Artists Chip and Kathy Beck in Chaco Culture NHP



Award-winning combat artist and US Veteran Chip Beck and his wife Kathy, also an artist, chat with Big Blend Radio their artist-in-residence experience in Chaco Culture National Historical Park in Northern New Mexico. Plus, Tanya Ortega, Founder of the National Parks Arts Foundation, shares NPAF’s history and unique artist-in-residence programs.



The Combat Artist, Veteran, and Author, Commander Chip Beck (USN, Ret.) and his wife Kathy have traveled the world for over three decades, making art, spending time in 146 countries and covering over 20 wars, expanding their horizons both artistically and in myriad unforeseen ways. Theirs is not a common story of love, or of art. They met at a CIA-FBI office party 32 years ago, which immediately set the standard for a life of uncommon adventure and opportunity.

Chip has been a Combat Artist for over 20 wars, and since 1968 has fulfilled art assignments for the Navy, CIA, Defense Department, and the State Department. He has sketched and painted indigenous cultures (people, environments, and artifacts) in remote locations of Asia, Africa, Central America, and the Middle East. His warmest memories remain of Cambodia, “because the people were so brave,” he says. Some made it through, and some didn’t live to see the end of the terrible regime of the Khmer Rouge. It was there that Chip lost a friend a Cambodian Army Lieutenant named Chhun Tep. Lieutenant Tep didn’t survive, but his mother, wife and six children did, thanks to Chip’s work he rescued them along with nearly 200 other people as Cambodia was falling. He is still in touch with the entire family, including his comrade’s mom, affectionately called Grandma. She will be 108 next month, and still has all her faculties. Lieutenant Tep’s wife, a village woman in Cambodia, worked hard in America and went on to earn the Business Woman of the Year award in Long Beach. The children have all done well for themselves, and when speaking with Commander Beck, it is obvious how highly he regards the family, and how important they are to him. The book he recently finished about his experiences in Cambodia, “Final Days of Heroes,” is on the market, hoping for a publication date of 2019.

Kathy, who was busy catching spies while Chip was working to simultaneously impart the impact of war and the sameness of humanity, has turned in recent years to fabric arts. A sketch artist, portrait painter, professor and potter, she has taken to making wonderful quilts. Kathy’s mom was a very talented seamstress, and taught Kathy by example, “that making things oneself was the most natural behavior in the world, highly enjoyable, and not limited to one area.” She certainly has not limited herself to one area, and to fill the void after unexpectedly losing her mom four years ago, she took up quilting. She was game to learn the new ways (from a group of Mennonite women, no less!). While technology has made things easier, she accurately points out that “the artist is still in control of the vision and the destination.”

Chip Beck speaks well about digital enhancement of photos, and about combat art. He appreciates the flexibility of sketching, painting, and digital photography over simple photographs. Says Beck, “The artist has the ability to depict only what is important to him, to leave out the superfluous, or to take two experiences and combine them into one.” He cites as example a painting of helicopters coming in over a football game. In real life, one subject was in front of him and one behind him, but he was able to combine them and create the feeling of being there. Cameras can only catch one perspective at a time. Like Kathy, Chip is also always learning, and at an NPAF residency in Gettysburg last year, he enjoyed “combining photos of the Stone Soldiers with photos of beautiful sunsets, for instance. It depicts what I saw, but at two different times.”

They are enjoying retirement, but not exactly slowing down. They are both members of the Loundoun Sketch Club and Friends of Leesburg Public Arts (FOLPA) in Loundoun County, Virginia, their home base. With credentials like this (and far more than we could hope to fit in one story), you might think to be intimidated by such a couple, but these folks are as lovely and down-to-earth as they are talented. Check out some of Chip’s work at

Programs like Chaco Culture National Historical Park’s artist-in-residence series, in which artists seek inspiration in the beauty and history of our national parks, and agree to share their ideas with park patrons, represent some of the highest aspirations of the National Park Service, an arm of the US Department of the Interior.The National Parks Arts Foundation (NPAF), a 501(c)3 non-profit, is the only nationwide organization working with the NPS to promote arts programs, and is continually expanding its Artist-in-Residence opportunities to NPS locations nationwide. The NPAF encourages all types of artists to apply for these residencies, from traditional landscape painters, photographers, to performers, installations, films/video, as well as writers, poets, sound artists, and new arts media. For more information on how you can support the Chaco Culture National Historical Park Artist in Residence or for more information about this and other programs, visit

National Parks Arts Foundation

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