Melville Wire, American (1877 - 1966)

Melville Wire

An impressionist painter, Melville Wire was an ordained Methodist minister in Oregon and serving parishes throughout the state for sixty-one years, painted on canvas the countryside he traveled by car. In addition to painting hundreds of oils, he produced over thirty etchings of landscapes. Combined, his many scenes of Oregon make him "one of the state's foremost chroniclers of its diverse scenery" (126) before modern development. He was not a part of any organized group of painters but was a solitary figure using impressionist style to convey his feelings about the land he loved.

Melville Wire was born in Austin, Illinois in 1877, and at age seven moved with his family to Salem, Oregon where his father became pastor of the First Methodist Episcopal Church. He and his father spent a lot of time together hunting and fishing, and spotting the son's art talent, his father enrolled him in classes in Salem at Willamette University with Marie Craig. Studying with her until he was sixteen, Melville Wire found "his life-long love of drawing and painting" (126), which he combined with his increasing admiration of the Oregon landscape.

In 1895, Wire attended the University of Oregon, then called State University, and in 1897, transferred to Albany College in Albany, the predecessor to Lewis and Clark College in Portland. He studied for the ministry, and began that career in 1902 as a pastor in Glenview, Illinois. He was married for forty-seven years to Bessie Edna Burgess, and she later took up watercolor painting, learning techniques from her husband.

Wire was an exhibiting member of the Portland Art Club and the Oregon Society of Artists. In 1915, he exhibited with representative Oregon artists at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco.

In 1935, Melville Wire took up etching, which he learned from Gordon Gilkey, a member of his congregation in Albany. From that time, Wire made over thirty plates that included abandoned barns and unpopulated landscape, often with dying trees. Many of Wire's color reproductions were sold through a Chicago printer and through the Associated American Artists Gallery, a print club in New York. He exhibited his work with the Society of American Etchers and the National Society of Etchers as well as other venues.

After retirement in 1946, Wire and his wife moved to Salem, where he became very active in painting, lecturing and exhibiting. He painted in oils, took up watercolors and painted almost to the day of his death on June 22, 1962. He showed no interest in modernism, but stayed with his own impressionist style that reflected his love of the scenery of rural Oregon.

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