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Nature's force Anniversary show to exhibit Burchfield's ties to surroundings

IIn 1965, famed watercolorist and long-time Buffalonian Charles E. Burchfield (1893-1967) found himself near the end of a career that was unique in American art. As a young painter living in Cleveland, he had the daring to push his realist landscape images into a personal expressionism in which houses and trees cut threatening shapes against weeping clouds. Modern art wasn't to be his guide for long, however. He was soon to dedicate himself once again to the observed scene, even gaining the label of "regionalist" for picturesque scenes of snowy Buffalo streets, backyards and downtown buildings. It was a label that was to nag his whole career and diminish his stature on the national and international scene.

But Burchfield's greatness came from his always tense relationship with nature. His most sublime work -- not in the slightest regionalist -- swung between transcendent joy in nature and nature as an ominous parallel to dark psychological fears.

In 1965, Burchfield, who was to die two years later, had been eclipsed by the abstract-expressionists and by what must have seemed to him the most trivial of artists, those who replaced nature with billboards and advertisements to make something called pop art. Perhaps it was in this atmosphere, with his historical position in question, that the artist at first declined the offer to have a museum dedicated to his name.

But with the persuasion of the late Edna M. Lindemann, who died in September, and others, he relented. Burchfield was there on Dec. 9, 1966, to cut the ribbon for an 18-work exhibition that launched the new museum. Lindemann was both founder and first director of the Burchfield Art Center, later to become the Burchfield-Penney Art Center.

In celebration of the center's four decades, "Charles Burchfield Center 40th Anniversary Exhibition" will have its official opening tonight in a reception to be held from 5:30 to 7:30. The exhibition will include a number of Burchfield works that were in the inaugural exhibition, as well as key paintings from the museum's extensive Burchfield collection. The show will continue on view through May 13.

e-mail: rhuntington@buffnews.com

PREVIEW

WHAT: "Charles Burchfield Center 40th Anniversary Exhibition"

WHEN: Through May 13 with a reception from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. today

WHERE: Burchfield-Penney Art Center, Rockwell Hall, Buffalo State College, 1300 Elmwood Ave.

INFO: 878-6011 or www.burchfield-penney.org

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