At seventy-five, George Burk stands over six-feet tall, a gentle giant whose size is only outdone by his kind nature and love for teaching. He is an accomplished painter and sculptor, whose resume includes over 30 solo exhibitions, including ones at Evansville Museum of Arts and Science, 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 represented in over fifty public and corporate collections around the world.
After nearly fifty years of teaching art at the University of Southern Maine as an associate professor of painting and drawing Burk is retiring at the end of this semester.
“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.
Lakes region residents and current USM fine art students Phoebe Crockett, Stacia Dugas and Judith Randall are part of a select group of artists enrolled in Burk’s final semester. This group is fortunate enough to have experienced his unassuming nature, patience, and calm way of teaching painting.
Crockett of Raymond said, “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.”
“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 students’ progress, give guidance, encouragement and counsel. Sometimes we look at other artist’s 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,” Dugas, also from Raymond, said. “I feel privileged to have been able to take my painting class with Professor Burke.”
While not every student reaches great heights, several of Burk’s former students have, including Richard Prints and Hiroko Fogarty, both of whom achieved success internationally. Fogarty, a USM student recently wrote and illustrated a children’s book sold in Japan said, “(The book's publication is) because of Professor Burk, he encouraged me."
Burk is known to share with his students the work of important artists, often those from Maine. “It’s important for the USM students to make a connection to great painters such a Winslow Homer and the environment in the State of Maine,” he said, explaining how he tries to help students make a connection to their own work and career. Not only is it a touch of art history, but you are also creating an audience who has an awareness and appreciation of other artist’s 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.”
Burk can often be found painting 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 it, that it has become a conversation piece, often eliciting hilarious response from his granddaughters. But for Burk, it serves a higher purpose. He usually parks near an estuary, painting for three to four hours at a stretch. “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 painting the pristine landscapes of Maine and will surely be missed by all who know him.
Burks work is currently being shown at the George Marshall Store Gallery in York through the end of the year. He will also be shown at the Gorham Art Gallery beginning January 23, 2014.