Charles Key Furr (1928-2014) was born in the Lone Star State, where be began to express his artistic leanings at an early age first by drawing Disney characters, and later in his youth by practicing still life illustrations before progressing to oil portraits. His father often “commissioned” Charles by assigning the young artist to paint window signs for the family’s grocery store business.
Soon after graduating high school, Charles packed a knapsack and his bike and with a handful of other young adventurers left his hometown Amarillo, Texas to tour post-war Europe, at the time a risky undertaking. Although tourists were permitted to travel, basic staples had been limited and many depended on post-war rationing as well as the generosity of residents. Charles was deeply affected by the experience abroad and especially by Italy.
This post war adventure would be the first of many travels, and they would forever influence his art – both in style and in subject matter. Charles would mix study and travel – attending the University of Colorado, Boulder to begin two years of formal art training, then an assignment to work for a Quaker organization in Mexico helping the Indians with field cultivation, followed by a year in New York at the Art Student’s League and two years at the Boston Museum School of Fine Arts, under the tutelage of masters, Karl Zerbe and David Aronson. He then returned to Mexico through the Friends Service Committee where he operated an orphanage for Indian children and taught students at the town’s federal school for from 1953-1955.
While continuing to paint and to study, this time at the Escuela de Antropología, Charles also collected data on impoverished families living in the slums of Mexico City for the renowned anthropologist and writer, Oscar Lewis. From the data Charles collected the book The Children of Sanchez was written, published in 1961 and later made into a movie released in 1971. In 1954 The Christian Herald published the article “Honeymoon in Huitzo” which detailed his life and work there. Reader’s Digest condensed the article under the title “Honeymoon in Mexico.” A short twenty-eight minute film was also produced in 1955.
For the next seven years, Charles would travel artistically and geographically — to study etching and tempera in Italy, formal studies in Colorado, travels to Mexico for his thesis on the murals of Teotihuacan, and returning to Italy to do intensive research in Italian Renaissance at the Harvard Berenson Library, I Tatti. After this, he and his wife, Beatriz, realized that although Italy was an idyllic place to live, proximity to family was foremost. Colorado and New Mexico soon became home for the next 20 years. After deeply immersing himself in life in the Southwest, serving as a new base for his paintings, studies and travels, Charles and Beatriz moved to the Philadelphia area, making trips to Europe more accessible.
Throughout his life, Charles was a committed artist, prolific and talented in his creative output. His work has been exhibited at the Wayne Art Center and the Tredyffrin Library. For several years the Tori Collection also represented his paintings. Charles Furr lived and painted in Devon, Pennsylvania up until his death in 2014. Throughout his life, his artistic vision was motivated, as he said “the artist’s continued preoccupation in the search for beauty, the artist’s ability to captivate it; then representing it in its truest form is the product that is finally judged by others, but never quite mastered by the artist.”