"Six O'Clock in the archives," by Rosario Pitta

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

As an intern at the Burchfield-Penney I have spent a large amount of my time applying metadata to the journals of Charles Burchfield. Looking at image scans of the journals the idea of the project is to create a digital tag for each page of his many journals with a variety of information available to reference. Applying the date of the journal , its physical dimensions and location, key words or objects and recording of the notes of Burchfield present on each page allows the information or overall data of the image to be available through online searching of keywords. Until the completion of the project if someone wanted to look into any of Burchfield's journal entries relative to a certain work or concept they would not only have to be physically in the archives where the journals are held, but also have to dive into the many stacks and boxes of journals, leafing through countless pages of sketches to potentially find a familiar image or idea. metadata ultimately changes the game from a hopeless needle in a haystack scenario to the much more manageable “Where's Waldo”.

In my own experiences diving through Burchfield's journals I have been fortunate enough to uncover all manner of different sketches from trees and townscapes to one page in particular that has left me still unsure as to whether it presents a half-sketched paper clip or a horseshoe. But one of the most exciting things to come across would no doubt be a sketch for a work that would ultimately be a completed Burchfield painting. Even more exciting would be to recognize the sketch as tied to a Burchfield work and recently I had the joy of that happening. 

Reading the journals of Burchfield fairly regularly has made me very interested in his life, and in doing my own research into his life and uncovering little things like his time living and working in my own neighborhood, as well as viewing his paintings that include Buffalo landmarks like the Electric Tower creates a wonderful unfamiliar perspective for a familiar place. One great example of this can be seen through The Buffalo News article series “Charles Burchfield’s Buffalo” where they compare many of Burchfield’s paintings with the locations he captured in them. In one painting in particular titled “Six O’ Clock” Burchfield captures his neighbors home, viewed from the side the perspective outside the home on a snowy winter night. The colors of the snow and homes are mellow and muted with  brightness shining through the windows and emanating gently from the moon. Through the windows there is a family gathered around a table, contrasting the cold of the outside the inside of the house creates warmth and draws the focus of the viewer to the family and their gathering. The Buffalo News article provides a photo of the inspiration of the paintings, Burchfield's neighbors house, likely viewed from his own property. Additionally, the article points out that the painting was likely familiar to many across New York State having been used as a phone book cover in 1972. 

As I was filing through journal pages, applying metadata and discerning Burchfield's handwritten notes I realized the sketch I was viewing was likely an early version of the painting “Six O’ Clock”, having only been exposed to the painting recently through the Buffalo News Article. The side view of the home, complete with chimneys and windows from a slightly shifted perspective was in this journal dated 1931, though the painting would not be completed until 1936. The sketch is one of Burchfield's more heavily notated ones, noting a chimney with a “dark R” and labeling the sky as “orange blue blend”. He applies light shading here and there, one of the three chimneys is heavily shaded. It seems in the end Burchfield shifted the viewpoint of the painting to be more angled and added more rowhouses to the background. Overall however it's hardly a skeleton of the finished piece, but an essential step in the process to the painting that ultimately captures such a moment. Museums don’t only house final products but often the many bits and pieces of history that lead into them and those bits and pieces can so often provide an insight into the final product that only enhances its uptake. Seeing the path an idea takes before it leaves the creators interpretation and becomes our own can always in the end deepen and expand our own experience with the idea and to be able to stumble across a piece of that and assist in making it available is a pretty exciting feeling. 


-Rosario Pitta has been interning at the Burchfield Penney Art Center Archives during the summer of 2019. He is a Masters student in the Museum Studies program at SUNY BUffalo State.