Seeing from Within: Jean Burdick’s artwork has taken on healing properties

It’s rare these days to see anyone without a camera at major tourist attractions. 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 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 sight, this ability went a long way toward enriching his life. An art enthusiast, he’d introduced Jean to galleries in New York when she was a child, and continued to accompany her to art openings until he could no longer see. 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 Yardley, Pa., studio.

Burdick has dedicated an exhibit of her work, Shared Terrains, on view at the Chapin School in Princeton through 26, to her father who died one year ago. “His unwavering support, encouragement and appreciation of my artwork has sustained me throughout my life,” she says.

In paintings and works on paper, Shared Terrains explores “structures that exist in the natural world and invites the viewer to enter and investigate,” says 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. These images are magnified, overlapped and obscured.

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.”

Burdick, who taught art for 32 years, including 20 years in the West Windsor-Plainsboro school district, got her start as an artist when she was 12. Inspired by a contest in a newspaper, she cut up gum erasers and made stamps to create the background for a landscape. She won a national prize, and photographers from the Lancaster News came and took her picture.

During the summer of 1965, while in 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 recollects. “The next year, the prospectus stipulated you had to be 21 or older to enter.”

At Pratt, she painted abstracts and was very interested in the textural elements of paint. After earning her bachelor’s degree, she began her teaching career and freelanced as a textile designer. Here, her childhood stamping continued to be an important component of her style. The fabrics 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.

Three years ago, when Burdick retired from teaching, she set out to create art full time. She didn’t realize her work would take off as a source of healing. When Capital Health Systems was building its hospital collection in Hopewell, 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 UMCP’s Art for Healing Gallery Nov. 10 through February 27, 2015. “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.

Meanwhile, as her artwork grew in its ability to soothe patients in pain, Burdick continued to care for her elderly parents in nearby Bensalem. Her father always came to her openings and although he’d 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 is on view at the Gallery at Chapin through Sept 26, 2014. Chapin School 4101 Princeton Pike, Lawrence.

Art for Healing, Medical Arts Pavilion, University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro, Nov. 10 through Feb. 27. Opening reception Nov. 14, 5 to 7 p.m.

Pennswood Village Art Gallery, Newtown, Pa., Jan 18 through March 15, reception Jan. 18.


The Artful Blogger is written by Ilene Dube and offers a look inside the art world of the greater Princeton area. Ilene Dube is an award-winning arts writer and editor, as well as an artist, curator and activist for the arts.

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