ONE-ON-ONE | Richard Wootten Painter's work focused on the simple and familiar
Q. When did the Burchfield Homestead Museum open and how's it doing?
A. We opened in August 1999. We feel we have lots more work to do. We want to build our membership. We want more people to be docents and tour guides. From April through the end of November, we're open Saturdays and Sundays from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. And then, all year long, they can call me at 332-8601. I'm willing to meet people and give them a tour of the museum. I had one guy drive up from Georgia.
Q. Does the museum have an Internet presence?
A. Our Web site is www.salemohio.com/burchfield. Or, you can go to a search engine and just write, "Charles E. Burchfield."
Q. Is there a charge to tour the museum?
A. It's free, but donations are welcome. We had a doctor from Youngstown last year, a retired surgeon, painter and Burchfield collector who gave us $10,000.
Q. What is the museum's primary theme?
A. I think of it as not really an art museum. I try to tell the story of Burchfield's early years through pictures and photographs and information. It sort of gives you an idea of what life was like a hundred years ago in a small town. It shows his development as an artist with stuff he did in grade school, high school, college and in his maturity. It's an art education place.
Q. During what years did Burchfield live in this house?
A. From 1898. He left here in 1921 at the age of 28.
Q. When people visit the museum, what fascinates them the most?
A. They see the paintings on the wall and they look out the window and see the same thing. They get all excited. Burchfield painted his neighborhood and his home, often from looking out the windows of this house.
Q. Didn't Burchfield remark throughout his life that Salem played an important role in his becoming an artist?
A. Here was someone who was famous for loving his hometown and for depicting it and immortalizing it in his pictures. Salem formed him. I found it interesting that he didn't paint any of the beautiful mansions on South Lincoln. He didn't know any of those people. He painted these simple, working class homes around here, where he knew the people and cared about them.
Q. Why is it important to have a museum centered on Burchfield's boyhood home?
A. Because it's interesting. He died in 1967. The way hype and media work today, it's easy for people to be forgotten. He was considered in his time up there with Robert Frost and Aaron Copeland.
Q. The museum has many prints of Burchfield's paintings. But if someone in the Youngstown area wanted to see an original, where could they do that nearby?
A. The Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown. You can go to the Salem Public Library and see the painting there. The Cleveland Museum of Art has quite a few Burchfields.
Q. What was the most challenging aspect of creating this museum?
A. Begging for money (laughs). If you have a good idea and people realize it's a good idea, you get cooperation.
Q. What was the condition of this house when you began to restore it to the way it appeared when the Burchfields lived here?
A. It was a rat-trap. It took from 1993 to 1999 to develop it. It was the worst-looking house on the street, and now it's one of the best looking houses.
Q. Besides the museum, are you involved in any other Burchfield-related projects?
A. I'm working on a book about his youth. I think I've gotten an understanding about his character and his nature. He focused on scenes he loved, places he loved. He had this wonderful childhood. Not too many kids graduated from high school back in those days. He was first in his class, the valedictorian of the class of 1911. He was determined to try to do that.
Q. How did you first become interested in Burchfield?
A. I wrote a piece about him in 1966. I was intrigued with some his approaches. They really communicated. They were accessible, compared with a lot of these abstract things that I thought were affected and self-conscious.
Q. Did you ever meet Burchfield?
A. No, I never did.
Q. Knowing all that you know now, if you could meet him what's the first thing you would you ask him?
A. Being an old reporter, I'd just like to get his memories of Salem. I think if I had met him, I would have liked him. The joy he took in living is such an appealing characteristic. He had a child-like excitement about the beauty of the world.
Q. What would he have thought about a museum being made from his boyhood home?
A. Well, he probably would have straightened me out on how to do it right (laughs). I think he would be pleased at the interest taken in him.
Q. Do you engage in any creative activities?
A. I'm an amateur wood-carver.
Q. Should people try to undertake artistic pursuits, even if just for personal enrichment? Are people missing something by not doing so?
A. There's two ways of living. You can chase the big bucks, and end up being a dull human being. Or you can have a creative life, be it in writing, art or even gardening. To me, the creative life is the life that people should lead because it gives them satisfaction. It's liberating.
Q. What do you like to do in your spare time?
A. When I'm really sharp, I can play the piano. Reading. I love mysteries.
Q. What's the last book you read?
A. "The Amateur Gentlemen" by Jeffrey Farnol. The reason I read that is because Burchfield had all his stuff. Farnol was a best-selling author in 1910. He's totally forgotten now. Burchfield liked him because he had wonderful descriptions of nature.
XTHE WRITER/ Norman Leigh, who covers Salem and Columbiana County for The Vindicator, conducted the interview.