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Museum plan delights Burchfield family Son says father would have been pleased but embarrassed by the attention

Charles E. Burchfield, Buffalo's greatest gift to the art world, was never comfortable in the limelight.

Thus, while Wednesday's unveiling of plans for a $33 million Burchfield-Penney museum on Elmwood Avenue would have deeply pleased him, "he would have been a little embarrassed" by all the fuss made in his name, said Charles A. "Art" Burchfield, the artist's only son.

"He loved being recognized for what he did in his hometown, but he would've been surprised by the attention, to say the least," Burchfield said.

Were he alive today, the renowned watercolorist certainly would approve of the new building's sleek contemporary design, said Burchfield, 77, who grew up in the Gardenville home where many of his father's paintings were created.

"They've come up with a very good plan. It is a building that will be a great asset for Buffalo and very good to my father's memory," he said.

The son is a retired IBM executive and president of the Charles Burchfield Foundation, which the artist set up before he died in 1967 to oversee sales of his paintings, maintain his sketchbooks and other art memorabilia and direct charitable giving.

Art and Violet Burchfield, who accompanied her husband to the unveiling, "have been very good to us over the years," said Ted Pietrzak, director of Burchfield-Penney Art Center, which will leave its longtime location in Rockwell Hall on the Buffalo State College campus when the 75,000-square-foot museum is completed nearby in 2008.

The most striking feature of the modernist museum space will be a curved, 35-foot-high zinc-coated wall visible from Elmwood Avenue. There will be a sculpture court between the museum and the street.

One particularly satisfying aspect of the plan is that the center will continue its strong affiliation with the college, Burchfield said. "It will be a place where kids can study artists, and artists can have their work exhibited," he said.

Another is that more than 3,000 square feet of the floor plan will be devoted to his father's legacy -- double the space set aside in the current center. The section will include the studio Charles Burchfield painted in behind his home. It was moved to the center and reassembled years ago.

Art Burchfield, whose sister, Buffalo artist Catherine Parker, was unable to attend Wednesday's event, sometimes wondered if he would live to see the plan created by architects Gwathmey Siegel & Associates Architects of New York City. "I have to admit that I was pretty skeptical. But I'm very pleased with the final version," he said.

Now the Poughkeepsie resident is eager to return for the groundbreaking, expected to take place in June. "I asked them to do it June 1 -- my birthday," he said. "That would be a nice present."


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