Uncovering Hidden Talent

Kent, Ind., resident Elburg
rekindles his artistic touch

He quickly has become
art gallery’s top selling painter

By Lela Jane Bradshaw
Contributing Writer

(October 2012) – When 74-year-old Harry Elburg brought in a half finished painting to the Madison Art Club gallery last December, neither he nor club president Elle Smith could predict that his landscapes would make him one of the breakout artists of 2012. Smith saw potential in the partially painted canvas but explained that she would need to see several completed pieces before she could say whether or not his work would be a good fit for the gallery.

Harry Elburg

Photo by Lela Jane Bradshaw

Harry Elburg in his studio
with a landscape in progress.

When Elburg left, Smith was not sure if he would be back. But in just a matter of weeks he returned with a stack of paintings and Smith says, “I liked what I saw.”
Madison, Ind., buyers and judges have liked what they saw as well. After having not painted for what he estimates to be 45 years or more, the Kent, Ind., resident has not only become one of the fastest selling artists at the Art on Main Gallery, but he also took reserve best of show in the Madison Art Club’s prestigious fall show with his depiction of Hensley Creek.
“I was so surprised when I got that award. We’ve got so many fine artists at the club,” he says. “I’d never entered a contest.”
He was debating which of his pieces to enter. He had been leaning toward another painting but was convinced by club members to go with what became a winning piece. Smith explains the power of the entry saying, “Whenever he has water in his work it is like you could reach out and touch it.”
“I was kind of hesitant when I first started,” Elburg admits of his return to art. However, he was pleased to see that his pieces were finding a receptive audience, noting that, “Some of the first ones I made sold.”
He is mainly self-taught as an oil painter, having had only a bit of childhood art instruction. “In the old country in Holland, we had a teacher. He was a painter,” Elburg says. However, the students didn’t have paints at the time, so they worked in pen and ink.
While Elburg had been busy with his construction work and raising his children, painting had remained in the back of his mind. He and his wife, Eva, moved to southern Indiana from Canada in 1978, and Elburg was immediately captured by the landscape.
“When I first came here, I used to hunt quite a bit. I got totally lost,” he explains. As he was making his way through the woods he said to himself, “I’m going to paint this when I get old.”
Elburg often paints from photographs explaining that many of the locations that he finds most inspiring are difficult to work at on location. “At 74 to get a plein air painting is rough,” he says.
He explains that “the insects will eat you up,” and that it might take an hour or so to hike back to the place he wants to capture. He will sometimes do an under painting on site and then return to his studio to finish the piece. As Elburg works in oils, it is important for him to allow the layers of paint time to dry between applications in order not to muddy the colors. He also finds that photographs allow him to more easily paint animals that are constantly in motion and may be curious about what he is doing. He describes his attempts to get a side view photograph of a horse in a field who kept following him around.
“It was like stalking prey,” he said, laughing.
Elburg has no trouble finding subjects for his landscapes saying, “We’re blessed here. I think we live in the prettiest part of the state.”
He is particularly drawn to the rivers and creeks of the area, saying “I like painting the watersheds. There is so much about the water – the reflective qualities, the peacefulness, the growth around the river.”
Elburg’s appreciation for the peacefulness of the area was one of the aspects that drew him to Kent in the first place. He and his wife liked the remoteness and the “slower pace” that the small town offered. Elburg laughs that soon after moving to southern Indiana, he found himself stopped behind two trucks whose drivers were simply chatting away.
“I thought, I’m going to blow my horn,” he recalls, but then his mind quickly changed to, “no, I’m going to enjoy this.” This appreciation for the quiet and calm comes through in his interpretation of the landscapes.
Smith believes that his view of the land resonates strongly with viewers, saying his work holds particular appeal for “nature lovers and hunters” or “someone who tromps around in the woods.” She describes his naturalistic pieces saying, “The colors are very true to what you see here.” She finds that this realism attracts buyers who are familiar with the places Elburg paints.
Elburg does not see his success after a long break from art as unique, saying that he expects there are many other people in the area who could rediscover long dormant talents. He encourages those who enjoy art to come out to the Madison Art Club and stresses that no one should be intimidated.
“Don’t underestimate yourself. If you are interested in art go out and try it.”

Back to October 2012 Articles.



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