IMaurice R. Bebb was born in Chicago in 1891. He graduated from the University of Illinois in 1913 and moved to Muskogee, Oklahoma, where he lived the rest of his life. By profession, he was a florist and had no art training. He established a florist business in Muskogee (Bebb’s Flowers is still turning out corsages and arrangements today) and married his first wife, helen. When he was in his early 50s, he began to draw, and later wrote a friend that he had always been an artist but didn’t realize it until later in life. He studied original prints from other artists and read technical manuals, then began working on copper around 1943. Also around that time he befriended and received encouragement from Charles M. Capps, Arthur W. Hall, Leon R. Pescheret, F. Leslie Thompson and other well-established printmakers of the time, most of whom had formal training and had studied color etching in Europe or with master printmakers. Charles M. Capps was also a charter member of the Prairie Print Makers, a group Bebb later joined.
In 1951, Bebb retired from his florist business to devote himself full-time to his art. He traveled to Europe twice, once for eight months and a second time for six months, and took advantage of the long-standing presence of printmakers in Europe to secure copper plates, inks and other supplies.
Bebb’s first etchings were exhibited in 1949 and he enjoyed instant success. The follow year he received the Purchase Prize of the Graphic Chemical Company at the Chicago Annual Exhibition. The Print Makers Society of California selected his print “Black Swans” (1952) for their 1953 publication. His color etching of “Yellow-Throated Warbler” was presented to associate members of the Chicago Society of Etchers in 1954. Then, in 1960, his print “White_Breasted Nuthatch” was selected for the thirtieth publication of the Prairie Print Makers.
Nan Sheets, art critic, wrote, “In Mr. Bebb we have an artist of recognition who pays attention to true perspective, clarity of design, rhythm of modulated line, and who is an expert draftsman. . . . The Bebb pencil drawings are not quickly executed sketches but carefully considered works, with proper consideration of pencil technique. As a color etcher he ranks with the very best in the country. He excels not only because he is able to draw, but because he has mastered the various methods employed in making etchings. The fact that he has artistic ability to portray what he sees, and as simply as possible, places him high among his fellow artists.”
Not only an expert draftsman, Bebb was a master of color. Etching involves using copper plates on which an artist has etched or “bitten” his picture with acid. Color etchings like Bebb’s require two to four copper plates, each is inked with one or more different colors and printed one over the other to produce the finished picture. Technically, the process is called multi-plate soft-ground and aquatint etching.