In the past week since the official release of Seeded Light, I have received a number of comments from readers with questions and compliments on the cover art work, Charles Burchfield’s Luminous Tree (1917), one of the artist’s magnificent watercolor paintings of nature that are sometimes described as transcendental landscapes. Therefore, I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce readers to Charles Burchfield and his art, as well as to indicate my appreciation for Burchfield’s paintings.
As I have mentioned in a previous post at “One Poet’s Notes,” a recurrent theme within the words, phrases, and images of the poems in Seeded Light “continues visual elements located in the volume’s cover art.” Luminous Tree can be found among the many fine pieces in the permanent collection of the Brauer Museum of Art at Valparaiso University, from which the wonderful cover images for issues of Valparaiso Poetry Review are routinely chosen.
Charles Burchfield (1893-1967) attempted to provide viewers of his art with works that interpreted not only the visual elements of an image, but also the sounds and sensory details suggested by a particular scene. Often his compositions seem to contain touches that imply an additional dimension to the static plane of the canvas: sometimes contributing shimmering surges of color to offer a hint of heat rising from a summer field under bright sunlight; flowing rows of white signaling the cold of snowfall weighting down winter’s drooping tree limbs; squiggles like sonic waves echoing the call of birds and buzz of insects among spring flowers; or curling brush strokes imitating the whirling of winds where autumn leaves drift.
As Burchfield mentions during the audio of the interview in the background of the lovely video above, his early instincts included an appreciation for illustrative language; so much so that he once thought a priority in his future would possibly be as an author. Indeed, readers of Burchfield’s writings, included in his collection of daily journals titled The Poetry of Place, have been impressed by his gift with description and intimate reporting of specific locales in nature. Consequently, a combination of the artist’s paintings and poems focusing on nature seems most fitting.
In fact, my initial awareness and interest in Charles Burchfield’s art traces back to 1996. At the time, a retrospective exhibition of Burchfield’s artworks was scheduled at the Valparaiso University Museum of Art, which appeared appropriate since Burchfield’s daughter, Mary Alice, had once attended Valparaiso University. This show would be the final major display of an artist’s work in the university museum before being renamed the Brauer Museum of Art after its longtime director, Richard Brauer. (Readers may view a brief video of the museum at the following “One Poet’s Notes” entry, “Poetry Writing and Poetry Reading.”)
Dick Brauer and I developed a friendship based upon our mutual respect and admiration for one another’s disciplines (a relationship I am pleased to say has been repeated with his successor as museum director, Gregg Hertzlieb, a poet and painter who regularly contributes insightful art commentary for Valparaiso Poetry Review). Therefore, I was honored when Dick requested that I organize poetic responses to Charles Burchfield’s artworks by poets associated with Valparaiso University—faculty, students, or alumni. Each poem produced in advance of the opening of the exhibition on April 16, 1996, was placed upon a plaque alongside the painting that had inspired it. A number of the poets also presented epigraphs from favorite excerpts located in the journals of Charles Burchfield, and a poetry reading was held as part of the ceremonies at the premiere of the exhibition.
Afterwards, due to enthusiastic reactions to the linking of the poems and the paintings, I was asked to edit an anthology booklet of the art and poetry. That anthology, which positions the poems on pages facing prints of the paintings they address, was later released as A Poetic Vision: Poets’ Responses to the Artwork of Charles Burchfield. Ever since, I have maintained a great fondness for the poetic perceptions demonstrated in Burchfield’s paintings and prose.
I include below the back cover for the anthology. Readers may click on the image to magnify the artwork and text.