Family ties were important to Charles Ephraim Burchfield. He was only five years old when his father died and his mother, Alice, and five siblings (James, Frances, Louise, Joseph and Fred) moved to Salem, Ohio to restart their lives. In 1922 he married his Ohio sweetheart, Bertha Kenreich, and they raised a family of five children: Mary Alice, Martha, Sally, Catherine and Charles Arthur. Because Burchfield tended to use symbols and to anthropomorphize his landscapes, there are very few portraits of the people who meant so much to him. Fortunately, most of those portraits reside at the Burchfield Penney Art Center, as well as an incredibly rich Burchfield Archives that reflects his childhood recollections, humorous letter-writing personality, and day-to-day events recorded in his journals. Thanks to research done by his son-in-law Robert Mustain (who married Mary Alice), the Burchfield genealogy was well researched years ago, and family members have since helped to add pertinent details. The Kenreich family is also represented. Wonderful early 20th-century pictures of Bertha, her family, and Charles emerged from glass negatives in the Burchfield studio archives that illustrate their outings in Greenford, Ohio, including Bertha driving a car.
In the Charles E. Burchfield Rotunda, the Family Tree exhibition will feature some of the family members who appeared in his art. The two women who were the most important in his life—his mother and his wife—appear in paintings that do not reflect his devotion to them; they actually are more about light, shadow, and the mood of a room in winter than a reflection of their faces. Notably, we reunite portraits of Martha and Catherine who were originally painted together, sitting on a log, in 1930. A vintage photograph shows the painting on exhibit at the Frank K.M. Rehn Galleries in New York. Thirty years later, Burchfield cut the dual portrait in half and added landscape scenery so each daughter could have her own portrait. This is the first time the portraits will be shown together since their separation.
In addition to the paintings and photographs on display in the gallery, historic documents from the Burchfield Archives including correspondence and memorabilia will be part on an on-line exhibition of linked documents. The exhibition was curated by Nancy Weekly, Head of Collections and the Charles Cary Rumsey Curator, with assistance from Tullis Johnson, Curator and Manager of Archives.
Take a tour of the exhibition! Click here.