Donald W. "Don" Burns

Featured Artist:

Donald W. "Don" Burns

More Artists:
(click to open/close)

Donald “Don” Whitney Burns (American, 1919-1989) Western New York artist, illustrator, art instructor, draughtsman, design engineer, photographer and writer primarily known for watercolor and oil paintings of industrial scenes including steel mills, lumber mills, farm scenes, and landscapes including Vermont views, as well as works in charcoal, ink and graphite and photography. Don Burns was born on May 24, 1919 to Lawrence Heather Burns (1888-1952) a lumber salesman, and mother Anita C. (née Livingstone) Burns (1891-1974), and he had a brother Lawrence Heather Burns, Jr. (1917-1983) and two sisters Clara Ann Burns (1920-2000) and Sayre “Sally” Shelton Burns (1924-2019), Hamburg, NY. His early education was in Hamburg, NY where he graduated from Hamburg High School in 1937. After graduation, he left Western New York for a brief time to work a couple of odd jobs including as an office boy in New York City and as a logger in New England, and eventually returned to Buffalo in 1938. Circa the winter of that same year, he began his formal art training [which continued for about 2-1/2 years] at the Art Institute of Buffalo under noted artist and newly appointed director of the painting department, William B. Rowe (American, 1910-1955).

While studying art, Don worked nights for several years at the Bethlehem Steel Corporation where he became interested in industrial scenes as subjects for art and was able to sketch numerous scenes of the plant and workers in his free time, and later briefly worked for the Bell Aircraft Corporation in Buffalo. He began exhibiting locally in 1940 and had his first solo show by 1941 where his exhibited several oil paintings, watercolors and 50 drawings at the J.N. Adam & Co. retail department store in Buffalo which also included an art gallery that featured local exhibitions. Circa the fall of 1941, Don served as chairman for the Provisional Committee for the Russian War Relief in Buffalo, NY and also taught in the Catholic Worker School during that time.

On August 14, 1943, Don married his first wife, Frances Farnham (née Flaherty) Burns (Sept. 8, 1917-March 2, 1998) formerly of Brattleboro, VT. They had met at a Russian Relief party while she was working at Bell Aircraft motion picture department. Frances was a sculptor and photographer and also studied at the Art Institute while Don worked as a ‘coal-passer’ in the U.S. Merchant Marine in the mid 1940’s. Her father, Robert Joseph Flaherty was a film director well-known for such films as the Elephant Boy, Man of Iron, and Nanook of the North. Shortly after their marriage, the couple maintained a home on Summer Street in Buffalo and also a second residence in Brattleboro, VT, where Don worked as a laborer in a lumber mill. The couple had two daughters, Patricia Heather Burns (1944-2003) and Monica Heide Burns-MacLeod (1947-1994). The couple later divorced and Don eventually remarried two other times.

Don was a member of and exhibited regularly with the Art Institute of Buffalo and the Patteran Society of Artists in Buffalo. He won many awards over the course of his career including the prestigious John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship Award for creative work in Fine Arts Painting in 1945. He was selected by the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey to illustrate the oil industry’s part in WWII with a one year award (stipend) of $2000, to be given after he completed his service in the U.S. Merchant Marine. Circa 1946-47, he taught art at the Putney School in Putney, Vermont, and by August of 1947, he began teaching at the Art Institute of Buffalo, where he remained until 1950. Don had several solo exhibitions and participated in numerous group shows throughout Buffalo and in various cities across the nation in venues such as the Albright Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY, the Art Institute of Chicago, IL, two solo shows at the American-British Art Center, NYC, a solo show at the Stuart Gallery, Boston, MA, the Morton Gallery, NYC, and other New York galleries. In 1944, during Don's solo show at the American-British Art Center in New York City, the noted American composer, pianist, former WPA Committee member and later art critic, Samuel L.M. Barlow II (American, 1892-1982) talked about Burns and summed up the show perfectly in the exhibit catalog stating;

"Though neither a painter or a critic, it is not unduly presuming for a layman to introduce Burns' work; my layman's enthusiasm and delight are as unrestrained by dogma as these paintings are. Later, my betters will tell me why I find such freshness, sincerity and perception in these works; why the wintry landscapes are suffused with such a bleak poetry; why men and machines move against steel and steam. With a fatal passion for analogy, I think of Hokusai in looking at some of these deft, economical black-and-whites. But Burns is quite particularly not like anyone else. Even now he has his own imprimatur."

Don later moved to Hoboken, NJ sometime after the mid 1950’s, and worked as a design engineer for Atlantic Design in New Jersey while also being an active writer and photographer in New York City. Over the course of his career, he completed several commissioned illustrations for well-known magazines including Life, Esquire, and Coronet, and even had one of his watercolor paintings featured on the February, 1945 cover of The Lamp monthly magazine of the Standard Oil Company for employeers and stockholders as well as interior illustrations in conté crayon and watercolor for that issue and a later interior watercolor illustration for their September, 1947 issue. One of his photographs of the "Brooklyn Bridge" was also published in The New York Times in 1983 to highlight the group exhibition, "The Great East River Bridge: 1883-1983" held at the Brooklyn Museum that his photograph was included in. From 1976-1981, he executed numerous photographs of cityscapes, portraits (including self-portrait with two other men), street & alley views, a nude, and various steel industry scenes, which are in the permanent collection at the Brooklyn Museum (19 photographs), Brooklyn, NY. Other works can be found in the permanent collection of the Albright Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY, and the Burchfield-Penney Art Center, Buffalo, NY. The Standard Oil Company of New Jersey (later known as Esso Oil, and now known as Exxon-Mobil), owns commissioned pieces featured in their house publication The Lamp. Don died on March 30, 1989 in Hoboken, NJ.


Chronology:

1919- May 24, born to father Lawrence Heather Burns (1888-1952) a lumber salesman, and mother Anita C. (née Livingstone) Burns (1891-1974). He had a brother Lawrence Heather Burns, Jr. (1917-1983) and two sisters Clara Ann Burns (1920-2000) and Sayre “Sally” Shelton Burns (1925-), Hamburg, NY.

1937- Graduated from Hamburg High School, Hamburg, NY.

From 1937-Circa winter of 1938- After graduation, he left Western New York and worked for a brief time at a couple of odd jobs including as an office boy in New York City and as a logger in New England, and later returned to Buffalo, NY.

From circa winter 1938-1941- Burns began his formal art studies at the Art Institute of Buffalo under noted artist & director of the painting department William B. Rowe (American, 1910-1955), Buffalo, NY. While studying art, Burns worked nights at the Bethlehem Steel Corporation for several years and also later at the Bell Aircraft for a brief time.

1940- March 1-31, exhibited, group juried show (Won the Elisabeth W. Reeb Memorial Prize of $50 for finest drawing), “7th Annual Exhibition by Artists of Western New York”, for painting “Cherry Valley”, Albright Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY. Exhibited, group show, Paintings by the Faculty & Students of the Art Institute of Buffalo, Saltzman’s Bakery, 48 West Chippewa, Buffalo, NY.

1941- April 4-May 12, exhibited, group juried show ($25 Stuart C. Welch Prize, finest watercolor), “8th Annual Exhibition by Artists of Western New York”, for painting “Storm”, Albright Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY. May 5-31, exhibited, group show, “New York State Exhibition of Oils and Watercolors”, Syracuse Museum of Fine Arts, Syracuse, NY. May 21, exhibited, first solo show, of paintings in oil, watercolor and 50 drawings, J.N. Adam & Co., Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY. Circa the fall of 1941, Don served as chairman for the Provisional Committee for the Russian War Relief in Buffalo, NY and also taught in the Catholic Worker School during that time.

1941-42- Exhibited, group shows, Art Institute of Chicago, IL.

1943- August 14, Don married Frances F. (née Flaherty), of Brattleboro, VT, at the chapel of St. John’s Episcopal Church, Buffalo, NY, with a dinner party given at the home of his parents Lawrence & Anita Burns at 837 Potomac Avenue. After September 1, the couple maintained a home on Summer Street in Buffalo as well as a second residence in Brattleboro, VT, where Don also worked as a laborer in a lumber mill.

1944- April 3, their daughter Patricia Heather Burns was born, Brattleboro, VT. October 24-November 11, exhibited, solo show, watercolors (15), oil paintings (4) and several drawings, The American-British Art Center, 44 West 56 Street, NYC.

1945- Don served as a Seaman in the U.S. Merchant Marine as a ‘coal-passer’ on a coastal steamer while also working as an artist Buffalo, NY. April 23, Don won the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship Award for creative work in Fine Arts Painting, initially selected by the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey to illustrate the oil industry’s part in WWII for its fine arts project, with the one year award (stipend) of $2000 to be given after he completed his service in the U.S. Merchant Marine. At this time his wife and one year old daughter Heather were residing with his parents on Potomac Ave. in Buffalo and Frances, a sculptor and photographer, also briefly studied at the Art Institute while Don worked as a ‘coal-passer’. Received painting illustration commission from Life magazine.

1946- Exhibited, group show, Art Institute of Chicago, IL.

1946-47- Received three painting commissions from The Standard Oil Company of New Jersey (later known as Esso Oil, and now known as Exxon-Mobil) which were also featured in The Lamp (A periodical of the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey); One painting featured the ‘Drilling Activities in the Louisiana Bayou’, another “Tanker Docks, Portland Maine” (which was later gifted to Albright Art Gallery, 1951), third painting is unknown.

From circa 1946-47- He taught art for one year at the Putney School in Putney, VT.

1947- March 8, their daughter Monica Heide Burns was born, Brattleboro, VT. August, started teaching at the Art Institute of Buffalo, NY.

From 1947-1950- He taught at the Art Institute of Buffalo, NY.

1948- July 12, taught a one-day art class at the Village Vacation School, in the Community Center, Hamburg, NY. September 12-18, exhibited, three person show, “Don Burns, Robert Blair and Gerry Gross”, sponsored by The Niagara Falls Studio Group and the adult education department of the public schools, YWCA, Niagara Falls, NY. Taught art fine art classes at the Whitney Avenue School along with Robert Blair and Gerry Gross. September, exhibited, group show (3rd prize $50), “4th Annual Exhibition of Paintings by New York State Artists”, for painting “Jersey Shore”, Cortland County Fair, Cortland, NY.

1949- February, exhibited, solo show, watercolors, oils and drawings, Art Institute of Buffalo, NY. July 1-14, exhibited, group show, “Oil”, sponsored by Standard Oil Company of New Jersey, Burns’ painting showcased the ‘Drilling Activities in the Louisiana Bayou’, and the show intended to travel to showcase the collection of Standard Oil, Hotel Athenaeum, Jamestown, NY. September, exhibited, group show, “111th Annual Cortland County Fair”, Cortland, NY. October 9-22, exhibited, traveling group show, “Oil”, an exhibition of documentary paintings from the collection of the Esso Standard Oil Company of New Jersey, Burns’ painting was showcased again which featured the ‘Drilling Activities in the Louisiana Bayou’, and the show continued to travel around the country, Edwin Forrest Gallery of the Moore Institute of Art, Science and Industry, Broad and Master Suites, Philadelphia, PA. October 16-30, exhibited, group show, Art Institute of Buffalo, in their 2nd floor galleries at the new rooms at 267 West Utica St., Buffalo, NY.

1950- January 3-31, exhibited, group show, “Exhibition of Painting and Sculpture by the Members of and Faculty of the Art Institute of Buffalo”, Burns’ showed oil painting “Red Barn” and “Quarry No. 3” (done “in honor of Dizzy Gillespie…with a bit of bebop lower right.”[0]), Junior League Galleries, Delaware Ave., Buffalo, NY. March 10-April 2, exhibited, group juried show (James Carey Evans Memorial Prize $60 for watercolor), “16th Annual Exhibition by Artists of Western New York”, Albright Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY. June 14-July 5, exhibited (illegally exhibited), group juried show, Patteran Society of Artists, Burns illegally added his painting to the show by propping it up in the corner for visitors to view—Burns originally had brought in a “…collage of newspaper clippings selected to form a social commentary on modern American life.”[1], and charged that the Patteran committee’s decision not to include his painting infringed on his rights as a Patteran member, Albright Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY. October, group juried show, Patteran Society of Artists, Albright Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY. December 10-30, exhibited, traveling group show, “Oil”, an exhibition of documentary paintings from the collection of the Esso Standard Oil Company of New Jersey, Burns’ painting was showcased again which featured the ‘Drilling Activities in the Louisiana Bayou’, and the show continued to travel around the country, Art Institute Galleries, Buffalo, NY. December 17, Don Burns was included along with members & staff of the Art Institute of Buffalo, in a one-day sale of paintings where half the proceeds were given to benefit the Veterans Hospital Gift Fund, and full proceeds from two works by artist Charles E. Burchfield (American 1893-1967) to be given to the fund as well to buy Christmas presents for patients at Veterans Hospital, Art Institute, 267 West Utica St., Buffalo, NY.

1951- March 7-April 4, exhibited, group juried show, “17th Annual Exhibition by Artists of Western New York”, for painting of an ‘Abandoned Farmhouse’, Albright Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY. April 11-May, exhibited, group show, Patteran Society of Artists, Albright Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY.

1952- October 12-November 2, exhibited, group juried show, Patteran Society of Artists, Albright Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY. November 18, Don’s father Lawrence died, Buffalo, NY.

1953- March 5-, exhibited, group juried show (Elizabeth W. Reeb Memorial 1st Prize of $50), “19th Annual Exhibition by Artists of Western New York”, for painting “Country Day”, Albright Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY.

1954- March 5-April 4, exhibited, group juried show, ($50 Prize for painting in any medium), “20th Annual Exhibition by Artists of Western New York”, for painting “Railroad Yard”, Albright Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY.

1974- August 18, Don’s mother Anita died, Spring Valley, NY.

From 1976-1981- Don executed photographs of various cityscapes, several portraits (including self-portrait with two other men), street & alley views, a nude, and various steel industry scenes.

1981- October 15, The Brooklyn Museum initially selected 15 of Don's photographs for their permanet collection, and interestingly, Don made it clear in writing (signed on the Museum's printed selection list) by stating that, "These pictures were not given by me to the Brooklyn Museum.", but rather, "They were selected by the museum and taken for the permanent collection. They were then written down as a gift." The Brooklyn Museum currently has 19 phototgraphs by Don Burns in their permanent collection, Brooklyn, NY. 

1983- May 14, Don’s brother Lawrence, Jr. died, Hamburg, NY. March 19-June 19, exhibited, group show, "The Great East River Bridge: 1883-1983", silver gelatin photograph shown "Brooklyn Bridge" 1981, 16" x 20" (No. 203, Collection of the Brooklyn Museum, NY) and Don's photo was also featured in the March 18, 1983 edition of The New York Times "The Guide" picture-page showcasing the exhibit along with other artists' images as well as the exhibit program, Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY. By June, Don had retired from work and spent more time concentrated on his photography and other "creative matters". Don was residing at 34 E. 20th Street, NYC.

1989- March 30, Don Burns died, Hoboken, NJ, and the service was held on April 2 in Hoboken, and he was later cremated.

1994- November 20, their daughter Monica Heide (MacLeod) Burns died, Putney, VT.

1998- March 2, Don’s wife Frances died, Putney, VT.

2000- May 3, Don’s sister Clara died, Spring Valley, NY.

2003- January 16, their daughter Heather Patricia Burns died, NYC.

2006- July 14-September 3, exhibited, groups how, “An Alternative Course: The Art Institute of Buffalo”, for oil on board painting titled “Pond” 1948 (17” x 27”, Permanent collection of Burchfield-Penney Art Center), Burchfield-Penney Art Center, Buffalo, NY.

2012- April 13-July 1, exhibited, group show, “Steel—The Art of Experience and Impressions”, presented in tandem with the Community Gallery exhibition, “A Community of Steel”, which is presented by the Steel Plant Museum of WNY and the Monroe Fordham History Center, Burchfield Penney Art Center, Buffalo, NY.

Exhibited Other: Various New York City Galleries; Solo show at the Stuart Gallery (unknown year), Boston, MA; Three solo shows, NYC, (c1941-49); Morton Gallery (unknown year), NYC; Exhibited, 2nd solo show (unknown year), British-American Art Center, NYC.

Memberships/Associations: Patteran Society of Artists, Buffalo, NY; Art Institute of Buffalo, NY; Committee member for the Russian War Relief during WWII, Buffalo, NY.

Awards/Honors: Won the Elisabeth W. Reeb Memorial Prize of $50 for finest drawing, “7th Annual Exhibition by Artists of Western New York”, Albright Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY, 1940; Won $25 Stuart C. Welch Prize, finest watercolor, at the “8th Annual Exhibition by Artists of Western New York”, Albright Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY, 1941; Won the Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship Award, Fine Arts/Painting, 1945; Various other Western New York art shows, c1940’s; 3rd prize ($50), “4th Annual Exhibition of Paintings by New York State Artists”, for painting “Jersey Shore”, Cortland County Fair, Cortland, NY, 1948; James Carey Evans Memorial Prize $60 for watercolor, gift of Mrs. Reginald B. Taylor, “16th Annual Exhibition by Artists of Western New York”, Albright Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY, 1950; Elizabeth W. Reeb Memorial 1st Prize of $50, “19th Annual Exhibition by Artists of Western New York”, for painting “Country Day”, gift of Mr. & Mrs. W.J. Weiss, Albright Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY, 1953; $50 Prize (for painting in any medium), for painting “Railroad Yard”, at the “20th Annual Exhibition by Artists of Western New York”, Albright Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY, 1954.

Museums: Permanent Collection of the Albright Knox Art Gallery (American Works), “Tanker Docks, Portland, Maine” undated, watercolor on paper, 15-1/2” x 29-1/2”, Gift of Esso Standard Oil Co. of New Jersey, 1951, Buffalo, NY; Permanent Collection of the Burchfield Penney Art Center, “Pond”, 1948, oil on canvas, 17” x 27” (frame: 26-1/2 x 36-1/2 inches), Gift of Mrs. Annette M. Cravens, 1989, and ‘Untitled’, c. 1930, charcoal, overall 10-7/8” x 13-13/16” (27.6 x 35.1 cm), Gift of David Pratt and Family, 1991, Buffalo, NY; Permanent Collection of the Brooklyn Museum, 19 photographs, Brooklyn, NY.

Other Collections: Collection of The Standard Oil Company of New Jersey (later known as Esso Oil, and now known as Exxon-Mobil), Don Burns received three painting commissions which were also featured in The Lamp (A periodical of the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey), one painting which featured the ‘Drilling Activities in the Louisiana Bayou’ and also another painting “Tanker Docks, Portland Maine” (which was later gifted to Albright Art Gallery, 1951), third painting is unknown, 1946-47.

Publications: Over the course of his career, Don completed several commissioned illustrations for various magazines including Life, Esquire, and Coronet; Watercolor painting featured on the February, 1945 cover of The Lamp monthly magazine of the Standard Oil Company for employeers and stockholders as well as conté crayon and watercolor illustrations in that issue, and a later interior watercolor illustration for their September, 1947 issue (Pgs. 14-15 each resepectively); Exhibition Catalog, An Alternative Course: The Art Institute of Buffalo, July 14-September 3, 2006, Burchfield-Penney Art Center, catalog design by White Bicycle, print and production by Robert L. Freudenheim Buffalo, NY.

For additional information on this artist or for other possible examples of his works, please visit the AskArt.com link.

(Written & compiled chronologically by Mark Strong of Meibohm Fine Arts, Inc., East Aurora, NY, meibohmfinearts.com, from sources: Too long to list here and are furnished upon request.)

PLEASE CLICK FOR MORE INFO