Charles E. Burchfield was born in Ashtabula Harbor, Ohio on April 9, 1893. He was a shy and somewhat lonely youngster and he spent long hours exploring the nearby woods. He was known to paint in the pouring rain; his perseverance paid off in some of the most unusual nature paintings in American art. Toward the end of high school he started writing in a journal, which he kept up regularly for the next fifty years. By the time he died, the journal filled seventy-two volumes. After graduating from high school, Burchfield studied at the Cleveland School of Art. There, it was not the modernistic battles raging in Paris or at New York’s Armory Show that influenced him, but Chinese scrolls and Japanese prints.
After graduating from Cleveland, Charles Burchfield went to New York City, where he received a scholarship to the National Academy of Design. But he was miserable there, and within two months he returned to Salem where, except for a brief stint in the Army, he lived with his mother for the next five years. He returned immediately to his regular job when he got home but working five days a week and Saturday mornings did not leave him much time to paint.
Burchfield had lived from 1898 to 1921 in Salem, Ohio. Charles Burchfield considered the year 1915 to be the beginning of his career. Still in school, he began to put down on paper abstractions of natural forces such as the sun, wind, rain, and storm in a flat, boldly patterned style. For the next six years he used watercolor to capture childhood memories and give pictorial form to recollected fears, dreams, and fantasies. At the age of twenty-four he experienced what he would later call his “golden year.” It was 1917, during which he produced watercolors at a rate of two or three a week in an explosion of talent.
Burchfield’s Salem period came to an end in 1921 when, at age twenty-eight, he moved to Buffalo, New York to take a job designing wallpaper for M.H.Birge and Sons. He married Bertha Kenreich; they raised four girls and a boy. The family lived in a modest house in Gardenville, directly east of Buffalo. In a deep back lot was a garden and a small studio where Charles Burchfield worked. After eight years, he left Birge to devote all his time to making his work larger, grander and more realistic. His struggle to express his intense response to nature with his personal symbolic vocabulary continued until his death in 1967.
Henry Adams in Smithsonian Magazine
Time magazine, June 15, 1970
The Last Pantheist by Bonnie Barrett Stretch in ARTnews, May 1984