Artist of The Garden Gallery

Ira J. Deen: A Visual Historian of the Susquehanna Valley

Ira J. Deen was an American artist known for his landscape paintings that reflect the beauty and diversity of the Susquehanna Valley. He was born on December 9, 1874, in Mount Union, and later moved with his family to Harrisburg, where his father worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad. Deen became a painter for the Harrisburg Traction Co., painting the city’s first electric trolleys at the old car barn at North Third and Delaware Streets. However, his passion was for nature and landscape, and he captured the essence of the Susquehanna Valley in his paintings.

Early Career

From 1903 to 1938, Deen worked in the Pennsylvania Railroad paint shops, working on the line’s private cars. He and his wife, Mary Virginia, lived at 3604 N. Third St. in old Estherton, where his studio and gallery were on the second floor. The backyard extended to North Green Street, providing an unobstructed view of the Susquehanna River. Deen was also the founder and treasurer of the Harrisburg Sketch Club, the forerunner of the old Harrisburg Art Association Studio.

Style and Subject Matter

Ira J. Deen was primarily a landscape painter, and his works reflected his love of nature and the Susquehanna Valley. His paintings often depict scenes along the Susquehanna River, Fort Hunter, and Wildwood, where he practiced plein air painting. Deen’s works are known for their simple beauty and diverse mood, as he captures the changing seasons and moods of the landscape. His paintings often feature arching trees on the left or right side of the canvas, leading the viewer into the center of the work, often with a stream taking the eye back to the vanishing point.

Collectibility and Legacy

Ira Deen’s paintings have become quite collectible over the last several years. His work appears to have gone through several stages, with his earliest works dating from the turn of the century, focusing on monochromatic paintings that are often very small and tightly painted. His work in the 1920s and 1930s is among his very best and quite energetic. During the depression, stretchers were expensive, and often, Deen would paint a work and then cut it off the stretcher and mount it on cardstock. His later works often reflect his plein air painting along the Susquehanna at Fort Hunter and near Wildwood. At the end of his life, as his eyesight failed, his colors became stronger and more brilliant.

Ira J. Deen died on June 7, 1952, leaving behind a legacy of paintings that captured the beauty and diversity of the Susquehanna Valley. His works continue to be admired for their simplicity, energy, and versatility. Today, his paintings can be found in private collections and galleries, and they are a testament to his skill as a visual historian of the Susquehanna Valley.