By Marilyn Delk
“All I want is this chair
A place to rest
A place to ponder
A place to dream
A place of wonder.”
The above words sum up the motivation of Selena Burk when creating the colorful, inviting paintings which currently adorn the walls of the Anna Bier Gallery. The artist, who has been fascinated with chairs since she was little girl, once discovered a treasure trove of old chairs in her neighbor’s barn, and jokingly promised to buy them when the neighbor moved. Well, when the neighbor moved, she gifted Selena with those old wooden chairs. Her creative juices flowing, Selena lined those chairs up in front of her barn and recreated the scene on canvas. She then entered her painting in the Art Show at the Great Darke County Fair, where it earned “Best of Show.” That picture went on to win another award at an Art Association of Randolph County exhibit, and also captured a buyer, inspiring the artist’s desire to complete a series featuring the many faces and personalities of chairs. That was two decades ago.
The mother of 6, Selena is fascinated by all the varieties, shapes, colors and sizes of chairs. One of the striking images on display, “The Gathering,” is reminiscent of that original award-winner; several chairs in charming pastel shades are gathered together, resembling a retirement community of seats. Neighbors’ chairs have provided inspiration for several of Selena’s works including “Mrs. Hopper’s Chair — Waiting on the Mail” in which light streams through a farmhouse window to illuminate the wooden chair where a long-gone resident once sat while anticipating the arrival of the mailman.
A Darke County native, Selena says that she wants to experience everything she can; so far, she’s worked as a cook on the U.S.S. Niagara, labored as a landscaper at a tree farm, helped can tomatoes at Stemley’s Cannery, and served as Mississinawa Valley school custodian. Although she has been making art since childhood, Selena is always learning, seeking new ways of sharing her passion and her vision with others. Her zest for life shines through her imaginative work which offers a wide-ranging, joyful view of the world even when narrowly focused on one subject.
“A Cut Above” features an old barber’s chair sitting in a lush garden, while “The Hairdo Throne” depicts a beauty shop from the past in an inviting collage adorned with vintage ads for shampoos and other hair products. Another imaginative collage, “Gene’s Poinsettias” featuring two inviting yet elegant chairs with the holiday flower blossoming on a table between, whisks viewers to a lush but comfortable space.
In “Time Out,” a clock, a pendulum, and a Little Golden Book are mounted on a wooden chair covered with rhymes referencing time plus an ad hawking tonic to calm an unruly child who might otherwise be punished with forced timeout on a chair in the corner. Another creative collage,“The Diner,” uses a cheerful yellow chair embellished with old eating utensils and ads for Quaker Oats, Jello, and Green Giant canned vegetables to easily evoke memories of long-ago meals in long-gone establishments.
One of the artist’s heroes, Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer, is referenced in “The Astrologist’s Corner,” featuring an elegant chair beside a world globe in a setting reminiscent of the master’s “The Astronomer.” Looking like a fetching valentine,“Dear Sweetheart” is a simple painting of a charming white Victorian chair trimmed in red.
A graceful wicker chair sits on a black and white floor in “The Lady in Waiting,” emanating a sense of delicacy. “Peachy—A Princess In Waiting” is of another ornate piece that exudes a royal air. “Cabbage on the Black Knight” shows the leafy green vegetable incongruently but happily ensconced on an impressive armchair; this piece honors a fellow artist who creates paper sculptures, including recreations of cabbages.
“All I Want is This Chair” will be on view at the Anna Bier Gallery, located within Henry St. Clair Memorial Hall, through Nov. 1. The gallery is open from noon until 2 p.m. on the second and fourth Sundays of each month, as well as anytime by appointment. To learn more, contact Anna Bier Gallery Director CeCelia Rice at [email protected]
Marilyn Delk is the former executive director of the Darke County Center for the Arts and can be reached at [email protected] Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.