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 Catherine Burchfield Parker  (1926 - 2012)

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Lived/Active: New York/Texas      Known for: Landscape and architectural painting

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Catherine Burchfield Parker
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Catherine Burchfield Parker (1926-)

Catherine Esther Burchfield Parker was born in 1926, the fourth daughter and second-to-last child of renowned American watercolorist Charles E. Burchfield and his wife, Bertha (Kenreich), a farmer’s daughter.  Parker was raised in Gardenville, New York.

In 1929, the same year that her younger brother was born, Parker’s mother encouraged her father to leave his day job and devote himself full time to painting.  Parker is grateful to have been taught that “artist” was a permissible career choice.  But for the Burchfield family, with five children born in a seven-year span, life in a rural suburb of Buffalo, New York on an artist’s income, became—and remained—a constant financial challenge.

Despite these challenges, the Burchfields instilled in their children a love of art and music. When her family would go to a restaurant for a rare dinner out, a live string trio filled young Catherine with dreams of someday performing in a similar setting.  She did take up the cello as a child.

The Burchfield children were also imbued with an appreciation of the power of nature—though Parker’s impressions of nature, portrayed frequently in her watercolor, gouache and charcoals on paper, are often kinder and gentler than those which come through in her father’s work.  Both painters do show spiritual and symbolic elements in their art.

Post-high school, Parker studied for a year at the Buffalo Art Institute.  An enduring issue arose; her desire to acknowledge her father, yet distance herself from both her own and others’ comparisons of her work to his.

Her first solution was to leave.  In 1947, Parker moved to Missouri, studying at the Kansas City Art Institute for three years.  During that time, her principal painting instructor was Ross E. Braught (1898-1983); the influence of his stylized landscapes and rhythmic compositions can still be felt in her work.

In 1950, she married fellow student Kenneth Parker, and, between 1951 and 1957, they had three children—Christine, Douglas and Jennifer.  In 1956, after a few years in Denver, Colorado, they moved their family to Amarillo, Texas.  Parker was painting and exhibiting her work, but not feeling very connected to it.  Around 1967, she stopped—and didn’t paint for eight solid years.  She returned to her childhood study of the cello.  As she continued to search for her own artistic identity, her father died in 1967.

In 1970, she earned a Bachelors degree in Music Education from West Texas State University.  In her own words, she had become a “good amateur” musician.  She performed with the Amarillo Symphony (then still an amateur organization), and in chamber music groups.

Her marriage to Parker ended in 1975, and she moved again.  “It might seem cliché, but, as a divorced single mother, I moved to Santa Cruz, California,” says a much more mature Parker.  The move and the new landscape inspired a renewed interest and confidence in her painting.  She took up her brush, wielding it both in her own work and as a teacher.

By 1983, with a longing to return “home,” Parker retraced her steps to Buffalo.  At the time, she simply felt a sense of wanting to define herself as a “northeasterner,” despite having spent almost 40 years away from it.  She began painting with vigor, and embarked upon establishing a close community of personal, artistic and spiritual connections, which she enjoys today.

She participated in dozens of solo and group shows in and around the Northeast during this period.  In 1988, one of her career-defining moments occurred when she was given a solo show of her new works at the Butler Institute of American Art, in Youngstown, Ohio.  In 1994, acknowledging her artistic growth, she was awarded a painting fellowship to the MacDowell Colony.

In 1999, the Burchfield Penney Art Center, the Buffalo institute named after her father, and whose mission is to promote his and other regional artists’ work, also presented her work in a solo show.

All of her works convey both her love of travel, and the ethereal, potentially contradictory notion that wherever you are, is somehow still “home.”  From scenes of Buffalo’s glorious yet crumbling industrial structures to a sunflower in her kitchen, to a Costa Rican jungle, her work is true to this vision.  While Parker does not have to see a place to paint it, she revels in being elsewhere.

Her favorite American city is San Francisco, followed by New York, Chicago and New Orleans.  Travels to London, Paris and Papua New Guinea have entranced her.  She visits her children and grandchildren frequently in California, New Mexico and Minnesota.

Her artistic inspirations range from the Impressionist master, Henri Matisse, to contemporary artists Richard Diebenkorn and David Hockney.

Looking back after almost 25 years of purposeful living in Western New York, Parker has refined the area’s appeal for her.  “There is a sense of tradition here.  I am impressed with people who have roots, who have perhaps taken over family businesses,” she says.  “Here in the northeast, the hills even seem older.  I like the land itself, the change of seasons.”

A sense of external place, as well as an internal seeking has always driven Parker, informing her art in various ways.  She has painted many works influenced by the jazz music she loves, as well as painting to classical music and poetry.

Commissions and collaborations with other artists, musicians and poets, have motivated her to paint several series.  She has found inspiration for these series in both contemporary and classical music by Bach, Copland, Messiaen, and Sibelius, and poetry by Pablo Neruda and George Herbert.

Parker recently acknowledged that she does not define herself as a “nature lover,” though she is deeply affected by whatever type of “scape”—city, desert, forest, beach, industrial—she is in.

“What is ‘nature’?” she asks. “It is cityscapes, buildings—it’s more accurate to say that I am influenced by my natural surroundings, whatever they may be.”

“I love the implied ‘character’ of cities, the structures, bridges, windows, the ‘mystery,’” says the artist.  “The way the light—whether natural or artificial, daytime or night—hits certain parts and the shadows they cast; the ‘guts’ of the city: rivers, industrial parts, the train stations; the moods, personalities, and even gender.”

In Parker’s ongoing quest for truth in her work, she sees herself having come full circle. “There’s a T.S. Eliot poem that echoes my feelings,” she says. “The poem goes ‘We shall not cease from exploration, And the end of all our exploring, Will be to arrive where we started, And know the place for the first time.’  My interpretation, through my own journey—geographically and spiritually—is that, when you first start out, a tree is a tree, and a flower is a flower.  Then you seek these different, symbolic meanings and experiences. Eventually you come back to the place where a tree is a tree, and a rock is a rock—but there is a completely different feel.”

Parker’s explorations have indeed brought her back to where she started, and also to seeing herself and her work, as Eliot says, “for the first time.”

Jana Eisenberg 2010

Biography from Butler Institute of American Art:
Catherine Parker was born in Gardenville, a small town just outside of Buffalo, NY. Her father was the well known watercolor painter, Charles E. Burchfield.  Her mother was Bertha Kenreich, the daughter of a farmer.  From both parents, she and her four siblings all learned a love of classical music and nature, especially the drama of weather and the seasons.

Growing up in the home of a painter, it was natural for Parker to want to become one.  After high school, she studied for a year at the Buffalo Art Institute.  But wanting to move away from the influence of her father, she left Buffalo to study at the Kansas City Art Institute in Kansas City, Missouri.  She studied there for three years, where her principal painting instructor was Ross Braught.

After art school, she married Kenneth Parker, a fellow student.  They lived for several years in Denver before moving to Amarillo, Texas in l956 where they raised their three children: Christine, Douglas and Jennifer.  Throughout those early years, Parker painted constantly and exhibited regularly.  However, her work never satisfied her, and for a period of about eight years, she quit painting entirely and studied music instead.  Her instrument was the 'cello, which she had studied as a child.  She graduated from West Texas State University in l970,with a degree in music education, and played with the Amarillo symphony and in chamber music groups.

In l975, Parker and her husband were divorced, and she subsequently moved to California.  There she began painting again.  Since at this time she needed to earn a living, she worked at various jobs, mostly teaching art, and substitute teaching in the public schools.

In l982, Parker made the decision to move back to Buffalo.  For her, it was a kind of surrender, both to the necessity of pursuing a life as a painter and to accepting and appreciating the reality of being her father's daughter.  While she could not escape the obvious influence of a famous artist for a father, she went on to develop her own views and style, which are separate and distinct from his.

Parker has traveled widely and many of her paintings reflect this.  She has visited France, painting and drawing the interiors of the cathedrals of Paris and the orchards and vineyards of southern France .  She once visited Jennifer and her family in Papua New Guinea and produced several paintings from memories of that country.  In the US, she travels regularly to California, New Mexico and Minnesota, where Christine, Douglas, Jennifer and their children now live.  The New Mexico landscape, with its vast sense of space, has a particular appeal for her.

The next adventure which she envisions is a trip to Eastern Europe to do some painting in response to the music of that region.

Full Resume from artist supplied Vita

Education : Cleveland Institute of Art 1944; Ohio University 1953; Kent State University 1973; Kent State University MA 1975; Kent State University MFA 1981

Museum Holdings :
Archives of American Art; Butler Institute of American Art; Case Western University; Kent State University; Canton Art Institute

Corporate Holdings
Boston Group Investment Banking; British Petroluem; Kasier Permanente; Shapiro Felty Law Firm; Squires, Sanders Dempsey law Firm; First American Title Company; United National Bank of Canton, OH; Progessive Insurance Company; Benesch Friedlander Coplan and Aronoff Law Firm; Jones, Day, Reavis and Pogue Law Firm; Hahn, Loeser and Parks Law Firm


Exhibits and Awards
1998 Cleveland Museum of Art; 1998 Cuyahoga Community College 2 person invitational ; 1998 Butler Institute of American Art Midyear; 1998 Jotting Down at Sandusky Cultural Center; 1998 The Bonfoey Company Gallery solo show;

1997 Artists Archives of the Western Reserve ;

1996 Educational Research and Development Gran award; 1996 Artseen at Cleveland Center for Contemporary Art; 1996 Fertile Ground at Newmusuem in Cleveland;

1995 All Out Art at Chelsea Gallery in Beechwood, OH;
1995 Stark county Women's Hall of Fame;

1994 Solo at William D. Ginn Gallery at Cleveland Center for Contemporary Art; 1994 Group Exhibit at Kent State; 

1993 Six in Ohio at Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center;

1992 International Invitational exhibit at Sylvia Ullman Gallery in Cleveland;

1991 The Invitational Fifteen Artists from Northeast Ohio at Cleveland Museum of Art;

1990 Rike Fine Art Gallery at Univeristy of Dayton; 1990 One Woman at Akron Art Museum; 1990 Cincinnati Artists Group Effort at CAGE; 1990 May Show at Cleveland Museum of Art; 1990 Invitational Group Show at FAVA Fireland Association of the Visual Arts;

1989 May Show at Cleveland Museum of Art;

1988 Solo at Butler Institute of American Art; 1988 Big Paintings at Great Northern Corporate Art Center in Cleveland; 1988 Solo at Emily Davis Gallery at University of Akron; 1987 May Show at Cleveland Museum of Art;

1987 Solo show at Burke Hall Art Gallery in Denison University; 1987 Three person show at Spaces Gallery in Cleveland;

1986 Invitational exhibit at Bernice Stienbaum Gallery in New York; 1986 Midyear show at Butler Institute;

1985 May Show at Cleveland Museum; 1985 Three Rivers Art Festival;

1984 Art Auction at National Festival of the Arts at JFK Center for Performing Arts; 1984 Kent State Blossom Festival;

1982 Best in Show at Cleveland Museum of Art May Show;

1981 NOVA painting exhibit at BKSmith Gallery in Lake Erie College;

1980 Insight Out at Akron Art Museum


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