Charles Burchfield: Nature & the City

A Christmas or two ago, my wife gave me a copy of Blistering Visions: Charles E. Burchfield’s Sublime American Landscape, a catalog accompanying a 2016 exhibition commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the Burchfield Penny Art Center in Buffalo, New York.

An Ohio native, Burchfield spent much of his adult and creative life in Buffalo and Western New York. The region’s industrial landscape, urban neighborhoods, small towns, and abundant natural beauty captivated Burchfield’s imagination and provided him with fodder for his watercolors.

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Charles Burchfield, Dawn Over the City, 1929. Notice the solitary figure loading his cart in the dark of the early morning on the lower-left side. (Courtesy of The Arkell Museum at Canajoharie)

While growing up in Western New York, I knew nothing about Burchfield. I can’t recall ever hearing his name. Only after moving away did I encounter his art. Many of us never discover or appreciate the culture, history, and nature around us when we are young and dreaming of elsewhere. Today, a Burchfield print hangs in my office.

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Charles Burchfield, Civic Improvement, 1927-1928. Workers chop down trees to widen the street, stripping the city of nature. (Private Collection)

Burchfield masterfully and attentively captured the open spaces of Western New York. Although I’ve called a major city home for twenty years, I miss the close proximity to nature every day.

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Charles Burchfield, March Sunlight, 1926-1933.  A familiar scene remembered from many car rides with my family throughout Western New York. (Courtesy of Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University)

Due the coronavirus pandemic, many of us are housebound and are staying indoors as much as possible. Although museums are closed, we can still enjoy art through books, magazines, and the internet. Through art, we can still experience nature and new places.

When this moment passes, I’ll finally make a trip to the Burchfield Penny Art Center. Until then, I’ll flip through Blistering Visions and try to touch a world beyond my home.

 

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