Martha Visser’t Hooft's Journals Inspire in the Burchfield Penney Archives

Monday, June 4, 2012

One of my favorite things about working in the Archives at the Burchfield Penney is that I am constantly surrounded by interested interns, volunteers and researchers. All are curious to learn more about our region’s history and artists. The discoveries that these individuals make have done much to inform my perception of art, time, and the region in which we live.

Kelly Michelle Mongillo, a Buffalo State Masters candidate doing research on Martha Visser’t Hooft, has recently been sharing some of her findings while exploring the Burchfield Penney’s Visser’t Hooft archive.

Two particularly treasured items in the archive are Visser’t Hooft's journals, dating from 1946-1955. In a conversation with Kelly, we both praised Visser’t Hooft’s ability to transcend the dated pages to paint a contemporary Buffalo scene. In one particular entry, written almost sixty years ago, the artist reflects on a springtime evening in which she and her friends, among whom were artists Virginia Cuthbert and Philip Elliott, went to an art exhibition supporting the phenomenal abstract painter Seymour Drumlevitch.

Her entry:

Martha Visser’t Hooft
Thoughts on Spring: 1953 (p. 71, Notebook B)

Spring has come to Buffalo. Middle of April, and last night it snowed and our hair was frosty as we went to Drum’s opening. Ah, spring! All the air is exhilarating as old dishwater. Forsythia condescends to be in bloom- almost- and the trees are almost fuzzy with bloom. But within – in the studio, hearts are gay. Ginnie dances with Skirly, and Collins paints Peggy’s soul, Martha pours sherry into soup. Phil is brooding about Christine, Nancy is feeling better- and so am I.

Thanks to these journals, we can appreciate that these historically vibrant arts and crafts communities (such as the Patteran Society) are as robust as ever in our present community. Martha Visser’t Hooft’s Buffalo scene can still be glimpsed in Buffalo artists’ studios, community events, and passersby under the trees, “fuzzy with bloom.”

— Sally Fehskens

Email Sally at


Sally Fehskens is a curatorial associate at the Burchfield Penney Art Center. Her work focuses on cataloging and digitizing the museum's Western New York artist archive. A student of language and culture, Sally was awarded the highest of undergraduate accolades in 2010 from the Buffalo State College honors program, including the President's Medal and Chancellor's Award.  Upon graduation, Sally spent a year working as a language instructor in Alcalá de Henares and Salamanca, Spain. Since returning, she has enjoyed exploring and photographing the culturally rich and diverse communities in Western New York, particularly the local music scene.