Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
Morning Star, August 28, 2005, pg. 16
In the past we’ve written in this column about the celebrated wildlife artist Lynn Bogue Hunt (1878-1960) whose paintings are highly sought after today. Did you know however that Albion had another celebrated artist whose paintings are also highly prized?
Alfred Welburn (1875-1953) was born in Port Hope, Ontario, Canada, the son of George & Fannie (Hales) Welburn, Alfred grew up in a music and artistic family, and was an accomplished pianist. As a youth he took painting lessons from a French painter in Detroit, as well as art correspondence courses. While in Detroit he also studied music and took interior decorating classes. He became an interior decorator, and also began painting murals in churches. Noticed for his work, he painted the first red line around Henry Ford’s first Ford. Mr. Ford wanted him to stay on but he declined.
Alfred married Alice Rose Wilsher in 1898, and the couple had eleven children. Their eldest daughter Violet (1899-1949) went on to become a popular Broadway dancer and appeared Hollywood movies under the name of Violet DeLong. We featured her in the April 10, 2005 edition of this column. The Welburns moved to Albion in 1908, and the family lived at 307 Austin Avenue for many years. Later they lived at 813 N. Berrien St. Alfred was a member of St. James Episcopal Church. Before World War I Alfred helped operate a paint store along with Frank A. Jennings at 105 W. Porter St., behind the Albion Leader newspaper office.
His talents as a painter however soon became in increasing demand, and so he went full time as a painter/decorator. Alfred often partnered with Frank Johnson in his interior decorating and painting business here. He also worked with Amel Goll. Over the course of his long career, Al painted and wallpapered numerous homes in Albion. Alfred had the habit of drawing sketches on the walls prior to wallpapering. Several homeowners have discovered Welburn sketches on their walls when they removed the wallpaper.
As he had done in Detroit, Al continued painting large murals here in Albion, mostly in churches, nightclubs, and meeting places. Some are still there today. One was commissioned by Albion druggist Hadley H. Sheldon in memory of his wife, on the north wall of the First Presbyterian Church. Another, a large moose, was painted in the Moose Lodge, and of course an elk in the Elks Lodge. Al was also asked on occasion by George Dean to mix paint colors at Union Steel Products.
Al also produced numerous nature and wildlife scene paintings which he gave to family and friends, or painted on commission, and even painted murals in some Canadian schools. His paintings are known for their texture, and sometimes Al would even use a butter knife as his “brush” of choice to accomplish the textured effect. Those who own Welburn paintings have wisely cherished and kept them. One large nature scene was offered locally at a garage sale here recently, bearing a price tag of a few hundred dollars.
Alfred Welburn died in November, 1953 and was interred in Section 118 of Riverside Cemetery, next to his wife Alice who passed away in 1945, and their daughter Violet who passed away in 1949. From our this week we present a photograph of Alfred Welburn, Albion’s celebrated painter and decorator.
As a special bonus, we also present one of his paintings, courtesy of Ann (Waito) Neitzka and Keith Waito. This particular piece was painted in 1918, and shows a fisherman sitting in a boat, with a large tree hanging over a river. It was given by Alfred Welburn to Fred Neitzka whose house on 23 Mile Road north of Marengo Welburn and Goll painted, papered and decorated that year. The original measures 187 x 135 mm. in size, or approximately 5˝ x 7˝”.
Do you own any of Al Welburn’s paintings? Perhaps an inventory ought to be made and published, complete with photographs, descriptions, and a list of titles, in order to help perpetuate the memory and works of this extraordinary Albion artist. Special thanks to Al’s daughters Faye (Welburn) Schmidt, Jeanne (Welburn) Cone, and grandson Terry Warson for information and photographs for this week’s article.
Alfred Welburn (1875-1953)
Special addendum September 3, 2018
All text copyright, 2020 © all rights reserved Frank Passic