Emerson Burkhart circa 1955 By noted portrait photographer George X. Volk, probably the most popular photograph of Burkhart; from the Short North Gazette.

An exuberant Emerson Burkhart chats with film star Arlene Dahl at the Desert Inn. Dahl was in Columbus to appear in a Kenley Players production. (Image: Doral Chenoweth, a cover shot for Tom Thomson's city magazine, Good Times In Columbus.)

burkhart house
Burkhart's house on Woodland avenue. He was too busy with more important work such as painting to spend much time with such mundane things...like grass and weeds.
From the Short North Gazette.

Script Page 2


I always wanted to start at the beginning. I, Emerson Burkhart, was born in Kalida, Ohio ... at a very early age. Really, was born January thirtieth, nineteen oh five (1905), think knew I was gonna be a painter that day. Everything I remember was in black and white. My mother's dresses were white. Our house was white. My dad's suits were black. Everything else in between was in a dream world. We took magazines in our house and I could thumb through them...this was a dream world for anyone with an active imagination...remember, the National Geographic in those days was in black and white.

My black and white world was still with me in the first grade. Miss Irma Foltz was my first teacher back in Kalida. She meant a lot to me...I made a drawing of her on the blackboard.

Everyone laughed.

Instead of saying anything to me, she told me I was an artist. She had me drawing more on the blackboard. I was branded "the artist" from this time on to college days. Even some of my professors would call on "the artist" to see what I'd have to say. When they needed a scroll drawn, a turkey or a pumpkin, stuff like that...I did it.

Early in grade school, I had a book on American artists. This gave me the character of these guys. I remember one of the first things I did was to learn to copy the names of these artists. One of my first favorites was Abbot H. Thayer...he painted idealism... womanhood at its finest.

To this day if I had to assemble the 10 greatest American paintings, at least two of them would be by Thayer.

Then you have to have George Bellows in there, too.

But back to Kalida...that's what I did a lot of... going back to Kalida. We lived a year in Amarillo. In 1913 my dad got a packing house job in California. By 1923 and the boom in Florida, my dad was in Lakeland...but by my senior year, was back in Kalida and everybody but me had an idea on what I was gonna do to make a living.

Mr. Hawthorne was superintendent of schools and taught math. He told me I needed two subjects to graduate and took me to his office...said to take bookkeeping and typing...it would help me in life. In those days, men did the typing in offices. They were secretaries.

Hell, I like the arrangement the way it is today... You know if it wasn't for women, men would be dull as hell. I have women up here...but not for typing. Do you think for one minute men would go to offices every day if it wasn't for some pretty little thing...don't give a damn how old they are...the men I'm talking about. Besides doing the work, they make things look pretty...and smell good. No wonder the system today is for women to do the typing. Anyway...Hawthorne put me down for two commercial subjects.

I told him I detest machines, any kind of machine. I offered to take any subject in the world, but not bookkeeping...Cicero or Homer or anything.

He put me down for two...typing and bookkeeping.

I had this Catholic teacher. A nun. Sister Durbin...round, plump...say fat...a kind and sweet, gentle woman. She was to teach me bookkeeping. In her first class, I deducted her great weakness.

Kindness won't work on teenage kids.

I told her that day I would never finish the course.

But she was too kind to really believe me.

This was my senior year...I got a job with the Franklin Finance Co. in Lima...doing a painting of Ben Franklin. They gave $125 for doing it...I got a small painting of Franklin done by Dupless in Paris...and painted it in a week.

They must a liked it because this agency there wanted me to do a second one. They wanted me to paint one of the company founder...from a photograph.

The son and daughter disagreed on the sternness of the face... all I could think about was making this money changer look good...the son wanted him smiling. The daughter wanted him "pleasant, but with strength." I think I lost them when I asked if they wanted dollar signs in his eyeballs.

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© 2009 Doral Chenoweth • Columbus, Ohio