This week’s artwork in the atrium of the Arkansas Arts Center is Charles Burchfield’s “Black Iron” (1935). Beverly Kleckner selected the work for the “50 Works, 50 Weeks, 50 Years” exhibit celebrating the Arts Center’s 50 years. The watercolor is a recent gift to the Arts Center Foundation by Hope Aldrich in memory of her father, John D. Rockefeller 3rd.
UPDATE: The work, from his period of realism, came to the Arts Center along with seven drawings and a page of notes the artist made from his diary. The Arts Center passed along this quote from the notes:
I discovered them [the draw bridges] when returning to Seneca St. after a day’s work on “Three Boats in Winter” (1933) The time never seemed ripe to do them, however until this year. I made one trip in to look over the subject, and received a new thrill. An attack of lumbago delayed starting, but finally I felt equal to the task and went in. What a delight! what a joy it was ! The subject “over-powered me.” I fell in love with it, and a great happiness came over me. (Early in the thinking about these bridges, the title “Black Iron” occurred to me as a suitable one.) It was difficult working, that first day, but I rejoiced in all the handicaps. For example the ground had not settled yet from the spring thaw, and where I stood it was all sand; engrossed in my work I did not know how treacherous it was until I went to step backward and could not move my feet at first; and I had great difficulty with-drawing them. One of the workers on the bridge seeing my predicament, went and got two box-ends for me to stand on. Then there was the wind from the south-west strong and gusty, with occasional spatters of rain; my easel was not well anchored, the legs sank in the sand loosening the guy-ropes etc. Nothing seemed to matter on this first day. By mid-afternoon the rain increased so much that I had to quit painting; but I had the main lines all blocked in, and the immense black counter-weights practically painted.
On another day a strong cold wind came out of the East; by afternoon a cold rain began to fall which soon changed to snow. The great flurries of snow-flakes as they passed the large black counter-weights were beautiful. Another time, the bridges lifted to allow a lake-freighter to go through, a fine sight.
The Arts Center notes that Burchfield worked in a more fantastic style prior to and after the watercolor of the New York State railroad bridges above, and that’s the work I particularly like, as readers of Eye Candy will have discerned over the years. As an example of what good taste I have, the Burchfield below sold for $1.2 million at auction last year at Christie’s.