Economic conditions and social issues were foremost on the minds of many Americans during the Depression era. Colburn was associated with the loose circle of intellectuals, artists and writers on the Monterey Peninsula that included John Steinbeck, Edward "Doc" Ricketts, Robinson Jeffers, James Fitzgerald, Edward Weston, Bruce Ariss, and Ansel Adams. Colburn is well-known for his coastal scenes of Jeffers and Steinbeck country. He created genre scenes of the action around the sardine canneries on Cannery Row and at Fisherman’s Wharf, sometimes injecting humorous characterizations or visual anecdotes in the manner of John Steinbeck as in Fishermen Hauling Nets (1939). Although a gifted portrait painter and draughtsman, Colburn minimized the faces of his subjects here expressing essentials rather than specifics, getting at the basic power and expression of the body.