Former Aspen resident and artist Irvin Burkee, 89, died Wednesday, Feb. 21. Burkee’s work is visible around Aspen, including in “Wild Birds of the Rocky Mountains,” a copper, bronze and silver mural that was originally commissioned for a home on Red Mountain, but now is on display at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies.
Burkee began his studies in 1939 at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, with principal teacher Boris Anisfeld, the Russian master. Burkee received annual scholarships and was awarded a John Quincy Adams Foreign Travel Fellowship in 1945 when he graduated. At this time he also met and married a fellow art student, Bonnie May Ness.In 1946, Burkee joined the art faculty of the University of Colorado and Stephens College, but withdrew from teaching five years later in favor of working in his studio. His first venture was to found the Burkee Jewelry Studio in Blackhawk at a time when a new movement in the arts world to embrace crafts was growing rapidly.In Blackhawk, Irvin and Bonnie Burkee started their family, which included daughters Brynn and Jill and son Peter. The family moved to Aspen in 1957 so their children could attend school in an “educationally aware town.” After the move, Irvin Burkee began creating larger metal work, sculpting in stone and painting, establishing a gallery for his paintings in downtown Aspen. The artist worked with marble from the quarry in the town of Marble, and occasionally traveled to Pietrasanta, Italy, to work on bronze sculptures in his favorite foundry. His jewelry creations were represented by Aspen’s Alpine Jewelers, owned by Kurt Bresnitz.
Aspen was also the birthplace of Irvin and Bonnie’s son, Ian. The family built a home and studio of logs in Aspen’s West End, near the music tent. They enjoyed a constant flow of tourists and the wide scope of activities in Aspen, including music, the library, theater, lessons in ballet, guitar and banjo, a corral near the meadows for their horses, and skiing. Because a number of folk, bluegrass and country musicians were traveling through Aspen performing and writing their own music, the Burkees regularly had song fests in their studio with these musicians.In 1978, Irvin and Bonnie moved to the Verde Valley in Arizona, where he continued his studio work. Burkee’s art has shown in a number of galleries in Arizona, and he was elected to the National Sculpture Society in 1992. His copper, bronze and silver mural, “The Human History of Colorado,” is now in the collection of the Colorado Historical Society in Denver.
In 1994, Irvin and Bonnie moved to Lake Montezuma, Ariz., building their last studio where Irvin continued to work for several years. About Irvin, Bonnie said, “Irv [was] my forever companion – creative and confident. Only he could have filled my world with our extraordinary children, and art and music, and our special life in the West.” Bonnie said they rebuilt their miner’s cabin in Aspen far away from big-city lights “not to make any grand statement, only [for] the desire to enjoy each day free from needless distractions.”Burkee is preceded in death by his sons, Peter and Ian Burkee. He is survived by his wife Bonnie; daughters Brynn and Jill; grandsons Caleb and Haven; granddaughter Michelle; sister June Knudsen; and brother Bruce Burkee.A memorial service will be held in May 2007 – details to come.