Scene masters: Perry, Beattie book it back to town

The light fades on a late November afternoon as writer Ann Beattie and her husband, painter Lincoln Perry, relax over a cup of tea. He tucks his legs under him on the living room sofa. She leans forward, elbows on knees, in a nearby chair. After an exhausting round of flight delay, they are finally "home" in Charlottesville.

Travel annoyances are customary for the nomadic pair, who summer in Maine, winter in Florida, and make an annual spring-semester pilgrimage to Virginia. Why the current off-season trip? To be on hand for an exhibition opening and book signing at Les Yeux du Monde celebrating the publication of Lincoln Perry's Charlottesville.

The book contains a 20-year retrospective of Perry's local paintings, along with an introductory essay and artist's interview by Beattie. As the couple's first collaboration, the subject is fitting; their lives originally became entwined in Charlottesville.

Beattie, now 58, came to the University of Virginia in 1975 to teach in the English department. A native of the DC-metropolitan area, she was surprised by Charlottesville.

"I loved it. I didn't think I would," she says. "Any place in the South was on my B-list before."

Perry, 56, first admired Charlottesville when he came to visit a girlfriend in the early 1970s. He returned in 1985 as a visiting artist at UVA. On the advice of a friend, he got in touch with Beattie, and she invited him over for tea.

"This is us," she says, smiling. "This is what we do."

In the mid-1990s, tired of their three-residence shuffle, the couple decided to sell their Charlottesville house– ironically, just when the University hired Perry to paint "The Student's Progress," the massive mural inside Cabell Hall. He completed the panels from Maine.

The couple returned to Charlottesville on a semi-permanent basis in 2001 when Beattie became UVA's Edgar Allan Poe Professor of Creative Writing.

Beattie, who recently won the prestigious Rea Award for the Short Story, says she likes the people in Charlottesville but still laments the loss of Williams Corner Bookstore. Perry adds he is especially fond of Virginia's trees.

The seed for Lincoln Perry's Charlottesville grew from Perry's 2003 exhibition, "The Music of Time," at Les Yeux du Monde. Visiting New Yorker Paul Stetzer insisted the Charlottesville-centric show should become a book. Gallery owner Lyn Bolen Warren pitched the idea to the University of Virginia Press, which suggested bringing Beattie on board.

"To pair a great artist with a great writer is wonderful," says Rushton, "not to mention the pairing of a great place– Charlottesville– with the two."

For Beattie, the book is "a little like going down memory lane."

"To be this attached to a place," says Perry, "is as good as it gets."

Ann Beattie and Lincoln Perry