Alumni Profile • Edward Postma '36
Painting toward truth

Edward PostmaUntil he turned 65, Edward Y. Postma ’36 had never held an artist’s paintbrush. Then, in 1980 the ob/gyn retired from his medical practice and found himself searching for something to occupy his time.

He had always admired art. His father painted a little, and several cousins were adept with paint and other media, suggesting artistic talent might be hereditary. Still, Postma didn’t know what would happen when he enrolled in a painting course for seniors in Naples, Fla.

“It was a disaster,” he said flatly. “I knew what they were doing couldn’t possibly be art.”

On his own, Postma contacted an artist whose paintings he liked and started hanging around his studio. “He asked me why I kept coming around,” Postma recalled. “I told him, ‘I’d like to paint like you do.’ He said, ‘I won’t help you do that, but I will help you develop your own talent.’” From that point on, Postma was largely self-taught.

Twenty-six years later, Grand Rapids’ Rivertown Artists Guild honored the 91-year-old Postma with its 2006 Artist of the Year award. He regularly exhibits with the guild.

Paintings line the walls of every room in the home Postma shares with his wife, Norma Palmbos Postma ’54. There are paintings in closets and behind furniture and stacked in a basement storage room and in his studio, where Postma paints almost daily, typically finishing one or two new canvases a week.

Almost all the paintings are acrylic landscapes—fields, villages, trees and coastlines he’s visited in this country and other countries. Although he does sell paintings, Postma emphasizes that he’s “not in the business of selling art. I feel God has given me a talent, and I’m fulfilling it simply in the process of painting. If others appreciate my work—great!”

Postma doesn’t use photographs. He paints from memory, rendering scenes freely and impressionistically. A painting he made of a foggy morning at Kennebunkport, Maine, he sent to President George H.W. Bush, who has a home there. According to a thank-you note Barbara Bush sent Postma, “The painting hangs in the front room of our house in Houston. It’s the first thing you see when you walk in our front door and we love it!”

Postma has also cultivated a companion talent for painting with words. He’s recently completed a manuscript that melds ideas of modern genetic biology with the Judaic theology of Jesus’ times and develops Jesus’ individual human genome (DNA). Tentatively titled The Genetics of Jesus, Postma said that in crafting the manuscript he “encountered major unexpected conclusions.” Hoping to share those conclusions with a general audience, he’s looking for an agent or publishing firm.

Both his writings and his many paintings, Postma said, are expressions of “a compelling search for truth” that has preoccupied him in his later years. On canvas he believes an impressionistic technique that concentrates on stroke and color to capture a thing’s distinctive essence “serves truth more than inactive photographic realism.”

His attempt to find and render truth on canvas is so compelling, in fact, that it sometimes wakes him at two or three in the morning. So he gets up, follows it to the studio and paints.