Thirty-seven years ago I flipped through a TIME magazine and spotted an image that still haunts and inspires me. I tore the story out of the magazine, and filed it in my first file cabinet. That image was Charles E. Burchfield's painting, "Dandelion Seed Heads and the Moon." It felt true to my experiences watching sphinx moths around the honeysuckle, catching fireflies, clover, dandelions, playing hide and seek outside just before bedtime, and spitting watermelon pits in the dark. It was beautiful, eerie, and symbolic.
Charles Burchfield's painting gave me a new way to look at the soft, rich, dark colors of evening, the glows, hums, and flutters against the window screen. It was a wonderful bridge between my personal summertime experiences, and Van Gogh's "Starry Night."
Twenty-five years passed. I became an accidental art teacher and sometime storytime lady. I pasted the Burchfield image on a sheet of paper with another saved image of a dandelion seed head. This week I dug that paper out of an old file to show students.
Children are so involved in organized activities from dawn to dusk now. Do they ever get to sit on the warm concrete driveway watching for sphinx moths, listening to cicadas, watching fireflies, and eating fresh strawberries dipped in powdered sugar? Do they have to register for a team for competitive watermelon pit-spitting or an enrichment class to learn Bing cherry fence crooning? Does anyone have an old canning jar for catching fireflies?
From the 6/15/70 TIME:
"As an artist grows older," Burchfield explained, "he has to fight disillusionment and learn to establish the same relation to nature as an adult as he had when a child." That was no mean task. His greatness was that, through the alchemy of paint, he was able to restore that childhood wonder for others too. As the [Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute in Utica, N.Y] Institute's Joseph Trovato put it: "It is not given to any one man to tell the whole story of the world of nature, but Burchfield tells a very important part—a part that touches us all. We will never be able to see the world in the same way again."
© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder