If the eyes are the window to the soul, then Placerville artist, E. Richard Colburn was one of those who was able to capture them in his portraits.
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Colburn, who died March 4 at the age of 82, always strove, in his words, “to reveal his subject’s soul through the eyes” and to “discover and portray the special quality that makes each person unique … (that) something spiritual.”
Nationally known, Colburn attained recognition through his specialized art of portraiture, executed in the style of classical realism. A member of the Portrait Society of America, his work has been exhibited at the De Young Museum in San Francisco and the Rosicrucian Museum in San Jose as well as in other galleries and private collections throughout the United States. Galleries in downtown Placerville also showed his work.
One of his closest friends was fellow artist Dee Allyson who knew Colburn for 25 years and who looked after him until his death.
Allyson said they first met at an art show in Placerville and their relationship developed over the years as they ran into each other in town. She credits Colburn with teaching her a lot about life, art and people.
“He was like a father to me,” said Allyson, “and I was like a daughter to him. We were really close.”
A deeply spiritual person, though not religious, Allyson said Colburn was born in Placerville in 1930. At the age of 1, he and his mother moved to San Francisco where he was immersed in the arts. His native talent appeared early and as a teen, when the wallpaper in his bedroom was removed, he replaced it with his own sketches. His family never repapered the room again.
He was also a talented athlete who was named player of the year for his football prowess in high school.
Colburn went on to study at the Art League of California and the Academy of Art College of San Francisco with instructors who believed in the academic tradition of admiring the human form in all its manifestations and who stressed the importance of anatomy, constant drawing and seeing.
After college, Colburn became an architectural draftsman in San Francisco but he was always an artist, said Allyson. “He didn’t want to work at anything other than his art.”
He then graduated to being a freelance commercial artist and instructor, teaching master portrait drawing classes. For a 10-year period he lived in Carmel where he served as a judge at their art festivals. Ten years ago he returned to Placerville to care for his ailing mother. While here he taught Quick Sketch/Life Drawing classes through the El Dorado Arts Council.
As an artist, Colburn usually worked from photographs rather than lengthy settings. He interpreted the photograph with pencils, to create a lifelike, three-dimensional effect. The viewer was always drawn to his portraits by his rendering of his subject’s eyes.
“He brought the beauty out of his subjects. As a person he was very kind and gentle and believed in the Tao Te Ching,” said Allyson. “He studied Tao and was very much about being in the flow of life and living in the now. He believed we are in heaven now and we should live each day at our very best. He had a beautiful outlook on life.”
Allyson said Colburn could work in a variety of mediums — oils and watercolors — and also sculpted. He believed an artist could capture the essence of his subject no matter what medium or technique. “But his true love and deepest talent was in graphite,” she remarked.
His portraits usually went for between $8,000 and $10,000 and were primarily children’s portraits although he also did some for friends and family members. He would draw pictures of celebrities he liked in order to show potential clients the level of skill he would bring to the job.
Besides being an artist, Colburn also loved nature and enjoyed gardening, fly fishing, and hiking.
Allyson said they hiked all over the Sierra, which Colburn knew like the back of his hand. “When we hiked, he’d tell you all about the trees,” said Allyson. “He’d say, ‘When you listen, each tree has its own voice.’ ”
“He was beautiful like that,” she said. “He was very in tune to nature, to people, to personalities. He had a real intuitive sense of people and a huge love of nature. He always left behind a beautiful garden wherever he lived and could grow anything.”
Above all else, Allyson remembers her friend as being patient, kind, quiet and honest. “His senses were very heightened and that’s why he was such a fantastic artist and perfectionist. That’s what he was about. He chose those things over money. He saw beauty in everything around him and was truly the richest person I know because of that.”
Married three times with three children and one grandchild, Colburn developed Parkinson’s disease towards the end of his life, making it increasingly difficult for him to work. His last two pieces of art were of Allyson and of the couple he lived with. “They were very generous to him,” she said.
Allyson said Colburn would want to be remembered exactly as he was. As being kind and gentle and for his love of art and nature.
“He had a lovely way of looking at life. People loved Richard because he was unique. He always found the good in things. His life was always full.”
A celebration of Colburn’s life will be held on 1 p.m. April 12 at Green Valley Community Church, 3500 Missouri Flat Road, Placerville. Lunch will be served. Allyson said some of Colburn’s pictures will be on display at the celebration and afterwards she plans to put them on a museum tour.
In lieu of flowers, people can donate to the Green Valley Community Church. For additional information, people should call Allyson at 916-541-9451.
Contact Dawn Hodson at 530-344-5071 or [email protected] Follow @DHodsonMtDemo on Twitter.