Storm clouds have gathered at the New York State Museum in Albany.
Mehna Reach hopes people come inside for the wind, rain and snow. The museum recently opened its “Weather Event” exhibition, which features 60 paintings and sketches from artist and naturalist Charles Burchfield.
“It focuses on his fascination with weather and change, specifically in the Lake Erie area, where he lived for a while,” said Reach, senior exhibit planner at the museum. “He went to school in Cleveland and then moved to Buffalo.”
That’s why Burchfield is big in the western part of the state. Pieces for the exhibition were drawn from 26,000 objects stored at the Burchfield Penney Art Center, located on the campus of Buffalo State College.
Burchfield may have been ahead of his time, watching the skies at his leisure, studying landscapes, a man comfortable in his own company.
WHERE: New York State Museum, 260 Madison Ave., Albany
WHEN: 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday through Feb. 23, 2014
HOW MUCH: Free
MORE INFO: 474-5877, www.nysm.nysed.gov/exhibits
“My diary seems to be a journal of the wind, sunshine and sky,” Burchfield wrote on Sept. 26, 1914. On Nov. 21, 1931, the topic was isolation: “I sit surrounded by all of the ideas I love, freed by the realization that crowds and companionship are not for me,” he wrote.
In 1943, beauty was on Burchfield’s mind. “To me, the artist, interested chiefly in weather — all weather is beautiful and full of power and emotion,” he wrote.
Burchfield was born in Ohio in 1893. He was valedictorian of his high school class in 1911 and graduated from the Cleveland School of Art in 1916.
He began working for M.H. Birge and Sons, an artistic wallpaper company, in 1921. He resigned to paint full-time in 1929.
Burchfield wasn’t always alone. He and his wife, Bertha Kenreich Burchfield, raised five children.
Reach said Burchfield is well known for his interpretation of climate changes. He paid attention to dark clouds obscuring the sun, to wind bending trees and tall grass, to receding snows of early spring. He would observe weather on a specific day and — while other examiners would record the data in Fahrenheit and Celsius descriptions — Burchfield marked conditions seen and felt with dark blue, yellow and light orange paint.
Change is a common theme in Burchfield’s work, Reach said. He painted what might be evoked emotionally on a gloomy winter day or an oppressive summer day. There is also movement in Burchfield moments. The artist’s 1954 “Oncoming Spring” suggests wind in the trees, crescent-shaped clouds on the move and melting snow. “Afterglow,” from 1916, shows a sky decorated in light orange and violet blues. Sunset has come to a small house and a grove of trees in the bottom part of the painting.
“For him, he saw the emotions and the change and the feelings weather can bring out,” Reach said. “He used those observations but also his emotions and feelings about the weather and brought them into his paintings.”
In “Sunburst,” emotions in play seem to be despair and hope. Dark clouds dominate the piece, but beams of sunlight poke through the gloom — there is optimism, perhaps, for better weather ahead.
Art patrons will also see action in “December Storm,” which features more dark clouds moving in on the sun. Wind is also part of the scene, blowing through rural buildings painted in rustic tones.
Burchfield sketches, which include his take on emotions such as insanity, loneliness and brooding, are also part of the exhibit. Some pieces include QR codes designed for smartphones — people can access simulated weather broadcasts that describe days when Burchfield was at the brush.
Burchfield’s achievements were honored when the Charles Burchfield Center at Buffalo State opened in December 1966. Burchfield died on Jan. 11, 1967; the museum, now Burchfield Penney Art Center, holds the largest collection of the artist’s work.
“We wanted to work with Burchfield Penney,” Reach said, adding that the center opened a version of the touring exhibit a few years ago. “We try to work with museums across the state. It was nice to be able to connect with a western museum to put an exhibit together.”
Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 395-3124 or at email@example.com.