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George Elbert Burr
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Known for his landscapes depicting the American West, George Elbert Burr was a prolific etcher, painter, illustrator and draftsman. His biographer estimated that Burr created more than a thousand watercolors, over two thousand pen-and-ink drawings and many more pencil drawings and pulled from his own press some 25,000 impressions of his 367 etched plates. Born in Munroe Falls, Ohio (north of Akron) in 1859, his family lived with his grandmother in Middletown, Conn., during the Civil War, then returned to Munroe Falls for four years before moving to Cameron, Missouri (north-east of Kansas City) where his father opened a hardware store and Burr attended public schools. At age nineteen Burr went to study art at the Chicago Academy of Design (now the School of the Art Institute of Chicago), but lasted only three months and returned to Cameron to work in his father’s store while spending time drawing. He married Elizabeth Rogers (1860-1943) in 1884. By 1885 he was teaching drawing classes and began sending drawings to the publishers Harper Brothers in New York City, and by 1888 was providing illustrations to magazines published by Harper Brothers and Scribner’s. Burr and his wife moved to New York City in 1889, where he provided illustrations to magazines, including Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, which sent him around the country in 1890 to gather sketches and photographs to be used for illustrations and to accompany President Benjamin Harrison in 1891 on a trip through the South, Southwest and Pacific coast for the same purpose. Burr completed in 1893 about a thousand drawings of the jade collection of Heber R. Bishop, illustrating a two-volume catalog of the collection (later bequeathed to the Metropolitan Museum of Art), and then prepared drawings of Bishop’s collection of lacquers, bronzes and porcelains. His earnings allowed Burr and his wife to travel in Europe for over four years, visiting England, Wales, France, Austria, Switzerland and Italy. They returned in 1900 to live in Toms River, New Jersey. Burr exhibited in Boston, New York City, Cleveland, Kansas City and Philadelphia over the next few years. His first color etching was completed in 1904. Troubled by hay fever his entire life, the Burrs moved to Denver in 1906. He exhibited watercolors in a Denver gallery that year and more watercolors and color etchings the following year. When the New York Society of Etchers was founded in 1913 Burr became a member. He showed twenty-two etchings at San Francisco’s Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1915, including several color etchings. Burr completed two notable series of prints while in Denver: “Mountain Moods,” sixteen black-and-white etchings with a watercolor painting of each of the same scenes, finished in 1916, and “The Desert Set,” thirty-five plates of scenes of the Southwestern deserts where Burr spent winters avoiding the Colorado snows, which he completed in 1921. In 1924 the Burrs moved to Phoenix due to his poor health. Exhibiting at the 1924 Arizona State Fair, he won first prize in watercolor and in etching. He was an organizer of the predecessor of the Phoenix Art Museum in 1925, and president in 1928. His prints were exhibited in Paris (1928), London (1929) Washington, D.C. (1929 and1930), Philadelphia and Brooklyn (1931) and Boston (1932). He kept creating art during the 1930s, although the hard work of pulling prints wore on him as he aged. Burr died at the age of eighty in Phoenix in 1939. (TNB 11/2014) Selected bibliography: Seeber, Louise Combes. George Elbert Burr, 1859-1939; Catalogue Raisonné and Guide to the Etched Works with Biographical and Critical Notes. Flagstaff: Northland Press, 1971.