky. The colors are magnificent, and I had never before seen horizontal lightning,” she says.

New Mexico’s blue skies not only proved beneficial to her work, they also helped her heal emotionally after her 41-year-old son, Dan, died in 1997 of a brain tumor. “I was devastated and could not paint for some time. I began to find inspiration from the heavens above. That’s when I began one of four series on the sky — one painting just led to another,” she says.

Krimmer’s one-woman show, “Principia,” which opens Friday at Chiaroscuro Gallery, 439 Camino del Monte Sol, will showcase some of her celestial pieces along with many of her collages. She is also part of a group art show opening April 17 at 516 Arts in Albuquerque.

Krimmer was born in Chicago on Feb. 6, 1930. Her given name was Elaine Brams, but she legally changed her first name to Bebe in 1958. She explains, “When I was a toddler and began to speak, I couldn’t say the word baby, so I would call myself Bebe, and the name just stuck.”

Krimmer was encouraged to pursue her interest in art early on by her mother, Helen. Her family lived on Chicago’s north side, and when she was 5, her mother would set up a table with paper and crayons on the back porch. In third grade, she received a special commendation for her drawing on a large class mural of a Dutch girl leaning over picking a tulip, she says.

These early encouragements led Bebe to take art classes Saturday mornings at the Art Institute of Chicago when she was 12.

Krimmer’s paintings are included in private collections and museums throughout the world, including the Art Institute of Chicago. Regionally, her paintings can be found in the permanent collection of the New Mexico Museum of Art and in the state Capitol’s collection. In addition to working as an artist, Krimmer taught art and printmaking at Barat College, the University of Illinois and Columbia College in Chicago.

The Krimmers discovered Santa Fe while on vacation. “We used to bring our four children here, and we just fell in love with Santa Fe. After my husband left his medical practice, we couldn’t think of a better place to retire,” she says.

But her life here has presented challenges. In 1999, her husband died of chronic liver disease just as she was beginning to get over the shock of her son’s death.

Despite the difficult times, however, she has maintained a positive attitude. “I love the whole Santa Fe lifestyle,” she says. “I had never known anything but urban living, but here I have a brand-new take on life. Everyone is so friendly, and getting around is so convenient.”

In addition to spending time with her children and grandchildren, Krimmer tries to travel abroad twice each year. “It increases my intellectual and psychological perspective on things,” she says. “The different colors and shapes that I see on these trips increase my visual vocabulary.”

Looking back on her life as an artist, she says: “This is the best time of my life. My responsibility as a mother and wife are over, so I can devote my time to my art. I’m doing the best work I’ve ever done. My ideas flow easier now — I have absolute freedom of expression.”

Ana Pacheco is the founder and publisher of “La Herencia,” a culture and history magazine (www.herencia.com). Her weekly tribute to our community elders appears every Tuesday.