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 Ernest Berke  (1921 - 2010)

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Lived/Active: Arizona      Known for: western genre-Indian, sculpture

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Ad Code: 3
Ernest Burke
from Auction House Records.
The Evening War Prayer
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
A sculptor and painter of western subjects and well known both in the Southwest and East Coast, Ernest Berke was born in Harlem, New York City in 1921 to a Romanian mother who designed clothes and a Russian father, who was a sheet metal worker.  At six years of age, his father, who recognized his talent, encouraged him to pursue art.  While working as an advertising illustrator for Sears & Roebuck for a number of years, Ernest became fascinated with the growing West, especially cowboys and Indians.

A self-taught artist and anthropologist, Berke was a voracious reader.  He met on a regular basis at a local New York City bookstore with a group who shared his interest in the West, and occasionally, Berke would also show his works there.

When the New York Times reviewed his work, it was met with great interest, and he terminated his job to devote himself to his painting.  His devotion to the West covers over four decades, completing more that 2500 paintings and nearly 80 sculptures, five of which are life-size.  He has portrayed the North American Indian with considerable accuracy and sensitivity, having lived with the Northern Shoshone Indian tribe in Blackfoot, Idaho.

He is the only Western artist to have been accepted to appear in the Kennedy Galleries in New York, and has been featured in the American Artist, Sotheby's, and Southwest Art.  He has had studios in Long Island and Santa Fe, New Mexico, and has written and illustrated two books on the American frontier and on Indians, both commissioned by Doubleday.

Berke spent his summers in Scottsdale, Arizona, where he erected a 12-foot by 18-foot bronze sculpture titled The Buffalo Hunt.  His winters were usually spent in New York City.

Ernest Berke passed on November 10, 2010.

Earnest Berke is known for his traditional Western paintings, illustrations, and sculptures.  Unfortunately not much is known about the early part of his life.  He most likely was born in New York City in 1921.  Son of a metal worker, Berke left high school without graduating.  After serving in the Air Force in WWII, he worked as a commercial artist making slide films for three years.  Later he went on to produce drawings for Sears, which they used in newspaper ads.

As a hobby, Berke began handcrafting Indian articles using the traditional methods of the Native American tribes he studied.  His interest in Indians evolved into paintings.  He improved his painting technique with the advice Harold Von Schmidt, a famous illustrator, gave him.

By the 1960's Berke had gained a strong following, and his paintings and sculptures were selling well.  In 1963, he was commissioned to write and illustrate a children's book on Indians.  At this time he was living on Long Island, NY and spending several months a year in the West.  He traveled the mountains, deserts and reservations making colored studies and taking photographs. Once he returned East, Berke would devote a good deal of time studying Native American material in libraries and museums.

For his bronze work, he used the "lost wax" process.  In painting, he limited himself to one work at a time, a matter of five or six months including research. In the 1970's Berke made his new home in the Santa Fe, New Mexico area. Earnest Berke in most noted for specializing in Indians and for his talent working in many mediums.

Source: Thomas Nygard Gallery

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