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Contributed by Arizona Capitol Museum
George Elbert Burr (1859-1839)
George Burr, born in Monroe Falls, Ohio in 1859, began sketching and painting by the time he was 8. By age 11 he knew he wanted to be an artist. By 14 he experimented with etching. In 1877 he attended a business college in Oskaloosa, IA and then 1878-79 studied at the Chicago Academy of Design.
Wanting to have time for his art he accepted a commission in 1892 to make 1,000 pen drawings for the catalog of the Heber R. Bishop Collections of jades and bronzes in the Metropolitan Museum in New York City. It took 4 years, but allowed him and his wife, Elizabeth Rogers Burr, to spend 1896-1900 in Europe. They spent time in Italy, Sicily, the Rhine, England and Wales. The body of work from that trip included at least 1,000 sketches in watercolor. The Arizona Capitol Museum's collections of etchings include some examples of images from this trip.
According to Lena McCauley (George Elbert Burr: Painter, Etcher, 1923), Burr made art "because he must." The following was pinned to his drawing board when he lived in New York City.
Work thou for pleasure; paint or sing or carve
Kenyon Cox in The Gospel of Art
The thing thou lovest, though the body starve.
Who works for glory misses oft the goal;
Who works for money coins his very soul;
Work for the work's sake, then, and it may be
That these things shall be added unto thee
Upon returning from Europe, the Burrs settled in New Jersey, but ill health soon caused the them to move to Denver in 1906. Burr spent summers in Denver and winters in the deserts of Arizona, New Mexico and Southern California. When he finished his Desert Set in 1921: "Museums and private collectors in England and on the Continent as well as in the United States purchased half the edition in three months after publication." (McCauley, Lena M. George Elbert Burr: Painter, Etcher, 1923) Continued ill health caused the Burrs to move to Phoenix, Arizona in 1924. He remained based in Phoenix until he died at age 80 in 1939.
In addition to the images from his European trip, the Arizona Capitol Museum has etchings showing desert scenes in Arizona, New Mexico and California plus "Bear Creek Canyon-Denver." During his prolific life, he produced over 25,000 etchings of the Western landscape. See "George Elbert Burr" by Seeber, 1971; and the "American Etcher series: AZ History XV, 1939.
For more information:
Seeber, Louise Combes (1971). George Elbert Burr, 1859-1939; catalogue raisonné and guide to the etched works with biographical and critical notes. Flagstaff, AZ: Northland Press. ISBN 0-87358-067-2.