It is rare these days to see anyone without a camera at major tourist attractions, or anywhere for that matter. It could be argued that visitors to places of great beauty, such as the national parks, no longer see without looking through the lens of a camera. Martin Burdick — father of the artist Jean Burdick — loved to travel to the national parks, and he often went without a camera. He told his daughter he could capture the images in his head.
A great talent indeed, and when macular degeneration took his eyesight, this ability went a long way toward enriching his life. An art enthusiast — as well as the assistant superintendent and business manager of the Dover Area School District in York, Pennsylvania — he introduced Jean to galleries in New York when she was a child and continued to accompany her to art openings until he lost his sight. She would then describe her artwork to him, and because of his visual memory he could “see” and understand. A drawing he made of a tree hangs in her studio.
Burdick has dedicated an exhibit of her work, “Shared Terrains,” to her father who died one year ago. “His unwavering support, encouragement, and appreciation of my artwork has sustained me throughout my life,” she writes. “He was always eager to hear about my latest series of paintings or prints. I cannot imagine living my life without clear vision and marvel at the way my father was able to get up every day with a positive outlook.” The exhibit, the first of the season, is on view at the Chapin School on Princeton Pike through Friday, September 26. An opening reception will be Wednesday, September 3, from 5 to 7 p.m.
In paintings and works on paper, “Shared Terrains” is an ongoing exploration of “structures that exist in the natural world and invite the viewer to enter and investigate,” according to Burdick’s artist statement. She fuses drawing, painting, and silkscreen to make patterns, layers of color, and texture. For this series she uses photographs from trail hikes in the National Parks as reference, as well as images from science textbooks. “Elements of nature are magnified, overlapped, and obscured, reflecting the continual growth and change, which is the touchstone of the natural world,” she says. “Experimentation guides the process of selection and informs the directions of each subsequent layer.”
It is her goal to travel to all the national parks. In the past year, Burdick and her husband, Larry, have visited Rocky Mountain National Park, Death Valley, Crater Lake National Park, Columbia River Gorge, and Mount Hood. The year before they visited Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and Arches national parks. Back in the studio, listening to music, she lays out photos from the trips. She may be interested in the patterns of shadows. “I make a preliminary study prior to beginning the under painting,” says Burdick. “This continues to evolve with silkscreen elements. My attempt is to reinterpret what I have experienced. I work in a series, and each one informs the next.”
Her neatly organized studio includes shelves and shelves of silkscreen inks, art books, and collections of organic materials such as seed pods. A bucket of her experiments into textures and patterns on paper reveals the complicated process of enlarging and reducing, photocopying, silkscreening, and using mylar. The papers then get used in collage, along with gingko leaves from biology texts and quillworts. Here’s how she describes quillworts: “A strange submerged aquatic plant, similar in appearance to a small spring onion, but actually a relative of the club mosses and ferns. The stem is very short and completely hidden by the long, narrow, tubular leaves. Quillworts produce spores instead of flowers or fruits.”
Burdick, who taught art for 32 years, including 20 years in the West Windsor-Plainsboro school district, has lived in Yardley, Pennsylvania, for 31 years. She raised two daughters, 30 and 31, and now entertains two grandchildren in a playhouse in the garden she designed. The home is furnished with items that tell the story of her life. In the kitchen, a vintage Coke machine, roll-top desk, and antique table are reminiscent of the days when she and Larry rehabbed a loft in New York City. The church pew came with the house because it was too large for the previous owners to haul away. A collection of antique textiles on a wall was put together by Larry, an independent rep for children’s books and toys who studied at the Philadelphia College of Textiles.
In the basement is the studio Burdick built 15 years ago. Not far from her father’s drawing is a painting by her uncle of a fish on a platter, surrounded by lemon wheels. Her father and his brother painted and drew throughout their childhoods, a significant influence on her.
When Jean was 12 she cut up gum erasers and made stamps to create the background for a landscape. She entered this into a contest and won a national prize. Photographers from her local paper, the Lancaster (Pennsylvania) News, came and took her picture, and she was on her way to becoming an artist.
At 13 Jean went to art camp. She made “Bird in Flight,” an abstract collage using bamboo roll-up curtains to print the background, and entered it into a juried show at Franklin and Marshall College’s brand-new art gallery. “When I showed up at the opening and they saw I was only 13, they were aghast,” Burdick recalls over a cup of tea. “The next year, 1965, the prospectus stipulated you had to be 21 or older to enter.”
Her portfolio for Pratt included a drawing of her grandmother’s sewing machine. At Pratt she painted abstracts and was very interested in the textural elements of paint. After earning her bachelor’s degree, while teaching, she took courses in textile design at Fashion Institute of Technology.
Even as she began working as a freelance textile designer, her childhood stamping continued to be an important component of her style. The fabrics made from her gouache and Luma dye on paper became blouses and shirts. Burdick’s mother, a teacher and reading specialist, bought a yard of one of the fabrics and made a skirt. “The fabrics were textured, patterned, and layered, as in my work today,” she says.
Later, while living in Yardley, Burdick went back to school and earned a master’s degree in art education at Kutztown University and a master’s in painting from the University of the Arts. She completed a residency in visual arts at the Banff Center in Alberta, Canada, and received a Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation Visual Artist/Educator Fellowship Grant to travel to Tuscany, Italy, to study printmaking. She has taught printmaking at Mercer County Community College.
Three years ago, when Burdick retired from teaching, she set out to create art full time. To keep her hand in teaching she volunteered as a docent at the Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. “Working with students is a great source of pleasure,” she says. She learned about the Pennsylvania School of Impressionism and developed her own tour for school groups, as well as a printmaking workshop for teachers in service.
Burdick didn’t realize her work would take off as a source of healing. When Capital Health Systems was building its hospital collection in Hopewell, art consultant Lin Swensonn reached out to Burdick for her work. The hospital purchased 27 paintings and prints, which led to the University Medical Center of Princeton in Plainsboro seeking her work for its new campus. Burdick will have an exhibit in UMCPP’s Art for Healing Gallery, Monday, November 10, through Friday, February 27.
“Since then, more health care institutions have been finding me through my website and purchasing art,” she says. Her work is also collected for pharmaceutical and corporate buildings. “I feel very fortunate,” she says. She also exhibits with the Third Street Gallery in Philadelphia and had work shown at Art Basel Miami in 2011.
Meanwhile, as her artwork grew in its ability to soothe patients in pain, Burdick continued to care for her elderly parents in nearby Bensalem. Originally from the Bronx and Queens, the couple moved up north from Florida when her father began losing his sight. Her father always came to her openings and although he had developed congestive heart failure, complicating his last year with walking and balance issues, she took him to see George Segal’s studio in South Brunswick, where he posed with some of the sculptures.
Last winter, when Burdick’s work was exhibited in a Philadelphia area hospital, a cancer patient grew interested in the work. He recruited his daughter to help him contact Burdick about purchasing it. He requested that she wrap it and bring it to his house. The patient’s wife answered the door and let Burdick in, showing her to the room where her husband, now home to recuperate, sat. The patient presented the painting to his wife as a gift to thank her for taking such good care of him. The wife cried, the patient cried, and Burdick, who had just lost her father, cried. “In that moment,” she says, “we were all helping each other to heal.”
Shared Terrains, Gallery at Chapin, 4101 Princeton Pike, Lawrence. Through Friday, September 26. Opening reception Wednesday, September 3, 5 to 7 p.m. www.chapinschool.org.
Art for Healing, Medical Arts Pavilion, University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro, Monday, November 10, through Friday, February 27. Opening reception Friday, November 14, 5 to 7 p.m. www.princetonhcs.org.
Pennswood Village Art Gallery, Newtown, Pennsylvania. Sunday, January 18, through Sunday, March 15. www.pennswood.org.