By Lucy Lazarony
At 92, artist Bernice Harwood of Boynton Beach can do it all.
She’s a painter, a sculptor, a printmaker and a writer, and has spent the past year writing stories from her life.
“You have to laugh,” Harwood says. “You can’t let anything get to you.”
In her teens, Harwood attended Girls Commercial High School in Brooklyn, where along with her academic studies she took commercial art. After high school, she attended the McDowell School of Art and became a fashion illustrator, working for a department store.
“I think I was 17 at the time,” Harwood remembers. “When she first hired me, I was a model. And then she allowed me to do some art work for her.”
In 1944 at the age of 21, she joined the Navy as a WAVE, serving in a hospital corps and later as an acrylic eye illustrator. Painting with watercolor on paper disk, she matched existing eye color for soldiers who had lost their eyes during the war. She was one of eight such illustrators serving in the Navy at that time.
After getting married and raising a family of two daughters with her husband Daniel, Harwood went back to college at the age of 45.
She attended Hofstra University in Long Island, graduating cum laude with degrees in art and special education. But she didn’t teach for all that long.
“It didn’t satisfy me,” Harwood says. “Until, I started to do more art, period.”
Active in oil painting for decades, Harwood had a tough time parting with her artwork to sellers.
“I didn’t want to sell them. They’re like babies,” Harwood says. “And that’s why I went into printmaking so I can make duplicates and then I could sell them.”
And so in the 1980s, she did a lot of printmaking in a studio in her home in New York.
“It had been a den and I got rid of the furniture and I put a press in there. I did most of my monoprints in my home,” Harwood says.
She also studied printmaking at Pratt Graphic Center and Ruth Leaf Studio.
In 1990, Harwood and her husband moved south to Florida and Boynton Beach.
“We moved here in 1990 and that’s when I started the watercolors,” Harwood explains from her home. “I’m not very detailed in my watercolor. I do it in a very loose manner … I’ve done plein air painting or I would photograph them and do them at home. And I have some abstract watercolor as well.”
Harwood started sculpting in 2001, studying with Frank Varga, and creating pieces inspired by beloved family members, and her time caregiving for her husband, who had Parkinson’s disease.
She stopped sculpting because dust was causing bouts of pneumonia and she returned to her watercolor painting.
A retrospective of her art is on display at the Cultural Council of Palm Beach County through Jan. 16.
The 29-piece collection showcases Harwood’s oil paintings, watercolor paintings, monoprints and etchings.
“She’s all over the map in the best possible way. It’s a retrospective and it shows the diversity of her talents. She’s amazing. And she’s just a sweet woman,” says Nichole M. Hickey, manager of artist services at the Cultural Council. “The pieces are really descriptive of her life, her oeuvre if you will.”
The earliest piece in the exhibition is an oil painting titled “Still Life,” which Harwood painted in 1958 of a bowl of fruit, a candlestick and decanter of wine.
Her most recent works are watercolors “Loxahatchee 1” and Loxahatchee 2,” completed in 2010 and a 2009 watercolor of 57th Street in New York City.
In between are figurative, abstract and representational paintings as well as beautiful and evocative etchings and monoprints.
Harwood goes abstract, and shows a beautiful use of color in “Autumn 1” and “Autumn 2,” two oil paintings from 1969. In an oil painting from 1970, she paints a refinery in Elizabeth, N.J., using bright geometric shapes.
“It has this vibrancy and freshness to it,” Hickey says. “It’s so contemporary.”
Other oil paintings from the 1970s include “Blue Nudes” from 1970 and “Mildred’s Life” from 1977, which Harwood painted for her mother.
Painted from family photographs, “Mildred’s Life” includes a 5-year-old Bernice and an 8-year-old Mildred, and other family members at various ages, including Harwood’s twin younger brothers and her grandparents.
The painting was inspired by a trip to visit her mother when she was dying. She left wanting to paint “Mildred’s Life.” A slumping figure, on the far right of the painting, represents her mother in her final days.
Her monoprints from the 1980s include “Eden I,” “Galactic” and “Africa,” each evoking a strong sense of place with a confident use of colors.
Harwood’s etchings are quieter pieces, 12 in all, also created in the 1980s.
She captures the coastlines of Portland, Maine, Big Sur in California, and contemplates “Harmony” and the “Winter Solstice.” And “Lady of the Lake” is a photo etching, a technique she learned while studying in Italy with Luis Camnitzer in 1983.
Representing her work in the 1990s are colorful monoprints featuring female figures in various states of repose against bright backgrounds.
“It’s just so interesting to juxtapose all her pieces to see the various methods she used,” Hickey says.
In 2015, she was writing.
“I feel like I’ve got so much art … that I can’t add to it anymore,” Harwood says. “Now, all my creativity is going into the book. I’ve been doing it for a year now. It’s almost finished and then I will go back to the painting.”
Gallery hours at the Cultural Council of Palm Beach County, located at 601 Lake Ave. in downtown Lake Worth, are from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Admission is free.