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Burchfield’s CMA Poster

Leslie Cade, Director of Museum Archives
February 25, 2019

Inaugural Poster, 1915. Charles Burchfield (American, 1893–1967). Opaque watercolor with blue pencil. The Cleveland Museum of Art Archives

From 1912 to 1916, Charles Burchfield studied at the Cleveland School of Art, now the Cleveland Institute of Art. One of the school’s trustees, real estate investor Ralph T. King, was also a Cleveland Museum of Art trustee. Interested in encouraging young artists and in supporting both the students and the museum, King offered a prize of $100 for the best student poster advertising the museum’s planned opening in late 1915. He was so impressed with the entries that he also awarded second- and third-place prizes. Burchfield’s entry placed third, winning him $25. The text on the posters may have been prescribed, as each featured an arrangement of the words Cleveland Museum of Art, Inaugural Exhibition, and November 1915 to February 1916. Construction delays meant that none of the posters could be used to promote the opening in June 1916.

The museum retained four submissions, which were stored with the education collection; they were not assigned accession numbers or other identifying information and were not conserved over the years. When the posters were transferred to the archives in 2013, research verified that Burchfield created one of the posters. The advertisements, including those by first-prize winner Robert Roessler, second-prize winner Ruth Deike, and Frances Filler, were catalogued, photographed, and uploaded to the museum’s digital archives in time for the 2016 centennial.

Plans for the focus exhibition Charles Burchfield: The Ohio Landscapes, 1915–1920 (on view through May 5) provided the opportunity to highlight Burchfield’s association with the museum, promote archival collections, and conduct much-needed conservation work. All four posters are consistent in size, format, support material, and paint, indicating that the students followed specific guidelines. Over the years, Burchfield’s poster had incurred considerable wear and tear, much of it structural and related to the support’s deteriorated, brittle condition. Breaks, tears, scratches, and a heavy layer of dirt needed amelioration in order for the poster to be exhibited.

The poster was stabilized using wheat-starch paste and Japanese paper reinforcements. A paper overlay was fashioned to reduce the most visually disruptive breaks, while careful surface cleaning brightened the overall appearance. Because the poster’s top left corner had broken off, an insert was crafted to improve the work’s visual coherence. It was expected that a small section of the missing portion would be visible after the work was matted, but an overmat was fashioned to hide the damage. Beautifully framed, the poster hangs in the exhibition alongside some of Burchfield’s other drawings of the Wade Park area. The three additional inaugural posters are also undergoing conservation, ensuring their longevity as historical objects and works of art. 

Cleveland Art, March/April 2019