Coming from the small town of Salem, Ohio, Burchfield was overwhelmed on his first trip to New York City in 1916 in order to attend the National Academy of Design on a scholarship. While Burchfield didn’t stay to complete the first semester, his art student instincts were fully engaged as he documented his observations of street scenes with a series of small drawings. Radically different from the countryside and woods near his home, New York nevertheless seemed to be both a mammoth, densely populated metropolis featuring new skyscrapers, such as the Woolworth Building, as well as a village with parks, trees, gas street lights, strolling pedestrians, and a parade. After just two months, he sought refuge back in Salem.
Five years later, needing to support himself, Burchfield moved to Buffalo, New York in November 1921 to become an assistant designer at M. H. Birge & Sons, a quality wallpaper company at 390 Niagara Street. He observed ethnic neighborhoods on his daily walk to work. After living in four different apartments, he moved to the suburb of Gardenville in April 1925. While riding the bus to work, he decided the city possessed potential subjects for paintings; but he lacked the time he needed to devote to new artwork. After resigning in August 1929 as head of the design department and an accomplished designer of unique wallpapers, Burchfield fully embraced painting as his life’s ambition. Lake Erie had been visible from the Birge building, so the waterfront captured his attention. Grain elevators, cargo ships, iron bridges, commercial urban buildings, and older, dilapidated dwellings inspired his romanticized realism. He relished urban decay for its weathered beauty—in a strange way it reflected the power of nature over human intervention.
Many Burchfield enthusiasts consider his urban "Middle Period" to be his greatest, bringing American subjects to an art world that previously had valued only European art.
Drawn primarily from the Burchfield-Penney Art Center’s collection, the exhibition will also feature Buildings and Street Scene (c. 1940), Study for Gates Down (1920) donated in 2004 by the Nenno Family, and 1916 New York City watercolors and drawings that have never been exhibited in Buffalo. Lenders also include Mr. and Mrs. Jay V. Grimm, the Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester, New York, the DC Moore Gallery in New York City, which currently represents the artist’s estate for the Charles E. Burchfield Foundation, and private collectors.
City Critique: Burchfield’s Commentary on the Early 20th Century Metropolis has been made possible through the generous support of the Parkside Coffee Company and Mr. Edward Wozniak, in honor of Dr. Edna M. Lindemann, director emeritus of the Burchfield-Penney.
About the Burchfield-Penney Art Center
The Burchfield-Penney Art Center is a museum dedicated to the art and vision of Charles E. Burchfield and distinguished artists of Buffalo Niagara and Western New York State. Through its affiliation with Buffalo State College, the museum encourages learning and celebrates our richly creative and diverse community. For more information, call (716) 878-6011 or visit www.burchfield-penney.org.
The museum is open Tuesday – Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors and students and $3 for children and is free for students, faculty and staff of Buffalo State College and members of the Burchfield-Penney.