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Charles E. Burchfield (1893-1967), Sketch #1 for Tower of Babel, undated; charcoal on paper, 8 x 10 1/2 inches (Frame: 14 x 16 1/4 inches); Gift of Mrs. John & Miss Joan Albarella, 1972

Charles E. Burchfield (1893-1967), Sketch #1 for Tower of Babel, undated; charcoal on paper, 8 x 10 1/2 inches (Frame: 14 x 16 1/4 inches); Gift of Mrs. John & Miss Joan Albarella, 1972

In a small sketch, the artist wrote “The anger of God” next to a dark archway that is also depicted in the larger sketch. Burchfield described his own frustration over the subject in the July 22, 1939:

Days of futility—doubt—I cannot give direction to my thoughts; nor can I generate faith in any one idea, to pursue it to the exclusion of all others, the only manner in which real work can be accomplished—…

Got out the notes on “Tower of Babel” the first of the week, and for a few days was filled with a false enthusiasm. It all came to nothing. However, I still think this is a powerful idea, one that some day will enable me to sum up all my ideas on the modern industrial city. At present my notion of its details are too nebulous, —it still is all literary, and not visual... is exasperating: I look at this sketch, and think— “there it is, all ready to start, why can’t I begin?...

The Tower of Babel was humankind’s attempt to reach heaven. God’s divine punishment was to destroy the tower and cause the workers to speak in different languages, which is the theory for the origin of all of the world’s languages.

 - From the exhibition Charles E. Burchfield: Oh My Heavens