Some people believe that at the opening of the Butler in Salem, Charles Burchfield was there in spirit -- literally.
By NANCY TULLIS
VINDICATOR SALEM BUREAU
SALEM -- In its 11th year here, the Butler Institute of American Art is a source of pride for Salem, and a place where the spirit of artist Charles Burchfield lives on, says Norman Wingard, branch manager.
Burchfield, who died in 1967, developed into one of America's foremost painters after getting his start painting what he saw from the windows of his family's modest home on Fourth Street. Area art enthusiasts have preserved the home as the Burchfield Homestead Museum.
"The Butler is here because of Charles Burchfield," said Wingard. The Butler celebrated its 10th anniversary in Salem in October.
"The Butler usually puts its branches in larger urban areas, so it's small-town presence is unique. But what better place to be than here -- where Charles Burchfield grew up?"
Wingard said two exhibits at the Salem branch through Sunday honor Burchfield. The exhibits are by two area neurologists, Robert Tornello of Youngstown and Edwin Shuttleworth of Salem.
Tornello's exhibit includes some of his own watercolors, and also paintings from his private collection, two large Burchfield paintings among them. Shuttleworth's work is displayed as a tribute to Burchfield. Wingard said Shuttleworth has captured much of Burchfield's style and spirit.
Spirit at opening: Dr. Lou Zona, director of the Butler in Youngstown, said the Butler's Salem branch opened in October 1991, and some people believe that at the November opening reception, Burchfield was there in spirit -- literally.
Zona said Burchfield was excited and fascinated by the forces of nature, and he portrayed storms in many of his paintings. He said Burchfield would often wake the entire household in the middle of the night to go to the front porch to watch a thunderstorm.
"The night of the Salem opening, there was a terrible thunderstorm, with rain, lightning and high winds," he said.
Zona said the Butler is pleased to have a presence in Salem, Burchfield's boyhood home. He said after 10 years of "working hard to be a good neighbor," the Butler continues to gain popularity in Salem, and is well-supported in the community.
"It's a showcase for national, regional and local artists in an all-American town," said Zona. "I don't think there's a better-looking space anywhere. In fact, one of our Pittsburgh exhibitors said he didn't think any New York City gallery has a nicer setting."
Support: Zona said the Butler's presence in Salem would not be possible without the support of the Salem Community Foundation and many individuals. Over the years, the Butler's exhibits have included works by not only nationally and regionally know artists, but local ones as well.
The Salem Area Arts Guild has an annual show at the Butler, and area college and public school artists have also exhibited.
Zona said the Butler is well supported by Salem City Schools and Kent State University Salem Campus students and staff.
Besides gallery shows, the Butler in Salem has been the site of art classes for children, art history lectures, concerts and technique demonstrations by various artists.
"The Butler is really world-class," said Salem Attorney Bruce Williams. "It stacks up easily against any other museum for what it does."
Williams said he spent many of his childhood Saturday mornings taking private art lessons at the Butler in Youngstown, studying painting, anatomy and sculpture.
He said during those classes at the Butler, he mastered the basics of classical art and developed an appreciation for the human form.
"A face can tell a thousand stories as long as one is willing to listen," he said.
Williams said he was honored to have two of his photographs exhibited at the Butler in Salem in 1999.
"The Butler's collection and exhibits bring the finest in American art to our area," he said. "It's nice to have the Butler in Salem for the same reasons."
XThe Butler Institute of American Art Salem branch is open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. A reception of artist Edwin Shuttleworth will be 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday. For more information, call (330) 332-8213.