At the mid-point of her life, Beverly Buchanan left behind a successful public health career in New York to become an artist rooted—aesthetically and geographically—in the American South. Never one to adhere to a single style or medium, Buchanan embraced Abstract Expressionism, land art, and Post-Minimalism in her execution of drawings, sculptures, photography, and paintings. She is best-known for her sculptural “shacks”—loose interpretations of the dilapidated cabins that punctuate the Southern landscape. For Buchanan, these shacks represent the identity of place and the persistence of memory, while serving as a testament to human resilience in the face of poverty and racism. “My work is about response and memory,” the artist said. “It is a process of creating objects that relate to the physical world through perception rather than reproduction.”

Born in Fuquay, North Carolina, Beverly Ann Buchanan was raised by her great-aunt and uncle in Orangeburg, South Carolina. Her adoptive father, dean of the school of agriculture at South Carolina State University, often took Buchanan along on overnight trips to visit tenant farmers. This early exposure to vernacular architecture made a profound impression on the future artist. Encouraged by her parents, Buchanan pursued an ambitious educational path with the hope of attending medical school. At Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina, she earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Medical Technology and subsequently enrolled at New York’s Columbia University to obtain advanced degrees in parasitology and public health. She was employed as a medical technician at the Veteran’s Administration in the Bronx and then as a public health educator in New Jersey. While traversing the greater metropolitan area, Buchanan frequently observed derelict, crumbling buildings that visually recalled the Southern tenant houses of her youth.

In 1971, Buchanan began taking courses at the Art Students League with Norman Lewis and, through Lewis, met Romare Bearden. After a few successful exhibitions, she relocated to Macon, Georgia, in 1977. When asked about her professional background in the medical field and its connection to her creative endeavors, Buchanan credited her early studies in parasitology for inspiring her desire to investigate. She elaborated: “That meant questions and answers and talking to people and finding out what kinds of things they were exposed to. . . . What I’m doing is taking parts of different family experiences from different people and putting them together into one thing.”

It was in Georgia that Buchanan conceived her “ruins,” cement slabs or clay molds often rubbed with ground rocks or tabby concrete. The site-specific earthworks—arranged in rows and stacks and displayed in situ on low platforms—succumb to the forces of nature, underscoring the relationship between landscape and memory. One such construct located off the coast of Georgia, Marsh Ruins (1981), was made possible by a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1980. Through a trio of stones, Buchanan links the plight of enslaved peoples near St. Simons Island and the historical marker where Confederate poet Sidney Lanier wrote “The Marshes of Glynn.” In so doing, Buchanan’s ruins ask how the landscape continues to retain tragedy and whether nature will heal all wounds.

Beverly Buchanan was the recipient of numerous prestigious awards, including a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship (1980), a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Award (1994), and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Women’s Caucus for Art (2011). Her work is represented in several collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, High Museum of Art, and Chrysler Art Museum, among others. A 2016 retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum of Art launched the institution’s year-long program of highlighting women artists.