Elsie Dinsmore Popkin

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Azaleas on Runnymede Road, pastel 22" x 30" ©2003

Monday, January 10, 2005
Elsie Popkin, an artist, dies Known for pastel landscape paintings, she was also an activist
By Mary Giunca

Elsie Dinsmore Popkin's Winston-Salem was a sunlit place full of color and natural beauty.

Popkin captured everything from the daffodils at Reynolda Gardens to the azaleas along Runnymede Road in bold, bright strokes.

She died Saturday of complications from chemotherapy treatment for cancer. She was 67.

The artist was a familiar sight around the city, particularly in the spring, when she would don a collapsible hat and set up on location with a nearby thermos of decaffeinated coffee.

"She had such a sense of beauty - an extraordinary sense of beauty and joy," said her sister, Anne Dinsmore Kindred. "I wish I could see through her eyes."

Fellow artists said that Popkin was one of the most commercially successful artists working in Winston-Salem. She was an exhibiting member at Artworks Gallery in Winston-Salem. The Uptown Gallery in New York City represented her.

Popkin's personality was as colorful as her pictures, primarily painted with pastels.

She grew up in Reading, Pa., and liked to say that she was born a Republican Episcopalian who became a liberal New York Jew, said her husband, Mark Popkin.

"She always had a cause," he said. "She was a dynamic, vital person who was interested in current events and politics. She was involved in all of life."

Many things could stir what Mark Popkin called his wife's "strong sense of moral outrage."

She chased people who picked flowers in Reynolda Gardens, and she would confront people who parked in handicapped spaces illegally. One of her biggest crusades came in 1985 when Popkin successfully worked for exemption of artists from the state inventory tax.

Popkin was fond of saying that if she hadn't been an artist, she would have been a politician, although she wasn't sure that her frankness would have made her popular with voters.

Alix Hitchcock, a printmaker and drawing instructor at Wake Forest University, said she admired Popkin's endurance, dedication and energy. "It is so hard to work outside," she said. "You're out in the elements, the wind is blowing. There might be bugs. You want to leave, but you can't because you're not finished."

Many landscape painters work from photographs, but Popkin knew that being outside made her work fresher, Hitchcock said.

Popkin began her career painting nudes, but she switched to landscapes after she was invited to participate in a landscape exhibition in the early 1980s.

She explained the change to a Winston-Salem Journal reporter: "I was also tired of listening to problems; it's like being a standing psychiatrist. When you do a landscape, nobody complains about what it looks like. A tree doesn't say, 'I'm not that fat.'"

Besides her North Carolina landscapes, Popkin painted on location in the Greek islands, Ecuador, Japan, New York and Taiwan. Painting on location was not without its mishaps for Popkin. After she was charged by hungry sows on a pig farm in East Bend, she kept a pail of feed close by that she doled out when she wanted the pigs to pose.

She worked to make her colors authentic and once carried dried azalea blossoms in a bag until she found someone who was willing to reproduce that particular shade.

Kate Magruder, a mixed-media artist and fellow member of Artworks Gallery, called Popkin a generous person who brought a sense of vibrancy to everything she did.

"She had a joy for life like no other, not only for her own work, but for other people's," she said. "Once you knew her, you loved her."

Services will be held a the Temple Emanuel, 201 Oakwood Drive, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Thursday, January 13, 2005 at 7:30 pm in the Main Sanctuary.

In lieu of flowers, please direct contributions to:

Artworks Gallery
564 Trade Street
Winston-Salem, NC 27101