Ghosts in the Closet

Charles Burchfield, Salem Bedroom Studio Feb. 21, 1917
Burchfield Penney Art Center, Buffalo, NY

Burchfield Penney Art Center posted this Charles Burchfield watercolor on their Facebook page.

Who doesn't remember worrying as a young child about supposed ghosts or monsters waiting to creep out of your bedroom closet in the middle of the night. (Under my bed was full of them too). Leave it to Charles Burchfield to take this normal childhood terror and turn it into serious art. He took his childhood sensations with him into his adult life. Using his profound knowledge of painting and his good eye he gave these emotions permanent visual form. 

His painting above takes a cloth draped over a chair and seems to turn it into a ghost. In his hands the clothes hanging in the closet become creepy spectral accomplices. 

In August my wife Alice and I traveled from Baltimore to the Salem, OH family home where Burchfield grew up and began doing some of his most important early work. It is now the Burchfield Homestead Museum. Here below is a photo I took of the curved ceiling and the closet door depicted in Burchfield's watercolor. Fortunately the closet door was shut tight so we didn't have to worry about the ghosts.

Here's the door to the second floor bedroom again showing the curved ceiling.

What struck me most about the visit to the home where Burchfield did his early works was its very ordinariness. Yet at the many reproductions of Burchfield paintings hanging on the walls you find Burchfield put specific features of his home and the neighboring houses into many of his most fantastical paintings of his early period. His very local roots nourished his otherworldly visions.

In many ways his early works from this commonplace house remind all of us that there is magic right under our noses.

The staircase looking down to the first floor.

The back of the house. It is painted the same colors as it was in Burchfield's day. It the late afternoon sun it reminded me ever so much of a paiting by Burchfield's friend Edward Hopper.

As Burchfield is probably the only recognized American artist who did repeated images of decorated Christmas trees in his work, there is appropriately a tree on display. Here I am keeping the holiday tree company with the drawing I was making looking out a second floor window. 

My wife Alice taking in the display in one of the second floor bedrooms.


  1. Had never seen his ghost painting.. Wow. I like how he brought imagination into his work. Thanks for posting Philip.


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