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On View: Catherine Parker's California years

Image courtesy of Dean Brownrout


The late Catherine Parker’s artistic path was as winding as some of the roads meandering through her vibrant landscapes. The daughter of revered watercolorist Charles Burchfield, Parker—unsurprisingly—showed an early interest in the arts. Music and painting were encouraged and flourished within the Burchfield family, who were living then in the picturesque hamlet of Gardenville, New York.

Partly to get out from under the shadow of her well-known father, twenty-one-year-old Catherine Burchfield moved to Missouri to study art at the Kansas City Art Institute. After marrying fellow student Kenneth Parker and starting a family, they relocated to Denver, Colorado, and then to Amarillo, Texas. Around 1967, Parker stopped making visual art altogether, and, for the next decade, studied the cello, earning a bachelor’s degree in music education and performing with the Amarillo Symphony and in chamber music groups.

In 1975, her marriage ended and Parker moved to Santa Cruz, California where she was inspired to resume painting. Of course, the artist’s road did not end on the West Coast. With a renewed enthusiasm for painting, Parker eventually found her way back to Buffalo, where, from 1981 until her death in 2012, she created and exhibited the paintings familiar to her Western New York audience.     

 The work Parker created during her six California years has until now remained unexhibited and unknown to all but a few. That’s about to change. Beginning October 2, Muleskinner Antiques in Williamsville will host Catherine Parker: California (1975-1981), an exhibition and sale of paintings from that period, presented by Dean Brownrout Modern/Contemporary.

The watercolors reveal an artist in transition; Parker is developing her own distinctive artistic voice. “At this point, she was living the farthest geographically from her [Buffalo] home that she had ever lived,” says Brownrout, who represents the estate of the artist and last year mounted a sold-out exhibition of Parker’s early works, “and for the first time, as an adult artist, really on her own, no longer defined as simply a daughter, art student, or wife.”

Ironically, Parker’s principal subject matter during this time is that icon of domestic attainment, the home, sometimes set within neighborhoods. It’s tempting to see this as a manifestation of a wistful longing for the comfort of her own home. There are hints of the Burchfield lineage in her gestural style, particularly in some of the energized clouds and animated foliage. Even Parker’s jaunty buildings seem almost animated, with nary a rectangle, triangle, or straight edge that isn’t at least a tad contorted. At times, the work seems to be teetering on the edge of folk art. “I think the influence of Ross Braught, her teacher at the Kansas City Art Institute, becomes more evident,” says Brownrout. “It is especially visible in her trees, and in her distinct use of perspective.”

The exhibition should provide an interesting glimpse into Parker’s artistic development. Brownrout sees the paintings as the missing link between the early works and her more familiar mature watercolors.

An opening reception will be held on Wednesday, October 2 from 5:30 to 8 p.m., at Muleskinner, 5548 Main Street, Williamsville.     




Bruce Adams is an artist, educator, and frequent contributor to Buffalo Spree.

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