Even skunk cabbage, a watercolor of which he is holding above. This is a photo from Life magazine by Alfred Eisenstaedt (from the Google-hosted archive).
This weekend, I attended the grand opening celebration of Buffalo’s first new art museum in over 100 years: the Burchfield-Penney Art Center. Previously, the museum had been housed on the third floor of a building in Buffalo State College’s campus; now it has a freestanding building, designed by architects Gwathmey-Siegel, also on the campus. The museum is devoted to works by Western New York artists, including, of course, Charles Ephraim Burchfield.
Clover Field in June (1947)
A renowned watercolorist, Burchfield (1893-1967) lived in a suburb of Buffalo called Gardenville for 40 years. (Part of the area is now a nature and art center dedicated to his memory; it has 29 acres of woods and trails.) Burchfield barely lived long enough to see the completion of the first Burchfield Art Center on the Buffalo State Campus in 1966; he would be amazed to see this expansive new facility.
Autumnal Fantasy (1916-1944) This is one of many paintings CEB returned to decades after starting them and reworked.
Burchfield was a quiet, introspective family man (he and his wife Bertha raised 5 children), who wrote extensively in his journals about his observations of the natural world. I wrote this about him in Art & Antiques in 1993:
Even the grimmest Buffalo winters enchanted Burchfield. Once, after gazing at a bleak January landscape of spongy, greenish-black vegetation and bare trees, he wrote, “I stand spellbound, unable myself to move for the power and wonder of it.” He was continually frustrated by the impossibility of pinning down a bright spring day, and after attempts at encapsulating hourly changes in the appearance of a landscape from dawn to dusk in his "all day sketches," eventually Burchfield decided to place more reliance on memory rather than subjecting himself to the distractions of reality. This strategy also allowed him to develop an abstract vocabulary of slashing brush strokes and angular distortions to represent drama, while undulating lines and atmospheric veils of paint suggested mystery and mood.It was not important to represent the natural world exactly; Burchfield sought to express the awe, the intense emotions, that nature inspired in him. He might have had more in common with his abstract-expressionist contemporaries (whose work he detested) than he was willing to acknowledge.
Besides the “Seasons” and other nature-inspired paintings by Burchfield, there were many other nature-oriented works in the show, including a 17’ x 50’ (yes, feet) mixed media mural of an arbor by Russell Drisch (below, with dancers); delightful Flower Blobs by sculptor Roberley Bell (above, meant to be interactive); and many traditional landscapes by nineteenth and early twentieth-century painters.
My one hope is that the new museum will honor its namesake by installing a beautiful landscape design, one that includes native plantings—perhaps with an eye to Burchfield’s favorites—and as little turf as possible.
Many more photos of the museum and opening events can be seen here.