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Nathaniel C. Burwash – East Coast City Harbor

(Click to Enlarge)
Watercolor on paper
8 1/4 x 12 1/8 inches
11 1/2 x 14 1/8 inches framed and matted behind glass
Signed N Burwash lower right
Brasor Fine Framing Evanston Illinois label on back

Nathaniel Charles Burwash (1906 – 2000), painter and sculptor, produced many paintings for the Works Progress Administration (WPA) including an oil painting at the Smithsonian Institution. He was part of many exhibitions including Brooklyn Museum’s 1939 International Watercolor Exhibition, 10th Biennial and the Art Institute of Chicago’s 1942 21st International Exhibition of Watercolors. Burwash experimented in abstraction and this work Is a good example. This painting is attributed to the east coast, probably New York City or Boston. The Brasor Fine Art Gallery Evanston Illinois and the matte and frame help date this solidly to the early 1930s. Brasor was framing fine etchings and photographs at this period. Biography below courtesy of the New Hampshire State Library.
Nathaniel C. Burwash (February 6, 1906 – January 10, 2000) was born in Los Angeles and moved to Hudson Falls , N.Y. when he was ten. Probably learning disabled, he did not do well at school except in art classes. After failing his first college semester as an engineering student, he began an apprenticeship as a wood pattern-maker and took art classes at night. In 1931 he traveled in Europe and produced water colors and pencil sketches which he sold in New Orleans upon his return. Moving to New York, he continued to study art and paint, and met his future wife, Ida Brass, while he was selling his artwork on the sidewalk in 1932. Their marriage lasted 52 years.
When the Works Progress Administration was established during the New Deal of F.D.R., Burwash signed on. He and Ida bought land in Washington, N.H. where he worked as a W.P.A artist for the New Hampshire Arts Project from 1934 until 1941, earning $20 per week and living in a small uninsulated cabin. Nat also augmented their income by working for local farmers. The subject matter of the WPA paintings includes landscapes and landmarks of the area surrounding Washington, and captures several local figures who are identified by iconic titles such as “Farmer”, “Young worker”, “Woods-man”, or “Young girl”. Burwash used his subsidy from the WPA to experiment with a variety of styles, from “the chunky realism usually associated with WPA art, the traditional Chinese practice of fine, black outlining of objects in a landscape, Matisse-like flattened perspective, cubism, caricature, abstraction and a combination of realism and abstraction in loose brushwork” (quote from Gail Kelley article in Boston Globe, 1/12/1997 – see Box 1, folder 16). He was so prolific that his WPA supervisor, Omer T. Lassonde, advised him to slow down, both to encourage him to focus more on the artistic process and to save the program money in materials.
While living in the woods near Washington, NH, the Burwashes became friends with their neighbor Henry Iram, a communist who owned a camp on the same road, and Jimmy Dowling, a local “character” whom Burwash paid .50 an hour to pose for him. Their friends from New York, Sam and Jean Rothman, purchased land adjacent to the Burwash camp. These and other associations sustained both Nat and the more urbane Ida through their years in Washington and were always a source of fond memory. At the beginning of World War II, when the WPA program ended, the Burwashes moved to Cambridge, Mass. where he returned to industrial wood pattern-making for machine parts and began to sculpt in wood. From that time forward, he was known as a sculptor and designer, and produced no more painting.
Burwash paintings from the WPA period have had several exhibits in New Hampshire, New York, and Chicago. His sculptures have appeared in exhibitions in Boston, the De Cordova Museum, the University of New Hampshire, and other venues. His work is owned by various fine art galleries, and university art collections.