Catherine B. Parker (1926-2012), Response to Tavener (Wake up and die), 1999; watercolor, gouache and charcoal on paper, 44 x 35 1/2 inches (frame: 49 1/4 x 40 3/8 inches); Gift of the Artist, 1999
Nancy Weekly Presented on Synethesia in Toronto
Thursday, June 20, 2013
Nancy Weekly presented at the Tenth Annual National Conference of the American Synesthesia Association, Inc. in Toronto, Ontario, Canada on June 1, 2013. Her topic was “A Secret Link: Signs of Synesthesia in the Art of Charles E. Burchfield and his daughter, Catherine Parker.” Conference organizers and the proposal jury included Colour Research Society of Canada board members and OCAD University faculty Doreen Balabanoff, Robin Kingburgh, and David Griffen; and American Synesthesia Association board members Sean Day, Edward M. Hubbard, Lawrence E. Marks, Daphne Maurer, and Carol Steen.
Weekly is Head of Collections and the Charles Cary Rumsey Curator for the Burchfield Penney Art Center, a museum dedicated to Charles E. Burchfield and artists from the Buffalo/Niagara region. She also is the Burchfield Penney Instructor in Museum Studies at SUNY Buffalo State, where she uses the museum as a laboratory for graduate student exhibition projects.
CROSSING Sensory Boundaries: The Synesthetic Bridge
The Tenth Annual National Conference of the American Synesthesia Association, Inc. was held May 31 through June 2, 2013 at the University of Toronto and OCAD University (Ontario College of Art & Design) in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The keynote speaker was Noam Sagiv, Ph.D., Centre for Cognition and Neuroimaging, Brunel University, West London, UK. The international conference featured an extensive cross-section of expertise from neuroscientists, synesthetes, artists, musicians, composers, writers, psychologists, anthropologists, a voice trainer, physiologist, faculty in many disciplines, and students from the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Brazil, Luxembourg, and Germany. A common theme for this year’s meeting was “Crossing Sensory Boundaries: The Synesthetic Bridge.” The first evening explored “When Sound Meets Colour,” including performances by The Gryphon Trio and participation in a synesthetic music to image survey and reports on a music visualization workshop. The next two days were filled with a broad range of presentations, panel discussions, video screening, and audience participation relating to “Sense Connections”—in the broadest sense (pun-intended) of the word. For details, follow the link above to the program.
Nancy Weekly’s presentation, “A Secret Link: Signs of Synesthesia in the Art of Charles E. Burchfield and his daughter, Catherine Parker,” provided evidence that the American painter Charles E. Burchfield (1893-1967) was unwittingly a synesthetic artist who never spoke overtly of his unique ability to sense—and paint—sounds and smells. Since 2008, her presentations to synesthetes, neuroscientists, and art historians in Hamilton and St. Catherine’s, Ontario, and to diverse audiences in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Buffalo, New York, and Uberlândia, Brasil, have confirmed acceptance that her research has illustrated Burchfield’s synesthetic perceptions. Her new, heretofore unpublished research demonstrated that Burchfield’s daughter Catherine Esther Parker (1926-2012) shared synesthetic tendencies. Since the late 1990s, Parker painted images that were inspired by, or in “response to,” music by particular composers. Her special vision was informed by having been a cellist herself, as well as a painter. For example, Parker often responded to the music of Olivier Messiaen, a 20th-century French composer known for his spirituality, love of nature, and rare synesthetic perceptions in which he would simultaneously hear musical chords as specific colors. Since synesthesia can be a hereditary gift, it is highly possible that Parker had a similarly exceptional perception of sound within a visual dimension. Her appreciation of a wide range of music may have greater depth and complexity than the public originally imagined. Since neither father nor daughter laid claim to these special perceptions, their artwork and written statements have been analyzed to prove the case.
Weekly is recognized as the world’s leading expert on Burchfield, having organized nationally touring exhibitions of his work with accompanying catalogs. Recent essays include “Conventions for Abstract Thoughts” in Heat Waves in a Swamp: The Paintings of Charles Burchfield, “Color and Sound: Charles E. Burchfield and the Question of Synesthesia” in Sensory Crossovers: Synesthesia in American Art, and YouTube video interviews by composer Nell Shaw Cohen. During the past five years, she has made presentations on these subjects in Canada, the United States, and Brazil.