Martha Elizabeth Burchfield Richter (American, 1924-1977) was a noted watercolor artist and daughter of the internationally known artist Charles Ephraim Burchfield (American, 1893-1967) and Bertha (née Kenreich) Burchfield. Martha and her four siblings, Mary Alice, Sally, Catherine and Arthur all learned from their parents a love of classical music and nature, especially the drama of weather and the changing of the seasons. She is primarily known for her landscapes which featured scenes of the countryside, farms or homes of the Western New York area. As a child Martha loved to draw, and her father provided plenty of materials and encouragement.
Martha studied with Philip C. Elliot (American, 1903-1985) and Florence Julia Bach (American, 1887-1978) of the Albright Art School, Buffalo for one year and later furthered her training with the help of scholarships at the Cleveland Institute of Art (her father’s alma mater) for three years. She studied with William Joseph Eastman (American, 1888-1950), Carl Frederick Gaertner (American, 1898-1952) and Paul Travis (American, 1891-1975). All of her instructors insisted that she not be influenced by her father, and told her to develop her own style. How could she not be influenced by him? “Every young artist is influenced by someone, even my father”, Martha once said. Charles taught her how to “see” nature on trips around the countryside to paint with him, and taught her some of his techniques. Consequently throughout her career there was a continual comparison between her work and that of her famous father that she could not escape.
In her own style, Martha painted almost exclusively in watercolor, using the dry technique over a pencil sketch. She often preferred to paint plein-air, in the open and on location, although she admitted “I’m not as brave as Dad about staying out in blizzards”. Sometimes she would drive with her easel and paints in the car until she found a scene worth painting. Even though the art world at the time of the 1960’s was dominated by the abstract school of thought, Martha continued to paint realistically. Martha married Henry R. Richter, raising three children, Peggy, Tommy and David. For many years she painted in the bedroom of her home where she brought out and put away her materials each day. Subsequently a studio was built over the garage adjoining their home.
“All my life I wanted to be an artist, but I fought against it. I’d stand in front of Dad’s paintings and I’d think, why try? But they inspired me, too. At one period I took up music, violin and the piano, and attended Fredonia State Teachers College for a year. But it was a lost cause, and I decided that all I really wanted to do was paint, so why fight it? Painting isn’t something I took up as a means of escape from dishes and diapers. The urge to paint was there before any frustration with housework. A serious artist paints because he has to; it’s an inborn drive.” -Martha Burchfield Richter, April 3rd, 1960.
Martha was also one of seven instrumental people who helped to found the Charles Burchfield Center (now the Burchfield-Penney Art Center), which opened December 9th, 1966, in Buffalo, NY. The center was named in her father’s honor to celebrate the art of Western New York and to carry on the legacy and vision of his work, although Burchfield was reluctant to accept the honor. Charles Burchfield died suddenly of a heart attack January 10th, 1967, just a month and a day after the museum's inauguration. The other six co-founders were: Dr. Edna M. Lindemann, director of development and cultural affairs for Buffalo State College (BSC); Gordon M. Smith, director of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery; Dr. Paul G. Bulger, President of Buffalo State University College; Donald L. Voltz, chairman of the board of trustees for the BSC Alumni Foundation Inc.; Dr. D. Kenneth Winebrenner, professor of design at BSC and John Clancy, Burchfield’s dealer at the Frank K. M. Rehn Galleries in New York City.
“The summer of 1942 remains in my memory as a very happy one, for it was then that my daughter Martha, after a brief session with music, decided that painting was her field, and started in earnest to paint outdoors. The water-colors she brought in, had a peculiar fascination for me; there was an unspoiled, innocent freshness about them, lyrical in character, with also a tinge of primitiveness. With experience and increasing knowledge the primitive note had vanished, but the lyrical quality has remained and grown steadily, to which has been added the drama of light and an awareness of the more sophisticated problems of landscape painting. She has an inborn sense of pattern and composition, strikingly evident in her childhood attempts, which has carried through into her mature work. I might add that she has not fallen into the trap of pseudo-modernism which flaws the work of so many young artists today. As is the case so often with the offspring of a parent who is well-known in the same field, Martha has had to contend with comparisons with her father. “She paints just like her father!” Perhaps I am too close to the subject to be objective, but it seems to me if there was any influence in the early years she has outgrown it and has developed her own outlook and style.” -Charles Burchfield, September 26th, 1966.
1924- Born, June 28th, Buffalo, NY.
1946- Exhibited, first one-person show, Art Institute of Buffalo, Buffalo, NY.
1947- Exhibited, group exhibition, painting title “Advent of Spring”, Buffalo Society of Artists, Buffalo, NY. Exhibited, “Biehler Show”, Buffalo Society of Artists, painting title “Spring in the Hills”, Buffalo, NY.
1948- Exhibited, group show, “53rd Annual Exhibition”, Buffalo Society of Artists, painting title “January Afternoon” (first Honorable Mention Prize), March, Buffalo, NY. Exhibited, group show, “Watercolor Exhibition”, Buffalo Society of Artists, painting titles “January Afternoon” and “February Sunshine”, Albright Art Gallery, June 6-27th, Buffalo, NY.
1960- Exhibited, solo show, at the Junior League clubrooms, Buffalo, NY.
1961- Exhibited, solo show, “Martha Burchfield Richter Watercolor Paintings”, Sisti Galleries (of artist Anthony Sisti, American, 1901-1983), Buffalo, NY.
1964- Exhibited, two person show, “Joseph Gatti and Martha Burchfield Richter”, Sisti Galleries, Buffalo, NY.
1965- Exhibited, solo show, Sisti Galleries, Buffalo, NY.
1966- Exhibited, solo show, “Watercolor Paintings by Martha Burchfield Richter”, The Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, OH.
1967- Exhibited, solo show, 60 watercolors, Sisti Galleries, Buffalo, NY.
1968- Exhibited, joint exhibition with her father and daughter, The Lakeview Gallery of Art, Lakeview Hotel, Hamburg, NY.
c1970- Exhibited, solo show, 38 paintings from 1968-69 and a few drawings, Central Park Gallery, Buffalo, NY. Exhibited jointly with her father and daughter, The Lakeview Gallery of Art, Lakeview Hotel, Hamburg, NY.
1972- Exhibited, solo show, Wilcox Mansion, Buffalo, NY. Exhibited, solo show, YMCA, Salem, OH.
1973- Exhibited, joint exhibition with her father and daughter, “Three Generations of Burchfields”, 68 combined watercolors; 12 by Charles Burchfield, 11 by Martha and 45 from Peggy Richter Turco, Raydon Gallery, New York City.
1977- Exhibited, Carriage House Gallery, Buffalo, NY. Martha died at the age of 53, Buffalo, NY.
1984- Exhibited, retrospective exhibition of her work from the early 1940’s to the mid 1970’s along with a few samples of wallpaper and a pencil sketch by her father Charles E. Burchfield, Wilcox Mansion, Buffalo, NY.
1997- Exhibited, solo retrospective show, “Paintings by Martha Burchfield”, paintings from 1942-1976, Elma Historical Society, Elma, NY.
2003- Exhibited, group retrospective, “Invisible Archives Vol. 4: 120 Years of Landscape”, Hallwalls, Buffalo, NY.
2018- January 13-February 10, group show, "Original Originals": Vintage Drawings by WNY Artists, Meibohm Fine Arts, East Aurora, NY.
Exhibited also at: Solo exhibition, Central Park Gallery, Buffalo, NY; the Garret Club, a women’s social club, Buffalo, NY; Buffalo Society of Artists “Statler Show” (first prize), Buffalo, NY; Detroit, MI; Salem, OH; Cleveland, OH; Youngstown, OH.
Prizes: First prize, Buffalo Society of Artists, “Statler Show”, Buffalo, NY; First prize, West Seneca Art Society Show, West Seneca, NY; She also won many other first prizes and honorable mentions at various local exhibitions.
Collections: Smithsonian American Art Museum (now part of the David W. Reynolds Center), the painting titled “Banks of Buffalo Creek, Gardenville, NY”, 1966, Washington, DC; The Burchfield-Penney Art Center, including the drawing in pencil & ink titled “Old Trees and Forgotten Cemetery” (1968), 15.25 x 21, donated in 1969 to the Charles Rand Penney Collection (now the Burchfield-Penney Art Center), Buffalo, NY.
Permanent displays: Town of West Seneca Historical Society Museum, original artwork in the living room of the museum, West Seneca, NY; Salem Public Library, untitled snowscape watercolor, Salem, OH.
Publications: Martha sold eight paintings to the Ford Time Magazine, illustrating a story about Gardenville, NY, written by Martha’s sister, Sally Walter Ferris.
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(Rewritten & compiled chronologically by Mark Strong of Meibohm Fine Arts, Inc., East Aurora, NY, meibohmfinearts.com, sources: Too long to list here and are furnished upon request.)