Alien Species: …“weird beauty… reflected in a net of a silver light” 
A Useum™ installation by John Toth
On view from October 12, 2012–Sunday, February 24, 2013
The Useum™ is an interactive space located in the entrance corridor at the Burchfield Penney Art Center where visitors of all ages learn by connecting hands-on experiences with works of art. John Toth’s Useum installation celebrates a technique Charles Burchfield used in his paintings. Burchfield re-claimed paintings that he created in his youth in 1917 by adding watercolor paper to the edges of the original image expanding on his initial idea. Visitors will examine a detail of Charles Burchfield’s watercolor painting and add their drawing beyond the edges expanding the painting using technology and projection.
John Toth is stretching his signature translucent fabrics shaped into forms inspired by Burchfield in the Useum and expanding the flow into the entrance corridor. The artwork created by the participants will be projected on the fabric shapes throughout the space.
From the oral history archive interview with Charles Burchfield, August 19, 1959, John D. Morse asked Burchfield about expanding his watercolor paintings. Charles Burchfield responded with “It was pictures that had a germ of an idea” that he reused.
JOHN D. MORSE: You've already answered one of the questions I wanted to ask you -- which everyone speculated on when you began exhibiting them. Why you had taken earlier pictures and enlarge the paper with strips around, and then made the pictures bigger. And you've already answered it.
CHARLES E. BURCHFIELD: Yes. Well, you see, I didn't do that with 1917 pictures that I considered successful. It was pictures that had a germ of an idea in them but that hadn't quite come off. By adding to them then I could make them work.
At times Burchfield only added a small boarder around the original watercolor to finish the painting.
JOHN D. MORSE: Now this is a matter of technique. In the ravine picture you were speaking of, of 1917, did you do much work on the picture itself? That is, the center part, the original?
CHARLES E. BURCHFIELD: Well, I didn't add very much to that picture. It was already a good-sized picture, and I added just enough around the edges so that it . . . . At lot of the work was done right in the 1917 part.
Charles Burchfield views this approach of adding to an art work as a writer or composer edits their work.
CHARLES E. BURCHFIELD: I like to be able to advance and retreat just like a man writing a book. I doubt that very few of them ever sit down and leave a paragraph as it first comes into their head. They work over it, delete things and add things. Well, I feel that I like to do that just as they do. Or as a composer does. Otherwise, I mean you start a picture and I don't know how it's going to come out. I don't know.
Kathy Gaye Shiroki, Curator of Museum Learning and Community Engagement at the Burchfield Penney Art Center, is the curator of the Useum™. She serves as adjunct lecturer in Art Education and Museum Studies Departments at Buffalo State College and is the Coordinator of the Czurles-Nelson Gallery on campus.
Ms. Shiroki’s innovative programs reach communities in new ways. Her presentations are refreshing connections with art. Her essay on Peer-to-Peer Tours is forthcoming in the fall 2012 publication, A Handbook for Academic Museums: Exhibitions and Education published by MuseumsEtc. Peer-to-Peer Tours encourage the study of course curriculum through interdisciplinary peer learning. In this setting, the artwork at the Burchfield Penney becomes the catalyst to rethink class topics.
Kathy Gaye Shiroki earned her MFA from the University of California, San Diego, BFA from Temple University, Tyler School of Art, and Associates degree from the Rochester Institute of Technology, School of American Craftsmen.