Lynn DeBeal has lived many lives. In addition to her creative practice as a visual artist and musician, she’s worked as an industrial glass welder, suicide intervention and prevention counselor, group facilitator, educator, and specialized glass blower for laboratory apparatus. The breadth of DeBeal’s experience is the byproduct of her deep curiosity about the world and the people who inhabit it, and she brings a spirit of inquisitive generosity to everything that she touches.
“I really enjoy people,” she explained in a phone interview. “I’m open with people until they give me a reason not to be—which has gotten me in trouble, but is a delight more often than not.” Lynn loves the challenge of trying to capture a fleeting expression or ineffable moment in her work, and
she loves drawing people. Her subjects cover a wide range of cultural and ethnic diversity, depicting backgrounds from all over the world.
Lynn traces her multicultural lens back to her childhood, where she grew up on European military bases. Her father was drafted and despite being a pacifist, he re-enlisted after finishing his term of duty because, as DeBeal explained, “there were no jobs for people of color.” DeBeal’s parents made sure they weren’t “Americans who just stayed on base,” and the experience of being a Black, Native American family in Europe in the late 1950s and early 1960s taught Lynn that she was a global citizen. She devoured the cultural opportunities set in front of her, and she cites viewing Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam and Eve” and looking up at the Sistine Chapel as formative experiences that set her on the trajectory of pursuing art.
Seeing the intricate details of glass work in Venice brought DeBeal to her first career as a glass welder in the semiconductor industry—but that job came to affect her life in negative ways, as she acquired severe lung disease as a result of the chemicals she was exposed to in her work. DeBeal would eventually have multiple surgeries for her condition, and since 2006, she has required a full-time oxygen tank that will remain a part of her for the rest of her life.
DeBeal’s lung condition also meant losing her favorite artistic medium of dry pastels. Her lungs couldn’t handle the dust they released, but she was undeterred and used this tragic constraint to begin exploring digital mediums. She began recombining digital images of her work into colorful mandalas, intricate compositions that took her drawings and gave them new life through repetition. Like her mandalas, DeBeal sees things from all perspectives, noticing patterns and highlighting them to call attention to details a viewer might not see on their own.
DeBeal’s life has held a great deal of adversity, but she has responded to all of it with a perseverance that has never lost its kindness; her travails have not hardened her, and she still faces the world with a sense of open wonder. But for years, in the aftermath of surgeries that left her with physical and cognitive limitations and brought with them experiences of poverty and betrayal, DeBeal struggled with depression.
Art helped DeBeal find her way back to herself, and she credits the organization Path With Art as being an enormous part of rediscovering her own strength. In one of her classes, she created a pop-up book on Christopher Columbus that refocused the narrative from a Native American perspective. “I wanted it to say, ‘Hey, we’re still here. We survived.’”
When DeBeal heard about the Artists Up Grant Lab Program, she was excited to find an opportunity that felt geared towards her. “I’d been looking for grants for quite a while,” she explained, “but they all wanted details—wanted referrals from educators and galleries, and I felt like I never had a shot. But this grant just asked you to say why you love to do art, what got you into it, and what you would do with the money. Boom, boom, boom. It was exactly what I needed.”
When DeBeal found out she received funding, she literally did not believe it. “It took them a couple days to convince me that I’d actually got the money,” she laughed, before going on to say that being awarded this grant made her feel seen and supported in a way that she would never have thought possible.
Receiving grant funding has allowed DeBeal the space to more fully explore her creative ideas, and she is currently very involved in teaching. She loves the energy and optimism of working with youth, and cites a mural project with students in Lake City as a particular highlight because “It’s wonderful for my job to be something I used to get in trouble for as a kid.” In her personal practice, she is in the process of converting her bedroom into a studio space so she can work on a larger scale.
The struggles that DeBeal has faced means that she takes nothing for granted, and she is grateful to be able to keep making work. “With my lungs, ten years ago they told me I was dying.” She paused and laughed softly. “Well I didn’t die, I’m still here.”