Catalog Essay | September 17, 2020 | Lot 26
“Artist to America.”
-President Lyndon Johnson commented of Charles Burchfield
Charles Burchfield was born in Ashtabula Harbor, Ohio. When he was just five years old, his father died and Burchfield moved with his family to Salem, Ohio. In 1916 he was awarded a scholarship to the National Academy of Design in New York City but left after just one day in life-drawing class. The same year he graduated from the Cleveland School of Art and started working at the W. H. Mullins Company, a manufacturer of architectural metals, back in Salem.
Burchfield was raised with his four siblings in a lower-middle-class neighborhood in Salem. He would walk home during his lunch breaks from the Mullins Company to work on his watercolors and paint in the evening and on the weekends. Burchfield had few friends at the plant and he was a very shy, introverted young man. He drew inspiration from his surroundings, the factories, houses, gardens, churches and personalities in his community. He would roam the countryside and paint farmhouses in his idiosyncratic style with expressionistic light and bold colors giving the scenes a mythical appearance as in Buzzard and Cabin (Buzzard Landscape) from 1918 (lot 81). In Buzzard and Cabin the buzzard is flying towards the forest where surreal domes with ethereal light look like tunnel passages between the trees.
In other scenes, he would find the expressive potential of factories and old houses possibly inspired by contemporary Midwestern novelist Sherwood Anderson. The Red Row Houses depicted in Steel Mill Homes (Blast Furnace) were part of the 33 company houses on the fringes of the Cherry Valley Iron and Coal Company complex in Leetonia, Ohio, close to the Mullins plant. Here the Cherry Valley furnaces of Leetonia are visible in the background and the Red Row Houses in front.
In July of 1918 Burchfield was inducted into the Army where he painted camouflage. He was honorably discharged in January of 1919 and then returned to Salem. He married in 1922 and moved to Buffalo, New York to work as a wallpaper designer. In his spare time he continued, as before, to paint the industrial landscape in his surroundings. Seven years later, with the help of New York City dealer Frank Rehn, Burchfield was finally able to devote himself full-time to his art. His fame spread and he became loosely associated with the Regionalist School of artists led by Thomas Hart Benton, John Steuart Curry and Grant Wood. Although he shunned the association, his work shares a dedication to the American heartland as a well-spring of subjects and inspiration. 
 “Charles Burchfield: Biography,” Terra Foundation for American Art,