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Charles E. Burchfield (1893-1967), Soft Coal Vein, 1937; watercolor on paper, 16 x 19 inches; Courtesy of DC Moore Gallery, New York

Charles E. Burchfield (1893-1967), Soft Coal Vein, 1937; watercolor on paper, 16 x 19 inches; Courtesy of DC Moore Gallery, New York

In his “Notes on the Sulphur-Coal trip for Fortune” Burchfield chronicles his commissioned 12-day trip to create illustrations for an article about the chemical industry that took him to a sulfur mine in Texas and a coal mine in West Virginia in October 1937. Descending rapidly 300 feet underground filled him “with dread and apprehension.” Riding narrow passageways in the “trolley” car and walking through the low-ceiling shaft was uncomfortable while carrying a portfolio. Upon reaching an active portion of the mine, he saw walls of fresh coal that “shone forth in all its sinister beauty.” When lit directly, “The many faceted coal surface caught the light in a hundred tones, very bewildering, but beautiful….The smell of sulphur & burnt powder was not unpleasant, and recalled former boyhood rambles around the mines east of Salem.” Unfortunately, this painting was not included in the article.