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 David Robert Brumbach  (1948 - 1992)

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Lived/Active: Pennsylvania      Known for: realist, abstract and humorous painting, collage

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
David Robert Brumbach (21 November, 1948- 27 February, 1992)

At the time of his death, it was said of David Brumbach that his artwork could just as easily mirror the natural world or transcend it.

Born in Lititz, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, David R.Brumbach was the son of Stanley S. and Betty Kauffman Brumbach.  His work encompassed both the realistic and the abstract, drawing popular attention from Lancastrians as well as respect from his peers.  He worked mostly in acrylic painting. “He's made a tremendous gift not only in his representational art, which is hanging on countless walls, but also in what you might call his abstract art, which also has a tremendous following,” said the founding president of the Demuth Foundation. 

From the works he produced during his boyhood in Lititz to the photographic realism and abstract collages of his full-time career, art was Brumbach's consuming passion. 

A student at Warwick School District, Lititz, Pennsylvania, he enjoyed walking and fishing in the nearby countryside.  After his father died of a heart attack when Brumbach was 12, he began to paint.  He set up a studio in the basement of his home.  It was at the age of 17 that he learned he had insulin-dependent diabetes, an illness that plagued him throughout his life. "I loved painting in those days,” he said in a 1982 interview. "Painting was the best feeling in the world.” His dedication to art drew thousands of Lancastrians to his shows at local galleries and benefit auctions.

Brumbach's career has been compared to that of Lancaster watercolorist Charles Demuth; the lives of the artists had a number of parallels.  “He was a genuinely good man.  The artwork is like the icing on the cake,” a contemporary stated and then added, “He was the kindest, most gentle, most loving, most giving person. He would always make you feel good.  He always made me feel like I inspired him, when in fact he inspired me. He was like the artist's artist.  He knew what was important to him, and he worked at it.”

“David's art was complex,” the director of the Demuth Foundation said. “Sometimes there are nuances there in the image and in the energy that communicate with the viewer on an intuitive level.  I think that people felt an affinity for the quality of the work.  In his realistic works, it was a subject for which they already had an affinity.  His abstractions appealed to much more complex emotions within people.  There were collectors who liked both types."  "David was a professional. and he was very easy to work with,” the director remarked, adding that the Demuth Gallery was sometimes too small to handle the quantity of work and crowds that came to Brumbach's shows.

Brumbach studied at the Rhode Island School of Design, graduating in 1970.  He returned to Lancaster and was featured in his first local show the following year.  In the earlier part of his career, Brumbach established himself as one of Lancaster's premier realistic painters, often painting scenes along East Orange Street, which he could see from the windows of his studio. 

Throughout that decade, Brumbach won awards at art shows in Harrisburg, Allentown and Lancaster.  He won first place in the first juried exhibition of the Pennsylvania Society of Watercolor Painters. By 1976 he had quit his job selling art supplies and devoted all his time to painting. 

In June of 1973, Brumbach received an award for his Ufayz Kyre, a work of mixed media at the Lancaster Summer Arts Festival.  At the Lancaster County Open Art Show in June of 1976, Brumbach was presented with the Henry J. Marshall Award for an abstraction titled Gobi which was in competition with works of 93 professional and non-professional artists.

In April of 1977 he was awarded the Herb Olsen Award at the annual exhibition of the American Watercolor Society in New York City for his watercolor titled Star Barn.  At the Greater Harrisburg (PA) Arts Festival in May, 1977, he won the Miss M. Louise Aughinbaugh award.

The 17 Annual Lancaster County Open Art th Show was held in June of 1977.  Brumbach captured the Best of Show for “a cleanly executed, super-real portrait of Jim’s Café, an East Frederick Street (Lancaster County, PA) taproom.”

In August, 1977, David Brumbach’s Amish Farm painting captured first prize in the art division of a benefit art show, sponsored by the alumni of Linden Hall School for Girls in Lititz, PA. 

His tall, lanky figure and piercing blue eyes made him a well-known presence around Lancaster City, where he spent hours walking or riding a bicycle.  By the end of the 1970s, Brumbach had established himself here as a gifted realistic painter.  He had exhibited at Community Gallery and Marion Art Gallery.  His watercolor East Orange Street glowing in a winter sunset was featured on notepaper which was sold to benefit the Lancaster County Library.  It was the first in long series of charitable donations he would make.

Brumbach firmly established himself as a benefactor in Lancaster County, donating works for auctions to aid a variety of causes.  Brumbach had exhibited paintings at the Demuth Foundation gallery to benefit the American Diabetes Association and the Demuth Foundation.  His Star Barn watercolor was featured in the March of Dimes 8th Annual Art Auction in 1989.  A Brumbach watercolor of Musser Park benefitted the park renovation project in 1988, and he also participated in a benefit auction for the Pennsylvania School of the Arts.  A Brumbach painting of East Orange Street was reproduced for the Multiple Sclerosis Society’s 1986 Christmas card.  When asked about his donations to charitable causes, he responded, “I guess that I feel grateful to be making a living in what I like to do.  I feel that you should give something back.  A lot of people in Lancaster have done a lot of things for me.” 

A month after his death, his widow donated a work titled Waterlily to a fund raiser to benefit the Lancaster Farmland Trust.  Newspaper writers called him “low-key," "shy" and “soft-spoken,” an artist who never capitalized on his magnetic personality.  His sense of humor was always noted as well.  “One of the things that is important when I*m doing art is not to take it too seriously," he said in 1985.  “When I get to the point where I don't want to take risks, that's where I tear a thing in half.”

By the early 1980s, Brumbach was exhibiting his abstract or “non-representational” paintings and collages. Though his realistic pieces were more widely known, his abstract work also received a great deal of attention.  His exhibits were almost legendary locally for their frenzied openings, with visitors purchasing paintings within the first few minutes.  He was one of few local artists who could support himself through art alone.

In 1985 Brumbach lost his left leg to diabetic complications.  He came home from the hospital with an artificial leg and a sketchbook full of drawings of pained and exaggerated faces.  That sketchbook became the basis for a series of paintings that introduced many people to the artist's talent for creating abstract pieces.  During the hospital stay, he had the chance to reflect. “I wasn’t an artist in the hospital.  I was just a guy. A person's spirit, a person's love is important. Things like friendship.”  “He painted things that interested him.  He loved Lancaster; he loved the local area.”a friend said, adding, "‘He loved the twilight.  He painted what was familiar to him, things that he saw every day," But Brumbach "never let technique get in his way,” his friend went on to say. “He could take a three-by-five photograph and make it into a 30-inch painting, just by looking at it.” 

Brumbach did not use mechanical enlargement techniques.  Sometimes, to get a larger vista, he would take several photographs and tape them together. Later, Brumbach began concentrating on his more abstract work, including collages.  In a 1988 interview, he commented on the transition. “They are at different ends of the philosophical spectrum.” he said.  “They aren’t competing, they're just two different things.  “They aren’t abstractions of things I've seen, they don't have visible, tangible references,” he said of the abstracts.  “The reason for making these is inside of me.  I'm looking for something I can't express in words.  In each artist there is a search for yourself.” 

Starting with a piece of found paper that was attractive for whatever marks or wrinkles that may be present, Brumbach added thick layers of  paint and three-dimensional elements like bits of glass, beads, wire or even small plastic animals.  From there, he combined the materials into a unified image.  There are certain characteristics of the collages that make them immediately recognizable as a "Brumbach.”  The repeated use of horizontal lines create a tight, graph-like appearance and they all seem to contain a central mountain-shaped form that acts as a stabilizing focus and serves as a point of reference from which to view the remainder of the picture.

Brumbach had a talent for versatility. He could have two tables set up, and be simultaneously working on the realistic paintings and the collages.  The realistic paintings demanded great detail, while with the collages, “he could just play.” 

Brumbach had a body of work which was not as widely recognized as his realistic and collage paintings: humorous art.  Brumbach produced a number of illustrative cartoons, often with words. 

The artist held or contributed to shows at numerous local galleries, including Community Gallery of Lancaster County; Millport Museum, Lititz; Demuth Foundation; Millersville University's Sykes Gallery; Marion Art Gallery; and Lancaster Galleries.  By August of 1980 David’s Brumbach’s reputation had spread beyond the Lancaster countryside to Philadelphia.  Barbara Newcomb of the Sunday News reported: “David Brumbach.  The name–one that immediately comes to mind when thinking of art in Lancaster, is now becoming known in Philadelphia as well.”  Four of Brumbach’s abstract collages were exhibited at the Marian Locks Gallery in Philadelphia.  The exhibit, entitled “Looking Forward” was the twelfth time the gallery had organized a New Talent Exhibition.

Brumbach's career has been compared to that of another of Lancaster's well-known artists, Charles Demuth.  Both achieved success in the world of art, suffered from diabetes and were generous to the Lancaster community.  In 1986, Diabetes Forecast magazine ran a side-by-side article about the two.  In October of 1989, the Demuth Foundation held an auction at Southern Market Center.  On the block were about 35 of David Brumbach’s new works.  The purpose for the auction was to raise money to purchase Pink Tulips, a masterpiece by Lancaster artist Charles Demuth.  It would become the first major work by Demuth in the museum’s permanent collection.

In 1992, Science Press of Ephrata, PA, produced a coffee table keepsake book titled, David Brumbach: Talent, Paper and Paint. by Robert LeMin, Jr., who had met Brumbach in 1973 and became familiar with his art and lifestyle through visits to his studio and exhibits.  This limited edition volume, profusely illustrated, documents the short life of David Brumbach.  It’s organization reflects the various periods in the artist’s life and art: Cityscapes and Farms; Water Lilies and Plants; The Star Barn; Orange Street and Downtown Lancaster; Rural Landscapes; The Abstracts; Masks and Faces; the Lighter Side; Letters from Africa; Bicycles and Unicycles; Collages; and Painting the Light.  Quotes by David Brumbach are found throughout the book’s pages: “The act of creating art is a humbling experience;”  “There is nothing more exciting than doing a painting or creating something that really connects with something inside of you;”  “The abstract paintings...I don’t know where they come from.  They are a reflection of my spirit;” “Art should be motivated by love for life and love for the viewer or audience;”  “My talent is a gift from God. I take no credit;” “My art is more than an escape, it is an expression of love that I feel for the beauty of this life, especially in the realist work;”  “Being creative is what is important.  There are too many people trying to be artists, trying to make things that look like great art;”  “It has been a long journey for me.  A long learning process with many wrong turns.  A journey from darkness to light;”  “A metaphor for my entire life could be painting the light or trying to reach the light.”

David Brumbach died at his home in February, 1992, after battling a brain tumor for three months.  He was 43.  At the time, one local reported stated, “David Brumbach died too young, with too much still left to say.”

In August of 1999, an exhibit of David Brumbach’s water lily watercolors was held at Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, PA.  It showcased 20 acrylic watercolors in an exhibit titled Waterlilies and Plants. At the same time, a documentary video on David Brumbach, commissioned by Lancaster Galleries:  Lilies and Other Visions: David Brumbach, was produced by Mary Haverstick of Haverstick Films.  From November 8, 2008 thru January 4, 2009 the Demuth Museum presented an exhibit titled, David Brumbach Unbound: Pages From His Book, based on the sketches he drew during his hospital stay. The exhibition also featured a retrospective overview of Brumbach's career, highlighting his varied stylistic range.  This portion of the exhibition surveyed his photo-realist works of urban scenes, well-known rural Lancaster County subjects such as the Star Barn, later abstract works and his lesser-known comic drawings.  A small soft-covered book, David Brumbach Unbound: Pages From His Book, by Anne M. Lampe, was published by The Demuth Museum (2008) for the exhibit.  When asked how he would like to be remembered, David Brumbach replied, “I don’t think of myself as being remembered as an artist. I think I would rather be thought of as a good person.  I think of the art part as being a gift that I really don’t have too much to do with.”

Awards:
Lancaster Summer Arts Festival, mixed media, 1973
Lancaster Open Awards: Best of Show, Henry J. Marshall Award, 1976
American Watercolor Society: Herb Olsen Award, 1977
Greater Harrisburg (PA) Arts Festival: M. Louise Aughinbaugh Award, 1977
Philadelphia Art Directors Gold Medal Award, 1977
Linden Hall School for Girls: Lititz, PA, First Prize, 1977
Lancaster Open Awards: Best of Show, 1977
PA Watercolor Society: Best of Show, 1979
Pennsylvania Council on the Arts: Visual Fellowship Grant, 1987

Invitational Shows:
“New Talent”, Marion Locks Gallery, Philadelphia, 1980
“Group Show”, Rosenfeld Gallery, Philadelphia, 1982
“Humorous Art”, Rosenfeld Gallery, 1982
“Approaches to Realism”, Marion Art, 1984
“Curious Imagery”, Marion Art, 1984

One-Man Shows:
Carr House Gallery, Rhode Island School of Design, 1970
Tremellen Gallery: 1972
William Ris Gallery: 1972, 1976
Wyomissing Institute of Art, 1975
Dana Gallery, Franklin & Marshall College, 1977
Marion Art: 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1985, 1986
Sykes Gallery, Millersville University, 1984
Demuth Gallery, Charles Demuth Foundation: 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 2008
Community Gallery: Retrospective Show, 1988
New Collaborations: Mixed-Media Collage, with Jerome Hershey, 1988
Millport Museum and Conservancy: Brumbach: Then & Now, 1988
Millport Museum and Conservancy: David Brumbach: Recent Works, 1990
Lancaster Galleries: David Brumbach, New Works, 1991

Posthumous Shows:
Millport Museum and Conservancy: David Brumbach Memorial Exhibition, 1992
Lancaster Galleries, David Brumbach: Paintings & Drawings, 1993
Lancaster Museum of Art: David Brumbach Retrospective, 1996
Lancaster Galleries: Brumbach Show in conjunction with Lancaster Museum of Art, 1996
Lancaster Galleries: The Many Faces of David Brumbach, 1998
Longwood Gardens: Waterlilies and Plants, 1999
Demuth Museum: Twentieth Century Bookends, Charles Demuth and David Brumbach, 2001
Studio370 Art Gallery, Holliston, MA: David Brumbach, A Long Journey, 2006
Lancaster Museum of Art: Visions of the Susquehanna: 250 Years of Paintings by American
Masters (Traveling Exhibition, PA, MD, NY), 2006-2008
Demuth Museum: David Brumbach Unbound: Pages From His Book, 2008-2009

Collections:
Examples of David Brumbach’s art are in the permanent collections of the Pennsylvania State Museum; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; Lancaster Museum of Art; the Phillips Museum at Franklin & Marshall College, Lancaster, PA; the Millport Museum and Conservancy, Lancaster, PA; Lancaster Country Day School.

Books:
Artists’ Album/Lancaster County, Gerald S. Lestz, 1983
David Brumbach: Talent, Paper and Paint, Robert LeMin, Jr., 1992.
David Brumbach (1948-1992), Lancaster Museum of Art, 1996.
Speaking for Themselves: The Artists of Southern Pennsylvania, Daphne Landis, 2003
Visions of the Susquehanna: 250 Years of Paintings by American Masters, Rob Evans, 2006
David Brumbach Unbound: Pages From His Book, The Demuth Museum, 2008.

Video:
Lilies and Other Visions: David Brumbach, Commissioned by Lancaster Galleries; Produced
by Haverstick Films, 1999.

Magazines:
Diabetes Forecast, November/December, 1986, “Artist David Brumbach: Drawing From Life” and “Portrait of Two Artists.”
Appraise, January, 1991, “David Brumbach: Where Art Comes From,” pp. 50-52
Lancaster County Magazine, November, 1998, “Remembering David Brumbach,” pp. 50-53

Sources:
This biography is based on obituaries and news articles from the Lancaster newspapers, New Era and Intelligencer Journal and Robert LeMin, Jr.’s book, David Brumbach: Talent, Paper and Paint.

Researched and written by Gary Hawbaker of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania

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