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Elsie Dinsmore Popkin (1937-2005)

Elsie Dinsmore Popkin was an incredibly talented artist and activist who consistently enriched her compositions with a sense of vitality.

Well known for her verdant and vivid landscapes, Popkin’s proclivity for pastels enabled her to explore light and intensity of color in a way that gave life to the paper she worked on. Her ardent appreciation of nature is so apparent in her work that it inspires an almost spiritual pull to the outdoors.

Born in Reading, Pennsylvania in 1937, Elsie Dinsmore Popkin knew she would be an artist from a young age. She began working with pastels as a teenager, although initially she worked primarily in figure painting. In 1954, Popkin enrolled at Cornell University to study Painting. The environs of Ithaca were rich and immediately made Popkin feel at home. Cayuga Lake and the Cornell Plantations were especially important subjects for her, once noting that her favorite vantage point on campus was from the 5th floor of the Johnson Museum. Shortly before her death in 2005, Popkin returned to complete a series of floral pastels, in situ, of selected areas of the Plantation grounds. After graduating in 1958, Popkin maintained a strong connection with the University as a longtime member of the President’s Council of Cornell Women.

Elsie Dinsmore Popkin was based out of Winston Salem for the majority of her career, although she did also paint in Japan, Taiwan, New York and Maine, amongst a few other domestic locations. The geographic diversity of North Carolina was incredibly enticing to her, as it enabled her to explore a variety of landscapes without requiring too much travel.

Popkin was particularly fond of painting en plein air, as it allowed her to feel one with the landscape and see nature as it was meant to be seen, endowing her work with an incredible sense of lusciousness.

In 1975, Elsie Dinsmore Popkin was honored as the first Artist-in-Residence of the Reynolda House Museum of American Art in Winston Salem. Students of Wake Forest University may recall seeing the artist set up with her easel on the grounds, meticulously focused on conveying the beauty that surrounded her. Later, in 1989, Popkin was named the Winston Salem Artist of the Year. In 2002, Elsie Dinsmore Popkin was also designated an Artist-in-Residence at Crater Lake National Park, as part of its centennial celebration. Additionally, Popkin was a Fellow at Yaddo and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.

Inspired by the rocky shores of the Isles of Shoals of Maine and the teeming gardens of Celia Thaxter’s property on Appledore Island, Elsie Dinsmore Popkin spent several summers returning to these coasts. Here, she painted in homage to the celebrated American Impressionist painter Childe Hassam. During these summers, she also taught pastel workshops to aspiring artists on location.


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