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Strength, color dominate artist’s view of the waterfront

Lobstering is not a glamorous occupation. There’s a lot of sweat, grime and, of course, bait juice involved. Yet some people, such as artist Melissa Post van der Burg, can focus on elements of beauty found in the lobstering world. Van der Burg was not born to a lobstering family. In fact, she did not even grow up near the water. “I grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah,” she laughed. “I moved here 25 years ago. I always wanted to live in Maine.” At age twelve, flipping through an issue of Life magazine, van der Burg read an article about artist Andrew Wyeth and Port Clyde, Maine. “It was life changing,” she recalled. “I knew that’s what I wanted to do.” Her life took her in other directions, however, although she continued to have a strong interest in art and artists. After moving to the state with her husband and children, van der Burg stepped down from her position as the ecumenical minister for three churches in the Turner area at age 50 and began to learn to be an artist.

"Ladder Up III," on loan to Senator Angus King's Washington, D.C. office.

“There were long periods of time when I was trying to learn something and then suddenly I’d realize that I got it! It was incredibly frustrating and satisfying,” she said. Bit by bit van der Burg developed the skills to portray in paint the things that interested her. Commercial success soon followed. “A friend took me to a sidewalk art show one day. I brought some of my watercolors and sold them, which was a surprise. It just built up from there,” she said. Although van der Burg lives in Augusta, she is a member of Art Space in Rockland and recently was accepted into the Copley Art Society of Boston, the oldest nonprofit art society in the U.S. Van der Burg’s work reflects the brilliant colors and strong shapes of Maine’s working waterfronts and the men and women found there. That combination of color and content drew the attention of Senator Angus King when he visited Art Space a few years ago. Sen. King was captivated by one of van der Burg’s large paintings of a female lobsterman coming up a wharf ladder. “He really liked it <“ladder up iii”> and asked if I would lend it to him for his D.C. office,” she said. “And that’s where it is now.”

"Good Buoys"

Every other year van der Burg and her husband spend a month on Monhegan during the summer. “I paint from morning to sunset. It’s a landscape where the orange and yellow really pop,” she said. Van der Burg’s style emphasizes realism but with a certain amount of stylization. She composes her paintings from pictures she takes on Monhegan or while visiting places such as Vinalhaven or Five Islands in Georgetown. Van der Burg will soon open a new exhibit at the Landings gallery in Rockland, followed by a show of her work in, of all places, North Dakota. “It’s such a privilege to be able to paint. Whenever I hang out on the waterfront I’m never disappointed. It’s full of life, not romantic. It’s integrity and hard work, all the things that Maine can be and is,” van der Burg said.


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