I grew up in a home full of paintings created by my father Hermann Buerkle. He grew up in a small farming community in southern Germany where as a child he painted and made drawings. As a young man, he and his brother attended a technical school where Hermann studied fabric design and production technology. Together they operated a fabric mill, but WWII disrupted their business.
Following his dream, in 1952 my father brought our family to Canada to farm when I was 12. We settled in southern Ontario and grew grapes and tomatoes but quickly discovered that the farm would not provide enough income for our family’s needs. My father used his creative talents to augment his income and returned to fabric design, silk screening fabric, and creating copper enamel ornaments. He also painted many pictures and found good success with oil painting.
When setting up my own household, the bare walls begged for pictures like I was used to, so I began to paint. As my fisheries research career advanced, Beth and I bought a small acreage farm with an old house alongside Chamcook Cove. I gave up painting and turned to woodworking because the house needed renovation and the family needed furniture and I discovered a new outlet for my creative energy.
When I came to St Andrews as a bride, my husband Udo suggested I try working with clay. His father, Hermann, was making strong sculptural pieces and dinnerware and he encouraged me—and I was hooked. And a summer at the Banff School of Fine Arts gave me a great boost.
I call myself a craftsperson, rather than an artist. I am a Buerkle by choice, rather than by birth and upbringing, and am in awe of and inspired by the innate Buerkle talent for artistic endeavour and the “can do” attitude.
I am moved to produce something beautiful, whether it’s a blushed butter lettuce or a bowl to serve it in. I am fascinated by the richness of colours and the depths and textures of surfaces. I try to reflect the fog that lies in hidden hollows and reveals the undulating details of our beautiful coastal landscape. I am intrigued by the transformation of a mucky natural material into a durable object of beauty through the magic of fire.
As I learned to make my own pictures at an early age, I was encouraged and challenged by my family. One day, Dad saw me with a colouring book and enquired why I was colouring someone else’s pictures. He asked me if that is how things look in real life. And, well, no—they didn’t really look like that.
We sat down together and he put an orange on the table in front of us. He drew an orange circle and started to colour it orange. But then! He switched the orange crayon for a yellow one to show the highlight on the top of the orange. And then he got a green one, and a red one and a purple one and mixed them all together with jagged energetic marks, one after the other to show the shaded side of the orange and the table under it. All those colours! I wish I still had that little sketch—it hung on the fridge for years until it became faded and tattered— it’s gone but the lesson is still with me.
I had a small corner to make my own creations in the studio my parents shared when I was little. As an adult, I have taken my art endeavours outside. I paint en plein air as often as I can. On location, I observe my chosen scene over time and see the small beautiful moments that don’t appear in a quick snapshot. I find inspiration in the beauty of the land and seascapes of the Bay of Fundy and the scenes I paint fill me with a sense of wonder and joy that I share with others through my art.
Verena Rose Burley
Since the very beginning of my life, I have been surrounded and enveloped by art and the natural world. I was privileged to grow up on a property with ready access to ocean, forest, field, and pond, and I spent the greater part of my childhood exploring these environments. The house itself has always been full of art. Looking at my father’s and grandfather’s paintings and sculptures still brings back some of my earliest memories because the artwork was an ever present part of my childhood and my life in that house.
My grandfather’s paintings served as the very definition of “art” for me for many years, and the quality of his artwork was so far beyond my comprehension that it seemed unattainable. The work that my sister Poppy (ten years my senior) was doing was as much an inspiration to me as the paintings of my father and grandfather. Her work provided (and still provides) a constant reminder of what can be achieved with hard work and dedication. Most of my childhood artistic endeavours were an exercise in trying to imitate her work.
As I got older my sources of inspiration grew with me to include other artists as well as the natural world that surrounds me. I am constantly delighted and intrigued by water and by light, and their ability to transform every day objects into something extraordinary.
1907 — 1995
One day when I was working in my shop, my father came out to see what was going on. I was fitting together two pieces of wood for a piece of furniture. He watched me struggle for some time and then said, “I’d just use a bigger nail.” He was full of practical advice.
In 1988 when Opa moved from Ontario to our home in Chamcook, he was starting a new life after the sudden loss of his dear wife Johanna. He told me that she was his best critic and, as they were very close, I think he missed her very much. He was a private person and would joke about being a hermit here—but I do remember him helping to pitch hay up into our barn loft the next summer—at 82! When he began to paint again, his first painting was a dark and stormy seascape with an old boat struggling against high winds and waves. I wondered if he was painting how he felt, because to me the scene was very much one of being totally lost at sea, and I suspected he might have felt that way. Gardening, reading, painting and the dark, bitter German chocolate he always offered the kids, especially when they were sick, occupied him until his sudden death at 88 in October 1995.
I remember Opa’s studio in his house in Ontario. It had an easel in the middle of the room and most of the furniture was covered with drop cloths. There were lovely large windows, so it was filled with natural light. It contained a day bed and so it became my bedroom when we came for family visits. It smelled of linseed oil and turpentine, the classic smells of oil painting. (This was back when turpentine smelled like the trees it was made from, not the harsh chemical reek it has now.) Still, when I smell linseed oil or turpentine I am transported back to that room for a moment or two.
I have many memories of Opa as he had a “Grampy suite” at our house for years. One time, when I was about 10 or 11, I showed him a painting of a horse that I was quite proud of and he took his stubby pencil and drew right on top of my painting; correcting the anatomy of the horse’s hind leg. Then he gave me some of his nice German chocolate. That was my Opa—quick to point out flaws, and generous with his chocolate.