Remembering Emerson Burkhart

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Columbus artist Emerson Burkhart's historical marker.(Photo: Linda Kious)
Columbus artist Emerson Burkhart's historical marker.(Photo: Linda Kious)

The fortieth anniversary of the death of Ohio artist Emerson Burkhart was marked in December with the publication of a new book about the painter, Emerson Burkhart: An Ohio Painter’s Song of Himself, by Columbus Museum of Art adjunct curator of American folk art Michael Hall. Hall’s book places Burkhart’s life and work in the broader context of twentieth-century American art and may even help reshape how art history is written.

What may be even more important about Emerson Burkhart to us here in Columbus than how his artwork ranks among that by other artists of his day, is the personal legacy he left this city. He got to know many people in town, one of whom was “The Grumpy Gourmet” Doral Chenoweth, who followed him around with a tape recorder for a while back in the 1950s and ’60s capturing the artist’s unbridled opinions. When Burkhart died of an aneurysm in November 1969, Chenoweth set to work transcribing those tapes and from his transcripts created the script for his one-man play I, Emerson Burkhart. I had a chance to record Chenoweth’s own recollections about Burkhart, which you can hear with snippets from Chenoweth’s play in this audio feature.

I know there are many others out there who knew Burkhart personally. Maybe you knew him well, or maybe you just took the opportunity to attend one of the famous open houses at his home on Woodland Avenue. Please write in with your recollections of the painter who called Columbus home.

– Jennifer Hambrick, WOSU Radio

Comments
  • Geoff

    Although I never met Emerson personally, I did see him on one occasion painting at Hoover Resrevoir in Delaware County. He had the appearance you would expect of an artist. The wind tossed his gray-white hair in all directions and his clothes were covered in paint. His easel was stuck among the rocks adjacent to the Hoover Yacht Club. He was painting colorful sailboats.

    My mother attended one of his open house events on Woodland Avenue and purchased a small self-portrait pencil sketch. It was passed along to me and has a prominent place on my mantle. I thoroughly enjoy Burkhart’s work and view it every day.

    I’ll bet there are several hundred if not a thousand similar stories here in Columbus and Central Ohio. I encourage others to share their rememberances.

  • Evi Hero

    I knew him in the late 60′s. I had heard about him from a girlfriend who told me, “If you need 30 bucks, Mr. Burkhart will paint you and pay you for the sitting.” So, I went to his house, met him and asked if he needed a model. He said, “Sure, come on in.” So, I would go over every couple of days for about two weeks and he would paint me. He would make me show up around ten and we would sit and talk and drink coffee for hours because he wouldn’t paint until one o”clock when the sun came in just right through the dining room window. He made the most grotesque faces as he painted me. I wore a bright blue sleeveless sweater and I had blonde hair. He painted me with red hair because he said that would look really good with the blue sweater! What a guy. We became friends. I loved his stories and looking at his collections of “stuff”. Some of the “art” pieces were odd like his skull collection –   the skulls scared me. When I had to use the restroom I would go up that huge staircase and I chose a bathroom to the right. It was as big as the living room in my house! I couldn’t shut the door because he had been busy making frames that were in the shape of coffin lids and they were resting against the door. I was kind of creeped out thinking that he might walk in on me but that wouldn’t happen because he was a pure gentleman.  - I was fascinated by his stories of his childhood and life and people he knew. I was about 19 at the time and straight as an arrow. He asked me if I smoked pot and, of course, I told him, “no.” He told me he smoked pot when he was a kid and that it was readily available which, at the time, surprised me because I didn’t think it was “invented” back then! I was rather naive. He was a colorful character to say the least but one I will never forget. Oh, and he paid me the thirty dollars. – Evelyn Sherman Hero formerly of Columbus Ohio now from Mesa, Arizona