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By Miriam Raftery

July 24, 2020 (San Diego’s East County) – On July 26, Descanso artist Phebe Burnham will celebrate her 100th birthday.  A restrospective display of her vibrant oil paintings, pastels and mixed-media creations can be viewed at Sophie’s Gallery in El Cajon from now through September 9th.  Several can been seen online and many more can be viewed in-person at the gallery at 140 East Main Street in El Cajon.

Born at the dawn of the Roaring ‘20s in the U.S. and the Mexican Revolution in Mexico, Burnham has painted scenes and people in both Mexico and the U.S., including her rural Descanso community. 


Born in New Bedford, Massachusetts in 1920 into an artistic family, Burnham received degrees from the Swain School of Design and the Columbia University School of Painting and Sculpture. She studied with the prestigious Art Students League and came to El Cajon with her husband, Bob Burnham, an administrator in the Grossmont High School District.

Phebe taught in the GUHSD while raising her family and returned to painting full time after her husband passed away.  She creatse portraits and landscapes using oil paints and pastels as well as a mixed media technique she has perfected, alternating gouache paint and India ink to creat dramatic contrasts of lights and darks in her often whimsical compositions.

She has traveled widely, creating many works featuring one of her avorite destinations in Oaxaca, Mexico, where bright colors and folk art have delighted her artist's eye. 

Locally, shes has served on the El Cajon Arts and Culture Commission, also creating the beautiful border design on the city of El Cajon's stationary.

Supervisor Dianne Jacob declared July 24 “Phebe Burnham Day” in her honor. A reception was planned but has been postponed due to health concerns.

The artist was briefly hospitalized with a blood infection but is home now and feeling much better, according to her daughter, Cynthia Burnham, who has organized efforts to have 100 cards sent to Phebe Burnham and arrange a drive-by parade of friends for her centennial birthday celebration.

Birthday cards may be sent to:

Phebe Burnham

9779 River Dr.

Descanso, CA 91916


Originals and prints are available for purchase through Sophie's Gallery. The family suggested calling ahead at (619) 593-2205 to check on gallery hours.

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