Squam Lake Serenity
By Sarah Sherman
Penny Burke has made her home in New Hampton on Lake Winona at the geographical center of New Hampshire, a location fitting because lake life has always been at the heart of this artist’s being.
She grew up spending summers on Nubanusit Lake in Nelson, a place near and dear to three generations of her family. It was there at age 12 where she met Lee Carter, wife of Dr. Frank Carter, after an accident. Lee was an accomplished artist and she mentored Burke’s artistic talents as she helped care for her injuries.
Now 68, Burke spent her childhood in Dover where her mother was a teacher and she also later attended the University of New Hampshire. Growing up she says she took every art elective available and knew from an early age that she would major in art in college, declaring her major as a freshman in 1969, the last year entering freshmen were permitted to do so.
Following graduation, she married her husband, Ray, a now-retired New Hampshire State Police captain who also later went on to be the director of security at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. They raised a son and daughter, Burke taking a step back from art but dabbling some along the way taking commissions.
When her children were grown and she took on the role of empty-nester, she decided “it was my time to shine” and in 2006 she began to exhibit her work at Imagine Gallery in Laconia, which has since closed.
Thirteen years later, Burke is a member of both Artistic Roots in Plymouth and the Squam Lakes Artisans, which recently moved to the Yikes! American Art Gallery in Center Harbor. Her paintings of the Squam Lakes area, she says, have become her mainstay in both commissions and prints, building a following and finding a niche that continuously brings buyers to her website.
She focuses on landscapes, painting portraits only for close family members — she’s painted her husband and all five of her grandchildren. Her medium of choice is oil — “her first love” — although graphite has also been a medium of choice in the past. Oil she finds to be the easiest away to correct color value and tones.
Her foray into portrait painting came from months of inspirational classes taken with well-known Hawaiian artist Dennis Morton who has a home in the Lakes Region and whom she has known for many years since their sons were classmates.
“He introduced me to a different outlook,” Burke said. “He is 100 percent the reason I got started on portraits.”
One of Morton’s large — 4-by-5-foot — original paintings from 2015, “Meredith Winter,” was stolen from the Vynn Art Gallery in Meredith back in January and Burke is committed to assisting her friend in locating it. Morton’s work is highly valued and there is a documentary being produced about his life.
“He’s a special guy,” Burke emphasized.
But Squam Lake has become without a doubt her favorite muse. The 1981 feature film “On Golden Pond,” starring Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn, was filmed there, of course, and “Church Island,” a nondenominational chapel located on the lake Chocorua Island is a popular wedding destination for many couples.
She has painted four classic boathouses on the lake as part of her “Squam Series,” as well as Upper Oxbow Road and the Squam River Covered Bridge. Additional paintings include sailboats and buoys from the Seacoast area (memories of sailing in Portsmouth Harbor), animals, pet commissions and seasonal views from around the state.
As the busy season of summer kicks in, she’s ready for the bump in energy and sales that comes with tourist season and being a member of New Hampshires destination galleries.
“It never lets you down,” she said. “The charm in downtown Plymouth is amazing… The whole state is inspiring. Everything. That’s what makes it so fun.”
Burke will be one of 30-plus participants at Artisans on the Green in Sandwich on Aug. 8. For more information and to view more of Burke’s artwork, visit pennysartgallery.com, facebook.com/SquamLakesArtisans or artisticroots.com.