From the Burchfield Penney Archives

From the Burchfield Penney Archives

Wonderful (If Slightly Haunted) Houses at the Burchfield Penney Art Center by Philip Koch

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Read artist in residence Philip Koch's illustrated blog post at

Here's a conte drawing by Charles Burchfield with a remarkably delicate touch. While it's heavily detailed the drawing seems light and airy, almost like Burchfield made the paper breath with life.

I've been meaning to post these two photos I took of it last month when I was staying at theBurchfield Penney Art Center in Buffalo, NY as part of my being the Artist In Residence there for 2015-16. The piece is from the Art Center's Burchfield Archives and is really large- though I didn't measure it it's easlily well over four feet wide. Burchfield made it on several sheets of newsprint paper he had glued together.

Going through hundreds of Burchfield's drawings in the museum's Archives I periodically come across giant drawings like this one. I asked Nancy Weekly, Burchfield Penney's Head of Collections and Charles Cary Rumsey Curator, about this. She felt Burchfield would sometimes make preparatory drawings at the same full scale he intended to use in some of his large watercolors. Some are detailed like this piece, others are just the simplest of gestures, sometimes only a few flowing lines. Nancy Weekly felt these were Burchfield's way of "warming up" to practice just the right sweep of his arm to give the sense of movement he wanted for his finished paintings.

I don't know if the above drawing ever led to a finished painting. This watercolor below by Burchfield, Old Houses in Winter, 27 3/4 x 43", 1929-41 from the Collection of the Swope Art Museum in Indiana gives an idea of where he might have been going with it.