The Burchfield Penney and Me
Two years ago, while visiting my family, I joined the Burchfield Penney Art Center at Buffalo State College(www.BurchfieldPenney.org). I was impressed with the beauty of the new building, the exhibitions and its permanent collection, as well as the scope of its purposes.
On the edge of campus sits this full-blown museum, facing the formidable Albright-Knox Art Gallery on Elmwood Avenue. Buffalo State is not Dartmouth, Harvard or Amherst, all of which have first-rate art museums. This is a state college in Buffalo, New York.
Carol Kino wrote that “by the 70s, as its mills and foundries closed, [Buffalo] was gradually becoming a symbol of urban blight” (NYT, 6 May 2012, “Renaissance in an Industrial Shadow”). Thank goodness she didn’t mention the snow. We Buffalonians are sick of that. Kino went on to highlight several of Buffalo’s art institutions: Artpark in Lewiston, the Center for Media Study, SUNY Buffalo, the Center for Exploratory and Perceptual Arts, and Hallwalls. She didn’t even mention Frank Lloyd Wright’s Martin House Complex, but that’s architecture and another story!
Charles Burchfield (1893-1967) was a presence on campus, even to someone who was not an art major (Judy’s Journal 2012 January). In 1966, two years after I graduated, Burchfield himself presided over the inauguration of the Burchfield Art Center inside Rockwell Hall on Elmwood Avenue. I can only imagine the effort it took to build the new museum, which opened three years ago. His studio is installed in one gallery, with rotating exhibits throughout the museum.
If I weren’t completely convinced of Burchfield’s immense gifts, the 2010 retrospective Heat Waves in a Swamp: The Paintings of Charles Burchfield at the Whitney Museum of American Art made me fall madly in love with his work. And I have to admit, I swelled with pride to read wall labels acknowledging works and memorabilia lent by Buffalo State and the Albright-Knox. The exhibit catalog is a must read, and Linda Freeman’s DVD Charles E. Burchfield’s World rounds out an in-depth look at this painter.
Who knew that 50 years ago, as I walked after classes toward Elmwood Avenue to the bus stop or to the Albright-Knox, that the old parking lot would end up housing an art showcase?
In February 2012, the alumni newsletter announced the upcoming exhibition The Artists Among Us II, and that all artist/members including Buffalo State alumni were being invited to enter artwork. I put the article aside, but the idea to submit a piece would not leave me alone. I made plans to make the six and a half hour drive and deliver Autobiography Seventeen.
Fast forward to June 12th. John and I parked the car in the new and improved parking lot and walked through the front doors to see the member’s exhibit, as well as “The Unseen Burchfields” and a contemporary exhibit featuring food art. Here is what I wrote that night in my journal:
Who knew that 50 years ago I would have an artwork of mine hanging in a gallery at the Burchfield Penney Art Center? I wasn’t even an art major, although I longed to be. At that time, the land was Rockwell Road, with parking for a car I didn’t have. It bordered the state hospital, where I remember the high school glee club Christmas performance we gave for the patients. I always thought about that evening as I walked toward the bus stop or to my refuge, the Albright-Knox. Places have that effect on me.
Life goes on, doesn’t it? When I read about the BP opening 3 years ago, I decided to join both as an alumnus and an artist. I often wonder what my mother would have thought about this turn of events.
The form of the BP is something to see: it’s round! It was inspired by something Burchfield said. Can you imagine that? I will have to look up what he said. The power of words!
The paintings and drawings in “The Unseen Burchfields” are from private collections. In 1964, he wrote about the relationship between artists and collectors. It’s posted on the wall, and John took a picture of it because we both think I will write a response to it in an upcoming Judy’s Journal.
And, there I stood, next to my artwork while John snapped a picture!
I was so proud to have my work hanging among the 670 pieces submitted. They were expecting about 300 pieces, so triple hanging was the rule, even with the large galleries. It looks like the old European museums, only new. What surprised and thrilled me even more was that artwork labels noted if the artist was a Buffalo State alumni. TONS! I wonder how many of us were art majors. The stories behind each artwork could fill a book…The Roads We Took