In conjunction with ‘Charles E. Burchfield: Weather Event’
on exhibit through Jan. 7 at the Montclair Art Museum
3 South Mountain Ave.
• Weather Game kicks off Sunday, Oct. 15
• Hudson Shakespeare Company presents ‘Macbeth,’ Tuesday, Oct. 17
• 3rd Annual Julia Norton Babson Lecture, Thursday, Oct. 19, MAM
• The Little Read, Friday, Oct. 20 and Saturday, Oct. 21
Montclair Public Library, 50 South Fullerton Ave.
By GWEN OREL
Five years ago, on Oct. 22, Hurricane Sandy formed. She touched down in New Jersey on Oct. 29.
The Montclair Public Library was one of the places in town that had power, warmth, charging stations and company during the dark days that followed.
It makes sense for the library to partner with the Montclair Art Museum for “Weather Week,” running Oct. 15-22. MAM is showing “Charles E. Burchfield: Weather Event,” more than 40 of the modernist author’s watercolors, landscapes and drawings, through Jan. 7.
A Weather Week Game begins on Oct. 15 at the Montclair Public Library, and concludes on Oct. 22. Stories in Toddler Storytime on Tuesday, Oct. 17 and in the Little Read on Friday, Oct. 20, and Saturday, Oct. 21, will have weather connections. The Every Wedneday Matinee that screens on Wednesday, Oct. 19 will be “The White Squall.”
MAM encourages the community to share pictures of weather events with the hashtag #MAMweather on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, for possible featuring in the Museum’s social media feeds, and MAM is also collecting donations for Hurricane victims, coordinated with Toni’s Kitchen, through Oct. 22.
“We really like to give people the opportunity to have experiences,” said Janet Torsney, assistant director of th
e library. The staff, Torsney said, were challenged to think, “What can we do to get people walking up and down Bloomfield Avenue, thinking about art, and doing things together?”
In the Weather Game, people are asked to draw what the see or what they hear out the window. People can dabble in it:“If you knew me, you could tell, there are very few rules,” she said with a laugh.
Torsney just started working at the library in June, but knows that the library was a community gathering spot during the aftermath. “We had a conference room that was open all night long,” she said. “What I take away from that experience was that it was a terrible storm, but the community really pulled together. We need to work together all the time.”
Part of the Weather Game is for people to learn about the artist.
SPIRITUALITY IN NATURE
At a press walk-through last month, curator Gail Stavitsky said that the show has a “unifying theme of Burchfield’s emotional and aesthetic responses to all kinds of weather conditions.”
The artist, she said, wrote in his journal about the weather – and quotations from those journals are stencilled on MAM’s walls.
The exhibit includes sketches and drawings from the artist’s early years as an art student in Cleveland, in 1915, until his final years in the late ’60s. Burchfield was born in 1893, and died in 1967.
Burchfield was interested in Japanese art and in Chinese scroll painting, which encouraged him to simplify and to abstract forms, she said: “He was picking up on the spirituality in nature.”
Some of the symbols Burchfield used as conventions for weather symbols are not unlike those used by meteorologists. For
example, in “Fireflies and Lightning”, he used wavy lines to suggest the energy of lightning in the sky, she said.
Labels next to the work on display give more context about climate conditions, she said, and the audio tour of the show, which people can join by using their cell phones, includes simulated broadcasts of weather reports.
The show was co-curated by Tullis Johnson, curator of collections at the Burchfield Penney Art Center, which holds the largest collection of the artist’s work; and by Stephen Vermette, climatologist and professor of geography and planning at Buffalo State University. Johnson and Vermette will participate in the 31st Annual Julia Norton Babson Lecture: “Charles E. Burchfield: Wind, Sunshine, and Sky,” along with Martha J. Fleischman, president of Kennedy Galleries NYC and chairman of the Archives of American Art, on Thursday, Oct. 19, at the museum.
Johnson said that Vermette was “able to see things in the paintings that were evidence of things in weather. Cross referencing the paintings with weather data showed that Burchfield was painting actual weather that he saw.
“This exhibition is also meaningful, even more today, because it lays out the difference between what we call weather and what we call climate,” Johnston said. Early on, Burchfield made paintings on his way to or from work, in one day. Later in his life, the artist would expand a painting, and work on it for several years. “Those are depictions of climate, and what you can expect to see in a landscape. It opens up a larger discussion about climate change.”
While Hurricane Sandy was a few years ago, the escalation of events like Sandy “is something that should make us think. What we’re seeing is real evidence of climate change. There is a change in the climate, no matter what you attribute the cause to. It’s causing extremely dry weather in California. Weather patterns are changing. The ocean is warmer this year. it causes bigger storms.”
Burchfield is a link between the naturalists of the 19th Century, such as Henry David Thoreau, and the environmental movement emerging at the end of the artist’s lifetime, Johnson said.
“We know he took notes. We have doodles where he wrote Rachel Carson’s name,” he observed. Burchfield painted forest fires, and areas despoiled by industry.
“This exhibition is meant to bring up some of the ideas that are relevant to what we’re seeing today.”