The deep archives of the Burchfield Penney Art Center, which chart the life and career of its namesake Charles E. Burchfield and the broader creative history of Western New York, are about to get much bigger and a great deal more public.
Thanks to two grants totaling $170,000, the center is embarking on a project to digitize, catalog and make publicly accessible much of its 25,000-item collection of material related to Burchfield’s life. It also has acquired the extensive archives of Artpark, the legendary Lewiston arts institution that made a mark on the international art world and drew many of North America’s most innovative and daring artists to the region during its heyday in the 1970s and ’80s.
The center received $150,000 from the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences for its Burchfield archive and $20,000 from the Documentary Heritage Program to catalog the Artpark material, which adds up to 301 cubic feet of material ranging from promotional materials and correspondence to videos and photographs of many now-legendary Artpark projects.
The first exhibition to emerge from the Burchfield archive grant, “Finding Aid: Making Sense of the Charles E. Burchfield Archive,” will open Feb. 12. According to a release from the Burchfield Penney, it will “explore what we can learn from the contexts of an artist’s creation” and provide “a road map of how he masterfully produced internationally renown artworks.”
Meanwhile, the hefty Artpark archive, which served as the basis for the 2010 exhibition “Artpark 1974-1984,” will undergo an extensive process of cataloging, and staff also will explore ways to make the material accessible to the public.
“Exploring the archive provides an intimate, revealing insight into the lives of the artists and particular freedoms they enjoyed during a time of enthusiastic federal and state support for the arts,” Burchfield Penney archivist Heather Gring said. “We’re in times now where artists often are underpaid or not paid at all. I also admire that so many diverse art forms, from cooking to poetry, were all treated with the same caliber of respect.”