Longtime museum backer will be honored

SALEM – To say that Salem resident Dick Wootten has an interest in the artist Charles Burchfield would prove a massive understatement.

Just as the artist brought to life the scenes of his ordinary existence on Fourth Street in the early 1900s, Wootten has spent much of his retirement and pre-retirement vividly bringing to life the artist who grew up in Salem.

The retired journalist will be honored Sunday for his passion in promoting the late Salem native and preserving his boyhood home during the annual meeting of the Burchfield Homestead Society.

The meeting is set for 2 p.m. in the office of attorney Fred Naragon, who serves as the Burchfield Homestead Society secretary.

“We’re recognizing Dick for all his years of service,” Naragon said, adding with a grin that it’s a surprise, “so don’t tell him.”

Wootten has been president of the Burchfield Homestead Society since day one and also serves as executive director of the Burchfield Homestead Museum which opened in 1999 at 867 E. Fourth St.

A former arts and entertainment writer and arts editor for the Cleveland Press who also served as city editor of the Salem News, he has written extensively on the topic of Burchfield and researched the artist’s history and the locales for some of his paintings of Salem. His enthusiasm for the subject matter is obvious when he’s giving a tour of Burchfield’s home.

Naragon explained that the society founded in 1993 has been holding an annual meeting for 20 years to remember Burchfield and get updated and this year they decided to honor Wootten for all that he’s done.

Invitations were mailed to all the members, but Naragon said they would like anyone who knows Wootten to come and share their stories about him and to reminisce with him – not only about Burchfield, but about life in general.

“I think it’s really nice that they’re going to do this,” Wootten’s wife, Judith, said.

She teaches English at the Kent State University Salem campus and said “I think he’s pretty much been married to the Burchfield home.”

She said he wants to get more young people involved in the museum and is more than willing to share his knowledge about Burchfield.

Wootten has spent most of his life in Ohio after being born in Atlanta, Ga. and being raised in New York state until the age of 8 when the family moved to Athens, Ohio, then Columbus. He graduated from Ohio State University and played varsity lacrosse while there. He spent 26 years at the Cleveland Press, starting out as a crime beat reporter, then the suburbs, the entertainment beat and arts editor. After the Cleveland Press shut down in 1982, he took some time off, then started working for the Salem News, leaving there in 1994.

Naragon said guests will be coming from all over, including Burchfield’s great nephew Jim, representatives of the Burchfield-Penney Art Center in Buffalo, N.Y., the Butler Museum of American Art in Youngstown and the Columbus Museum of Art and people from Cleveland. John Dunlap, who played Burchfield in a play written by Wootten, plans to send a video tribute.

Besides encouraging people to come to the annual meeting, where refreshments will be served, Naragon is also encouraging people to join the Burchfield Homestead Society for $10.

“Share your stories. Join the Foundation,” he said.

For information about the museum and the foundation, check out the website at www.burchfieldhomestead.com. The museum is open from 1 to 4 p.m. on Sundays from May to November.