By: Robert McClure
At 75, George Burk stands over six feet tall, a gentle giant whose size is only outdone by his kind nature and love for teaching. And now, after nearly 50 years of teaching, USM associate professor of painting and drawing, Burk has retired.
He is an accomplished painter and sculptor, whose resume includes over 30 solo exhibitions, including those at the Evansville Museum of Arts, History and Science, the Portland Museum of Art, Barridoff Galleries in Portland and the Helen Schlien Galleries in Boston. In 1988, one of his watercolors was selected for “America
Draws”, a survey from the permanent collection of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. His work is also appears in over 50 public and corporate collections around the world.
“Over that many years, you talk to a lot of people, and when you’re part of a degree program, you have an opportunity to teach students at all levels and that makes it very interesting,” said Burk.
Many of his students said that they felt fortunate to have had the opportunity to study under Burk.
“Just being part of George’s classroom would be a rewarding experience in itself, but to be his student for his last semester as a professor and part of his final class makes it very special. I am really glad I got to be his student. He has taught and given me the tools I need to paint and enjoy my paintings,” said senior art education major Phoebe Crockett.
“I’m a comfortable teacher who likes to be in the classroom,” Burk said, when asked what he will miss the most about teaching. “I like to follow my student’s progress, give guidance, encouragement and counsel. Sometimes, we look at other artists’ work that is relevant to what the students are working on at that time. These are some of the things I will miss.”
“George has given me tools to look at paintings with a more appreciative and playful eye, and I thank him for that. He will be sorely missed and I am lucky to have been a student in his last class at USM,” said senior art major Stacia Dugas, who is also in one of Burk’s final courses. “I feel privileged to have been able to take my painting class with Professor Burk.”
While not every student reaches great heights, several of Burk’s former students have, including Richard Prints and Hiroko Fogarty, both have achieved success internationally. Fogarty, a USM student who recently wrote and illustrated a children’s book sold in Japan, reported the Bangor Daily News in a story on her success in May that the book was published because of Burk. “He encouraged me,” she said.
Burk is known to share the work of important artists with his students, including the work of many Maine artists. “It’s important for the USM students to make a connection to great painters such as Winslow Homer and [also with] the environment in the state of Maine,” he said, explaining how he tries to help students make a connection to their own work and their surroundings. “Not only is it a touch of art history, but you are also creating…audience [members] who have an awareness and appreciation of other artists’ work.”
“We have a long-standing and rich tradition of artists coming here to work and live, using the richness of the Maine landscape. The landscape is unspoiled and preserved in many areas. The ones I am particularly interested in are preserved by federal law, the estuaries,” he said.
Burk can often be found painting scenes of nature out of his mobile studio, his 1987 Ford Ranger pick-up truck, an easel on wheels. The truck has so much paint dripped inside of it, that it has become a conversation piece, often eliciting hilarious responses from his granddaughters. But for Burk, it serves a higher purpose. He usually parks near an estuary, painting for three or four hours at a time.
“During that time, major changes have occurred around me. Usually those changes are tidal, and tidal change is very important to my work,” said Burk.
Burk, an avid art and book collector, plans on leaving behind an extensive collection of art books and slides as a gift to the university. He plans on continuing his active art career and devoting more time to painting the pristine landscapes of Maine.
Burk’s work will be shown at the Gorham Art Gallery beginning on Jan. 23 as part of the USM faculty art exhibit.