Mining the Burchfield Archives

Charles Burchfield, drawing (undated)  panoramic view of 
Gardenville, NY Catholic church steeple, Burchfield Penney
Art Center, Buffalo, NY

Charles Burchfield's expressiveness grew out of his highly-trained eye.  I am convinced his life-long habit of making drawings, lots of them, sharpened his remarkable imagination. He knew his art depended on an empathetic responsiveness and a finely-tuned selectivity. By making drawings he strengthened these attributes. His 20,000+ drawings  at the Burchfield Penney Art Center (BPAC) attest to the seriousness he attached to his task.

Philip Koch,  Gardenville, NY, vine charcoal, 9 x 12 inches, 2015
This is the same church Burchfield drew in the illustration at the 
beginning of this post. Ironically it was the fist artwork I made 
when I began my Residency at BPAC.

The vast majority of his drawings in the Archives are quick studies, often done in rapid succession from the same source. Clearly he valued these drawings as he saved an enormous number of them. Drawing for him was a key that unlocked his artistic vision.

Two drawings by Charles Burchfield from 1918 of simple 
houses in his hometown of Salem, OH. Burchfield Penney
Art Center. The twisting and bending of the houses is pure

My own methods of drawing lean toward making more finished drawings than Burchfield did. He was primarily interested in working in line.  I have a additional interest in light and shadow and choose the medium of soft vine charcoal for its ability to quickly build up broad fields of darks and lights. 

Philip Koch, Charles Burchfield's Home: Salem, OH, vine charcoal,
6 1/2 x 13 inches, 2015. I drew this standing in the backyard of 
Burchfield's Salem home.

An undated drawing by Burchfield of the rolling
 landscape surrounding a gorge south of Buffalo.
Burchfield Penney Art Center.

 Philip Koch, East Aurora, vine charcoal, 7 x 14 inches, 2015.
I made this drawing looking across an undulating field 
in the countryside near the town of East Aurora, an area
south of Buffalo that was a frequent subject for Burchfield.

I am just returned from spending another week at the BPAC as part of my Burchfield Residency. In addition to examining the Archives and the museum's exhibitions, I spent more time out in the fields south of Buffalo painting. 

Much of the work I produced over the last two years will be on display in an exhibition at the museum scheduled to open in April 2018.


  1. Philip, this post could not have been timed better for the point I wanted to make to you. Yesterday, a few hours before you posted this, I had sought refuge from the political madness and the latest Federal Reserve doings by turning on Turner Classic Movies -- where they were screening a candidate for the wackiest, silliest sci-fi movie ever made, "From Hell It Came."

    The storyline involves a onetime leader of some primitive island natives having been killed, but returning as a god in the form of a tree stump, a walking tree stump. There is absolutely no way that the art director did not base that tree stump on Burchfield's art. The movie was released in 1957, btw, this is not from the '30s vintages. So the chronology fits.

    I have seen some bad sci-fi but this one takes the cake. It is listed in IMDb, from which these images can give you an idea of what I saw. Tell me you don't agree with the comparison!

    Hope the link is correct. The publicity posters do not do the tree stump god/monster justice, but images 5, 6, 7, and 8 are the real deal.

    --Michael Woods

    1. Michael this is fabulous! I completely agree with you about Burchfield influencing the film's art director. I've long thought Burchfield was a major influence on Walt Disney's animators, but this is on a whole new level!

  2. There is an art director credited on that movie, but the walking tree stump was created by the uncredited Paul Blaisdell, I discovered. Blaisdell had attended New England School of Art in Boston, then moved to Los Angeles. His bio gives his route into movies; the only other thing I noticed that might reflect some Burchfield influence were in these images from "It Conquered the World":

    He did work for Roger Corman, and some of his work was uncredited, so there could be more interesting creations out there in those old reels, or disks, or whatever they are now.

    One of the (many) reasons "From Hell It Came" didn't succeed in its scare mission is that the tree stump is almost endearing. And I think that aspect too reflects Burchfield. Wouldn't it be fair to say that even his dark or ominous paintings have that underlying love of life that keeps them from seeming infernal? --Michael Woods

    PS Paul Blaisdell bio:

  3. Philip, my link-linking preoccupied me sufficiently that I forgot to offer congratulations on your upcoming show at Burchfield Penney. Hope it goes great for you. Love to see it, who knows, maybe I'll get the chance. --Michael

  4. I like that the first sketch, going East on Clinton St. I believe, shows the little gazebo building that was once a ticket booth at the PanAmerican Exposition in Buffalo. The people who now live in that first house on the left have donated that original booth.

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  6. Joan thanks for the background story!


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