November 14, 2002

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Artist Lee Funderburg—
A village at turn of century

Lee Funderburg’s painting of downtown Yellow Springs businesses is one of the 21 pieces on display at the Winds Cafe this month.

Not far from the horse wrangler’s call in the pasture behind his house, local artist Lee Funderburg mixes his signature vibrantly colored oil paints. The cornfield greens and haystack browns that once dominated his palette have been all but abandoned for the peaches and purples that color the Yellow Springs townscapes in his newest oil series, “Yellow Springs Suite,” hanging at the Winds Cafe this month.

Staring at a blank canvas at the turn of the century, Funderburg wanted to paint a tribute to the village where he was raised. Twenty-one paintings for the 21st century seemed an adequate challenge.

He began by taking photos of downtown, the Street Fair, the Riding Centre, Whitehall Farm and other familiar spots he felt were beautiful. It took him two years, from 2001–2002, to transfer the life in the photos to the village as he saw it on smooth wood panels. The resulting images that appear, from the sunny view of Kings Yard to a winter day in the Pine Forest, capture the serenity and idealism of a small community in hyped-up colors and rich details, such as the red logo of Deaton’s Do it Best Hardware.

Funderburg grew up on a 100-acre farm near the South Glen, always drawing as a child. In the late 1970s, he left Yellow Springs after art school for a turn at Tyler Graphics as a fine art printer for Kandinsky and other abstract artists.

Even while navigating the far-off metropolis, the first paintings Funderburg tackled were the cornfields and grassy plains he had always painted. He had tried a few shows of his own in New York.

“New Yorkers want to buy famous people’s art, I don’t think they’re interested in paintings of Ohio by a little known Midwesterner,” Funderburg said.

But instead of changing his art to fit the market in 1998, he shifted locations to continue doing what he wanted to do: paint landscapes of Ohio.

“I like abstract art, and I’ve tried it, but I’ve never come up with anything that’s satisfied me,” he said. “It’s a matter of realizing what you are and being that.”

Funderburg greets the sun every morning to help his two brothers feed and water the 30 horses they board. They grow and harvest their own hay and corn for feed. After the mowing, wood chopping and stall cleaning, retreating to the studio is a nice change of pace, Funderburg said.

“I’m probably odd that way,” he said. “There aren’t many farmer artists.”

Funderburg has had two other shows at the Winds and one in the local gallery of the Dayton Art Institute, which included studies of agricultural landscapes and still lifes in antique frames. His recent work allowed him to branch out from his former niche while maintaining a fidelity to his roots.

With “Yellow Springs Suite” now on display, Funderburg said he is itching to start painting again.

“Maybe 100 years from now, these will eventually be the most popular paintings I’ve done,” he said. “Though I can’t say I’ve painted my last cornfield.”


—Lauren Heaton