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A Closer Look: Charles E. Burchfield's 'Dreaming of Christmas'

Artist: Charles E. Burchfield // Title: "Dreaming of Christmas" // Collection of the Burchfield Penney Art Center

If Charles E. Burchfield appears in this space more often than any other artist, it's simply because he painted so prolifically about so many quintessentially Western New York-centric topics and phenomena. Take his 1947 watercolor "Dreaming of Christmas," for instance:

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"Dreaming of Christmas," a 1947 painting by Charles E. Burchfield.

The painting illustrates an imaginative exercise many of us engage in while driving past houses with smoking chimneys or lighted porches. We wonder, of course, what might be going on inside. In this instance, Burchfield does the imagining for us, removing the bottom portion of a snow-covered house to reveal two figures sitting on a sofa in front of a roaring fire. Above their heads, the figure of a Christmas tree rises as the chimney releases plumes of sparkling smoke into the overcast sky.

It's a lovely scene and one that's especially comforting to get lost in this unseasonably warm Christmas week, when not a flake of snow is expected to fall.

To accompany this painting, the Burchfield Penney chose one of the artist's Christmas-themed diary entries, from Dec. 22, 1963:

"Mild (28°) – a gentle fall of snow – Bertha not much better, so we stay at home (we had been invited for dinner, by the Walter Meibohms – at their new home in the country) So I had to call them to say we could not come – Put up a large cylinder of suet in the spruce tree outside our picture window where we could watch –
(thinking particularly of Bertha being able to watch it during the day.) The simple act of putting this up for the birds somehow seems to change the whole aspect of winter, and also of our living here.

A lot of cards in the mail – it is pleasant to sit and open them – much is written and said about the futility of sending and receiving cards from friends or acquaintances at Christmas time – especially since there is no correspondence between Christmases – I do not feel this is true – there may be some perfunctory ones, but they are greatly in the minority. Late in the afternoon, the Richters arrived bringing gifts and good cheer –(a knit nightgown for Bertha a Grandma Moses book for me – the three youngsters had pooled their money and bought us a nice poinsettia) A pleasant visit which made our day more precious. In fact, all day we had the feeling it was Christmas."

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