Emerson Burkhart and Self Portraits

“It’s cheaper than hiring a model and it’s reliable. It’s always there when I want it.”

Emerson Burkhart on Self Portraits

Photo of Emerson Burkhart working on a self portrait, from the Ohio History Connection Collections, SC 22.

Photo of Emerson Burkhart working on a self portrait, from the Ohio History Connection Collections, SC 22.

Reflections of an Artist: Emerson Burkhart opened last week in our 3rd Floor Library Lobby and First Floor Spotlight Gallery. Emerson Burkhart (1905-1969) ruled the Columbus art scene during the 1950s and 1960s with his honest portraits and depictions of life in the city.While Burkhart was praised for his artistic skill, conflicts in his personal and professional life prevented him from receiving national attention.  Reflections of an Artist: Emerson Burkhart displays never seen artwork by Burkhart, including the original sketches for the controversial mural Music.

In his lifetime, Burkhart estimated he painted between 200-400 self portraits. It may never be known how many self-portraits Burkhart completed due to his own myth building. According to writer and friend Ben Hayes, “He (Burkhart) said that he was his cheapest and handiest model, and claimed to keep precise count on Burkharts-by-Burkhart. But I have heard him give total as 173, another day as 227.” [1]

A crowd gathers around a self portrait of Burkhart on exhibit at the Ohio State Fair, from the Ohio History Connection collections, SC 22.

A crowd gathers around a self portrait of Burkhart on exhibit at the Ohio State Fair, from the Ohio History Connection collections, SC 22.

Burkhart was fascinated with documenting his own progression through life. His earliest known self portrait dates back to his childhood on a farm in Kalida. From a young age, Burkhart was encourage to experiment with art from his teachers; one of his first subjects, at the age of 12, was himself. As art historian Michael D. Hall explains in his book about Burkhart, “For an artist concerned with both the truth of nature and the power of imagination, the self does present the most reliable subject. Many self-potrait painters have studied their favorite model since childhood and, as a result, are directly in touch with the subjective emotions of their preferred “sitter.” “[2]

Three Wrecks.

Three Wrecks.

During each period of his life, Burkhart reflected on how he was physically changing. Sometimes he painted a full body length portrait of himself; other times he focused on just one angle of his head. Burkhart enjoyed painting himself so much, he entitled a 1945 self portrait “My Favorite Model”. As technology changed and many artists began to use photos to paint self portraits, Burkhart continued to use his reflection from a mirror, capturing himself as a whole instead of a moment.

Two self portraits of Burkhart are currently on exhibit in Reflections of an Artist: Emerson Burkhart. The first self portrait, painted in 1947, was originally entitled, “Three Wrecks” referring to the two crashed cars and himself. The self portraits plays with the idea of his own self destruction.

Self portrait, 1960.

Self portrait, 1960.

The second self portrait, from 1960, shows a softer side of Burkhart. After his wife’s, Mary Ann, death in 1955, Burkhart struggled to make sense of his career and his artistic style. After years of painting death and decay in dark colors, suddenly, his art became bright and lively. In 1956, he was approached by friend Karl Jaeger to become the “artist in residence” for the International School, a program that took young Americans abroad. Burkhart traveled with the International School the rest of his life, visiting places like Japan and Italy. His style continued to lighten as he spent months traveling coastal regions and places where the sun shined brightly. This new take on life is reflected in this self-portrait from 1960. Though he is still truthful about his own aging process, Burkhart uses softer colors and brush strokes to portray himself in a gentler manner than his previous self-portraits.

Spotlight Gallery located on the 1st floor of the Ohio History Center.

Spotlight Gallery located on the 1st floor of the Ohio History Center.

In Reflections of an Artist: Emerson Burkhart, visitors have the opportunity to create a self portrait of their own. Located in the Spotlight Gallery on the first floor, visitors can use mirrors to try creating a vision of themselves to understand the methods behind this form of art. Follow the fun at #emersonohc !

Have you ever seen one of Burkhart’s self portraits before? What do you think he was trying to express about himself?

Emily Lang, History Curator

[1]Hayes, Ben . “Emerson Burkhart by Hayes.” Emerson Burkhart by Hayes. http://www.shortnorth.com/BurkhartHayes.html (accessed September 10, 2014).

[2]Hall, Michael. Emerson Burkhart. London: Scala, 2009

 

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Ohio Art Company

The Ohio Art Company's most famous toy, the Etch-A-Sketch, 1960-1969

The Ohio Art Company’s most famous toy, the Etch-A-Sketch, 1960-1969

Recently, we received a large collection of products made by the Ohio Art Company. Most famous for the Etch-A-Sketch, this company has been making lithographs and toys since 1908; this donation has objects spanning 70 years of the company’s products.  While some of these objects were undoubtedly easy to find, other very rare objects took a lot of searching for the donor to find and date.

“Dancer Posing for the Photographer” by Degas, Reproduction 1974.

“Dancer Posing for the Photographer” by Degas, Reproduction 1974.

Who is the Ohio Art Company and what do they make?  In 1908, the company was founded in Archbold, Ohio, by Henry Winzeler, who decided that making oval metal frames would be more interesting career path than dentistry.  Lithographic prints from Germany were inserted into these frames and sold by companies like Sears, Roebuck & Co.  In 1912, Winzeler relocated Ohio Art to its current corporate location in Bryan, Ohio, and began making lithographic prints, the most famous of which was the Cherub Awake and Cherub Asleep series. A few years later, in part due to the halt on German imports because of WWI, Ohio Art entered the toy industry.  Banks, small coaster wagons and carts, spinning tops, and tea sets were just some of the toys that they began making in 1917.

Knight Spinning Top, 1940-1969.

Knight Spinning Top, 1940-1969.

Ohio Art employed talented artists like Fern Bisel Peat, a famous children’s book illustrator during the 1930s and 1940s, in their lithographic department, producing intricate artwork on tea sets and other toys.  Ohio Art also partnered with Disney to depict their cartoon characters on Ohio Art

Little Bo Peep Tea Tray by Peat, 1930-1939

Little Bo Peep Tea Tray by Peat, 1930-1939

toys.  This partnership continued for several decades.  With the advent of World War II in 1941, the Ohio Art Company suspended toy production, switching to producing metal parts for rockets, bombs, and aircraft.  When they returned to making toys following the end of the War, plastics began to be incorporated into the production of new toys.

Pinocchio Tea Cup, 1939.

Pinocchio Tea Cup, 1939.

The early 1960s brought much success to the company.  In 1959, Ohio Art bought the rights to the “Telecran” from Frenchman Andre Cassagnes.  He and the company’s chief engineer, Jerry Burger, spent time perfecting the design before it was released in 1960 under the name “Etch-A-Sketch.”    This drawing toy quickly became Ohio Art’s most iconic and popular toy, with Sears, Roebuck & Co. selling ten million of them in the 1960s alone.  Etch-A-Sketch was one of the many successes the company had during the 1960s; they also began making metal signs and trays for Coca-Cola, including those featuring the famed Coca-Cola Santa Claus.

Coca-Cola Santa Claus Tray, 1988.

Coca-Cola Santa Claus Tray, 1988.

The Ohio Art Company continued making popular toys throughout the next few decades, including the Betty Spaghetty doll in 1998 and the A.R.M. 4000XL, a toy water gun, in 2003.  However, not all of their products were successful, and in the 1980s and 1990s, Ohio Art experienced enough financial difficulty to prompt worries over its closure. The company was forced to move production to China. With the Etch-A-Sketch prominently featured in scenes in Toy Story in 1995 and Toy Story 2 in 1999, sales sky-rocketed and the Ohio Art Company was saved.  Ohio Art continues to be a successful toy company today, though toys are no longer produced in Ohio.

This Ohio Art collection is an exciting and diverse collection that conjures memories of youth hood for multiple generations. It helps illustrate the story of production and industry in Ohio and how companies have had to change based on financially and social circumstances.

 

Caitlin Smith, History Collections Intern

 

Interested in learning more about the Ohio Art Company?

Funding Universe. “The Ohio Art Company History.” Funding Universe. 2004.             http://www.fundinguniverse.com/company-histories/the-ohio-art-company-            history/.

Hub Pages. “Entertainment History: The Toys of Ohio Art Company.” Hub Pages. 2013.             http://pattyinglishms.hubpages.com/hub/The-Toys-of-Ohio-Art-Company.

Ohio Art. “Ohio Art Has History.” Ohio Art.  2014.  http://www.ohioart.com/history.

Playground Professionals. “Ohio Art Company.” Playground Professionals, LLC. 2010.             http://www.playgroundprofessionals.com/o/ohio-art-company.

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Flattening Techniques for Documents: Putting What We Learned to Practice

This past May, I attended a workshop on humidification and flattening techniques for documents at the Preservation Lab inside University of Cincinnati’s Langsam Library, with two of my colleagues, Teresa and Carla. The workshop was held by the Ohio Preservation Council and was led by Kathy Lechuga, a book conservator at the Indiana Historical Society. We were very excited about what we learned and immediately started gathering what we needed to practice these techniques. Our results have been very promising and we wanted to share some of the techniques we put into practice as well as some of our results.

Before shot of a certificate prior to being placed in the humidification chamber.

Before shot of a certificate prior to being placed in the humidification chamber.

With archival collections we often receive several rolled documents and photographs. Flattening documents dry is ideal. It is the least risky flattening method to use since it does not involve introducing any foreign elements to the item. If the item can be gently unrolled without forcing or damaging it then flattening dry is possible. This involves placing the item under Plexiglas and weights or placing it in a press. However, if the item won’t unroll easily it helps to slowly humidify it. At the workshop we were shown three methods of humidifying documents and photographs. Teresa and I have started working with two of these methods.

Certificate inside the humidification chamber.

Certificate inside the humidification chamber.

The first method involves a humidification chamber, using clear plastic bins, egg crates, distilled water and blotter paper. We cut the egg crates and blotter paper to fit the inside of the bins. With a clean spray bottle filled with distilled water we lightly sprayed the blotter paper; the paper must be damp, not soaked. The dampness of the blotter paper determines how quickly humidity is introduced to the item. The more delicate the item the slower we humidify. The fragility of the item and the dampness of the blotter paper will also affect how often you will check on the items you are humidifying. Once the blotter paper is damp we lay it at the bottom of the bin, place two supports on top of the paper, and then the egg crate on top of the supports. You can use thick pieces of clean plastic for the supports;we layered leftover pieces of the egg crates. The document is then placed on the egg crate and the bin is sealed. You may want to check on the item more or less often

After shot of flattened certificate.

After shot of flattened certificate.

depending on the thickness of the paper. A good way of measuring the humidity level is by using humidity cards. Once enough humidity has been introduced, the item is placed between blotting paper and inserted in one of our presses to dry. We then wait a couple of days to a week and periodically check it to make sure that the item is completely dry.

Before shot of poster.

Before shot of poster.

The second method we used is called local humidification. This process is more aggressive and is used for creased paper items. Generally this is best implemented for smaller items since the process is aggressive and can be time consuming. That being said, we implemented this process for a poster that had been folded up and stuck into a scrapbook since the 1930s. After unfolding it we saw that the poster was severely creased. Due to the frailty of the poster, Teresa and I thought it was best to encapsulate it. This required flattening out the creases. For local humidification you need distilled water, a clean brush, thin absorbent blotting paper, a bone, and some small weights. This process involves directly dampening the item, so you want to be careful how much you wet your brush. Obviously the more humid the paper, the better it will flatten. However, putting too much water can also cause staining and tearing.

Local humidification being performed on poster.

Local humidification being performed on poster.

Needless to say, Teresa and I were very careful the first time we employed this method on archival materials. Once the damp brush is applied it is important to get some blotter paper on the humid area fairly quickly and place some pressure on the paper by using the bone or by placing a weight on the blotter paper. We used a combination of weights and the bone depending on the area of the poster we were treating. Afterward, we placed it in a press between blotting paper.

After shot of poster.

After shot of poster.

There are certain things that should be kept in mind when flattening something. Be realistic. If the item is severely damaged or delicate (such as parchment) then you shouldn’t attempt flattening it yourself and consider bringing it to a conservator. For instance, you should leave flattening photographs with cracked emulsion to conservation professionals. Also, consider how flat you actually want the item. Sometimes flattening something can also flatten out the texture of the paper which you may want to maintain. It’s a good idea to practice these techniques on scraps of paper and gradually work your way to archival materials. I also strongly recommend attending a workshop and learning from someone who has experience working with these techniques.

Adria Seccareccia, Processing Assistant

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Artist Drew Ernst visits the Collections!

As we prepare for Emerson Burkhart: Reflections of an Artist, check out this post from our Natural History curators about how another Ohio artist is using our collections!

"Sadness and Alcohol" by Drew Ernst, 36 x 48, oil on aluminum

Last October we published a blog about another use of the natural history collections, as an inspiration for artists. Once again we have an artist in our midst, basing their work on our collections. Working away in the narrow aisles of the natural history collections, between the large shelves holding mammoth bones and the cabinets of freeze-dried fungi, is Drew Ernst. He is an accomplished artist who has exhibited across the United States. Drew is a modern, contemporary, figurative painter (example at left) however he decided to make a foray into natural history. He is using OHC bird specimens for a series of oil paintings. It’s fascinating for us to watch Drew transform a blank canvas, or in some cases an aluminum board, into an amazing painting of one of our specimens!

Speaking of artists, be sure to stop by the Ohio History Center to see the upcoming exhibit “Reflections of an Artist: Emerson Burkhart”. He was an Ohio painter who was born on a farm in Union Township near Kalida, Ohio, attended Ohio Wesleyan University and spent most of his professional career in Columbus. This exhibit in the third-floor Library Gallery and first-floor Spotlight Gallery features a selection of Burkhart portraits, self-portraits, prints and mural studies from throughout his career. The exhibit will be open from Sept. 3, 2014 – May 31, 2015.

Drew beginning painting of the Northern Harrier
Drew with finished painting
Northern Harrier, by Drew Ernst

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Red Bird Stadium and Emerson Burkhart

Our latest exhibition, Reflections of an Artist: Emerson Burkhart is opening on Wednesday, September 3.  Emerson Burkhart (1905-1969) ruled the Columbus art scene during the 1950s and 1960s with his honest portraits and depictions of life in the city.

Burkhart painting at Red Bird Stadium, 1948, Ohio History Connection Collections, AV 58.

Burkhart painting at Red Bird Stadium, 1948, Ohio History Connection Collections, AV 58.

While Burkhart was praised for his artistic skill, conflicts in his personal and professional life prevented him from receiving national attention.  Reflections of an Artist: Emerson Burkhart displays never seen artwork by Burkhart, including the original sketches for the controversial mural Music.

Emerson Burkhart documented life around Columbus, including a series of watercolors paintings done at Red Bird Stadium. Red Bird Stadium was the original  name for Cooper Stadium where the Columbus Red Birds, and later the Columbus Clippers, played.

Cooper Stadium was a landmark in the Columbus landscape. Opened in 1932, the stadium IMG_2279hosted several baseball teams and a football team. It was constructed based on blueprints for Red Wing Stadium in Rochester, New York, but was renovated in 1977 with the return of minor league baseball to Columbus. Though it held several names over the years, in 1984 the stadium was renamed in honor of Harold Cooper, the county commissioner who was responsible for keeping baseball in Columbus in the 1950s. Over the years, Cooper Stadium hosted several players who made it to the major leagues including Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, and Derek Jeter. On September 1, 2008, the final game was played by the Columbus Clippers in Cooper Stadium to a sell out crowd of 16,777. The Columbus Clippers moved to Huntington Park in 2009. Recently, it was announced part of the stadium would be demolished  for a new racetrack.

IMG_2282Emerson Burkhart documented life as he saw it happening on a daily basis. He helped preserved memories of life and places in Columbus that no longer exists. To see Burkhart’s portrayal of Red Bird Stadium, visit Reflections of an Artist: Emerson Burkhart.

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Ask a Curator Day Returns!

Ask a Curator Day is Back!

Ask A Curator Logo
On Wednesday, September 17, 2014 curators from around the world will be answering questions from the public via Twitter for Ask a Curator Day. And our own curators will be joining in on the fun!

How does it work?
By using the hashtag #AskaCurator. The public can ask questions to specific museums by using the museum’s Twitter handle in the tweet (So, if you are asking us a question you will use our handle @OhioHistory and the hashtag #AskaCurator.

Why?
Why not. As stated on the official Ask a Curator Day website, “Museums and galleries not only house fascinating collections, they are also the home to leading experts who love to share their passion for art, history and science.” It’s that simple.

People are encouraged to ask anything related to museums, collections, professional standards and training, or anything else that curators might be able to answer. Examples are:

General: Why did you become a curator? What did you study in school?

Practice: Why do curators wear gloves? Why can’t I take photos?

Collection: What is the largest piece in your collection? What is the most controversial piece in your collection?

Personal: Have you ever been grossed out by an object in your collection? What is your favorite piece?

Specialized: Can you tell how many times a musket has been fired? Why are the frames of “masterpieces” so detailed?

A huge “thank you” goes to our curatorial staff who have agreed to take time out of their busy schedules to participate tomorrow. Answering questions in 140 characters or less can be fun (and a bit of a challenge) and some questions may require a quick bit of research. The goal of Ask a Curator Day is connect our in-house experts with an interested public…digitally and differently than they may have before.

Who will be answering your questions?

Cliff Eckle – Currency, fire arms, flags, military collections and political memorabilia

Erin Cashion –  Natural History; Ohio birds, and reptiles & amphibians

Dave Dyer – Natural History; Ohio mammals, Ice Age animals, fossils

Brad Lepper – Ohio archaeology

Lisa Wood – Historic film and photography

Emily Lang- Ohio art and textiles

Invite your friends and family to join in! To learn more about Ask a Curator Day click here to visit the project website.

Looking for more information about Twitter and how it works? Click here for an introduction to get you started.

We look forward to answering your questions!

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Register Your Kroger Plus Card to Support Ohio History!

Don’t forget to register your Kroger Plus Card to support Ohio History! The more you shop, the more rewards you earn for history.

Last year, our staff, volunteers, members and friends raised over $2,100! Register your Kroger Plus Card today and Kroger will donate a percentage of your purchases to benefit the work of the Ohio History Connection.

Best of all, the only cost is a few minutes of your time. All participants must re-enroll each year to make their purchases eligible for community rewards.

  1. Go to www.krogercommunityrewards.com
  2. To find the nearest participating Kroger store, please select “View participating Columbus, Ohio stores” or “View participating Cincinnati, Ohio stores.” Please note that Kroger’s Columbus Division has participating stores throughout the central, northwest, and southeast region of Ohio. Kroger’s Cincinnati Division has participating stores throughout the southwest region of Ohio.
  3. Select your location and register with your Kroger Plus Card.
  4. When asked which nonprofit you would like to support, enter the organization number: 84059.
  5. Shop at Kroger and use your Kroger Plus Card at the register.

Be sure to register today to make all your purchases eligible. Help us get the word out by sharing this great opportunity with your friends and family.

It’s easy… just shop, swipe your card and earn!

kroger

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