Downtown mural honors Burchfield
SALEM — A centennial celebration spotlighting Salem artist Charles E. Burchfield was unveiled on East State Street Sunday afternoon.
The 70-foot long by 8-foot high mural is now part of the downtown scenery and reaches across 100 years to Burchfield’s “Golden Year.”
A 1911 Salem High School graduate, Burchfield is regarded as one of America’s finest watercolor painters.
About 40 people attended the ceremony and the mural represents three major players in creating the mural including the Salem Public Library, the Salem Area Sustainable Opportunity Development Center and the Burchfield Museum.
The east side of the mural pays tribute to current $300,000-plus remodeling project at the Salem Public Library where seven of Burchfield’s works are held. The west side offers a future glimpse of what might become of the property behind the mural.
Through his personal journals Burchfield set 1917 as his “Golden Year” because of the number of paintings he produced and the creativity they projected.
He lived at 867 E. Fourth St. where several of his most beloved and inspired impressions were created as he viewed his surroundings and painted them from the perspective of his boyhood house.
Everywhere he looked, Burchfield saw images that he brought to life on his watercolor canvas.
Today the house serves as the Burchfield Homestead Museum through the tireless efforts of former Salem News city editor, the late Dick Wootten who founded the Burchfield Homestead Society.
Wootten died just over a year ago.
Janis Yereb, director of the Burchfield Homestead Museum, said Wootten “is with us all the time” and that every time she enters the Burchfield Museum, “I say, ‘Hi Charles. Hi Dick.'”
Salem Public Library Executive Director Brad Stephens said the library holds seven original Burchfields in its collection.
“The Three Trees” and the “Sun and Corn” are two of Burchfield’s best known paintings which the library owns.
When Alice MacMillan, who owned the “The Three Trees” donated it to the library, Burchfield, then a New York state resident, “actually drove it here on the running boards of his car,” Stephens related.
MacMillan donated the painting in memory of her father, Joel, on the 100th anniversary of the MacMillan Book Shop in Salem.
Stephens, who is overseeing the major library remodeling, said “The Three Trees” and “Sun and Corn” are currently in storage at the Cleveland Museum of Art, noting that “watercolors need to rest for long-term preservation.”
“We have bus tours in the summer, art tours, come to see the paintings,” he said.
There will be a tour from Buffalo, N.Y. this summer to see them.
Mike Mancuso, executive director of the Salem Area Sustainable Opportunity Development Center, moved the project along.
He said the mural represents economic development and dresses up the vacant space, taking it from the past to a future concept of what the next level could be.
The inspiration for the mural came from Burchfield, Mancuso said.
“It’s here after two years of working on what will come up behind this wall,” he said.
Jock Buta, executive vice president of Butech Bliss, became heavily involved through his involvement with the SODC, the library board and the Burchfield Museum.
He said Sara Baer, a local community artist and Burchfield Museum volunteer, made it known this was the 100th anniversary of Burchfield’s most productive year and something needed to be done.
Different ideas and organizations needed to come together and various ways to celebrate the 100th year took hold with mural idea. After that it was a matter of donations, design and laying in 17 panels, 15 of which portray Burchfield paintings.
Buta said it was a matter of tying everything together. He said liens on the property have been forgiven. The city owns one parcel and a private owner has another behind the mural.
“The SODC is trying to facilitate a private investor in the property,” Buta said.
A children’s museum has been discussed.
Burchfield was the fourth recipient of the Salem High School Alumni Association’s scholarship that was the first high school alumni fund created in Ohio.
After graduating Burchfield attended the Cleveland Institute of Art.
The SHSAA is in its second century of awarding scholarships. Last May, 58 seniors, 37 alumni and six current students received a total of $365,425 in scholarships during the 135th Annual Reunion and Banquet.
Since 1908, the association has awarded over $6.5 million, almost half of which has been awarded during the last 10 years.
A list of donors for Burchfield mural includes the Burchfield Homestead Society, the Sustainable Opportunity Development Center (SODC), the city of Salem, Bob and Linda Sebo, RH Homeworks, Home Depot and the Salem Public Library.
In connection with honoring Burchfield, Salem Beautification Committee members Karen Carter and Jennifer Brown said they are asking residents to plant sunflowers.