Lemon Grove artist an important contributor of Balboa Park history in art

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Lemon Grove has a very special tie to Balboa Park’s centennial celebration. Ed Roxburgh, a Lemon Grove resident, has painted the park for the last several decades. At the Lemon Grove Library, the current exhibit “Landscapes of Balboa Park” features some of his work.

Last weekend at a special presentation, the president of the Lemon Grove Historical Society Helen Ofield introduced Roxburgh as the “heir apparent for the artists before him.”

Lemon Grove has a very special tie to Balboa Park’s centennial celebration. Ed Roxburgh, a Lemon Grove resident, has painted the park for the last several decades. At the Lemon Grove Library, the current exhibit “Landscapes of Balboa Park” features some of his work.

Last weekend at a special presentation, the president of the Lemon Grove Historical Society Helen Ofield introduced Roxburgh as the “heir apparent for the artists before him.”

Roxburgh smiled at the introduction by Ofield. He is a little shy. Reticence does run in the family, but so does a great talent for art.

“My family has the art gene,” he said. “I credit them for loving art.”

In reality, Roxburgh’s great grandmother Margaret Kyle, whom Roxburgh affectionately refers to as ‘Great Granny’ was a painter. What’s more, she was one of the first people to paint Balboa Park. During the Panama Exposition of 1915, Roxburgh painted the California Tower and the lily pond. Both of those paintings are included in the “Landscapes of Balboa Park” at the library.

In addition, his Uncle Allan Rothero was a well-known artist in San Diego.

“Uncle Allan was a very shy man. I went to one of his few solo exhibits at the Athenaeum. His art was so beautiful that nearly three-quarters of his art sold at the exhibit, but he was so nervous he couldn’t appreciate it.

“So I learned from him that I’d try not to be that way. It’s really about the art, anyway, not the person,” Roxburgh said. 

Truth is, the entire Roxburgh family has always held a fascination with Balboa Park. The carousel in the park was an early inspiration for all of them.

“It was a favorite of our family going back 100 years to my great granny. Then when my father took me and my sister to the park, we wanted to ride the carousel. I hopped on this frog guy,” Roxburgh said, pointing to an illustration he had made of the frog.

Roxburgh’s start in drawing he attributes to his ‘grandma’ Eunice Lyon-Roxburgh. She would save white pieces of cardboard for him to draw on. In that way, his life as an artist began at age 9.

“I’d always tell everyone that I was going to be an artist. They considered that a serious proclamation. And I’d been taught by my Uncle Allan that I had to put in some hard work.

“I don’t know if my number got picked out of a hat, but it so happened that I was selected to take art classes at San Diego Museum of Art when I was 12 years old,” he said.

That stroke of good fortune set Roxburgh on his way to being a serious artist. In 1963, he did a pencil drawing of the Botanical Building.

“A lot has changed in the buildings in Balboa Park,” Roxburgh said. “Notice the two wooden ramps on either side of the building.

Roxburgh went from having just a few opportunities in doing commissioned art to many more in the early 80s.  In 1983, an illustration that he had done for a book was featured in Publishers Weekly. By 1988 he had become a scenes artist at Old Globe Theatre. 

“They gave us six days to design and produce works for the Executive restrooms at the Theatre. It was a lot of fun but they had to be painted quickly,” he said.

Other work at the Old Globe included painting a Dr. Seuss mural. He met Theodore and Audrey Geisel, who not only befriended him but also gave him a job washing the windows of their Mount Soledad home. 

“My dad, who was a fireman, had suggested the job for me until I could make a living with art,” he said. “And I had the benefit of getting to know the Geisels very well. They were wonderful people.”

Roxburgh credits his grandmother with recognizing the talent that he had when he was very young. His education in art includes work at Santa Barbara Fine Arts, Academie Minerva and UCSD Extension. To this day, Roxburgh still paints scenes for the Old Globe. He has also done work for television and feature films as well as painting murals for hotels, restaurants and private residences.

“Max and the Lowrider Car,” a book written by Lemon Grove resident Jim Miles, started Roxburgh on his most recent addition to his career as book illustrator. 

And for this year, the Balboa Park Centennial Art Project is one that fills Roxburgh with particular pride. Yet, he tempers that with a sense of humility.

“An artist often has a reputation of living wild. That may be true in their lives or in their studios, but you need to work in collaboration with a team project. And I truly enjoy that,” Roxburgh said.

Roxburgh cannot give a lot of details about the project to be unveiled in June at the San Diego Fair, but he did say that there would be a representation of the old Alcazar Gardens. That thrilled City Councilmember Jennifer Mendoza, who was in the audience. She said that she and her husband had been married in the Gardens.

“The Balboa Park Centennial is an exciting time for us because all grew up loving the park. I remember my mother taking us to the San Diego Museum of Art, and that is how I grew to appreciate art. Somebody like Ed right here in our Lemon Grove really helps,” said Mendoza.

“Landscapes of Balboa Park” will be on exhibit at the library through March 31.

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