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Arts & Artists
 nathaniel burwashNathaniel C. Burwash
1906 – 2000

Born in California, and later a resident of New York City, Nat Burwash studied wood pattern making for machine manufacture. In 1929 he took painting courses and within a few years registered as a visual artist under the Federal Public Works of Art Project. In 1934 he and Ida Brass Burwash moved to Washington, NH, where they built a camp and studio three miles from town. In 1937 he was transferred from the Treasury Relief Art Project to New Hampshire Federal Art Project. With financial support from the government and moral support from family and friends, “these gay, even raucous” days provided light in dark times of the Great Depression.

The WPA’s Federal Art Project was the largest employer of artists during the Depression. The program hired more than 5,000 artists nationally and nearly 550 artists in New England. The programs encouraged exhibition and sale of artists’ works. Burwash was invited to submit works to the Brooklyn Museum, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York galleries, the Currier Gallery of Art, Nashua Public Library, and National Gallery of Art, where 134,755 people saw the exhibit in 1941. Some of Burwash's artworks have becaome a part of the State of New Hampshire's Living Treasures permanent collection.

Between 1934 and 1941, Burwash honed his skills in his place in Washington, NH painting landscapes and portraits. Life was primitive – no plumbing, electricity or automobile – but the $20.00 per week in wages allowed the Burwashes to live in relative comfort.

While Burwash worked in seclusion, Ida used her social and culinary skills to become a part of the community. Her doughnuts brought children to their door. Her lunches attracted potential models. Burwash helped farmers with maple sugaring, haying, and hoeing. During the 1938 hurricane, he cleared blow-downs to re-open roads near his home. He taught a neighbor wood-carving and paid people to paint. The Burwashes attended town meetings and participated in other community activities. When a family invited them to dinner, they knew they were accepted.

Following his years with the WPA, Burwash left painting and drawing altogether. Even though he continued a productive life as a sculptor and wood pattern-maker in Massachusetts, he held a life-long warm place in his heart for New Hampshire.

As part of the federal requirements, the New Hampshire State Library preserved his watercolors and drawings, delivered faithfully by Omer T. Lassonde, State Director of the New Hampshire Federal Art Project. In 1982, his works were brought to light in a publication, New Hampshire in the 1930’s: The Great Depression and the New Deal, funded by the New Hampshire Humanities Council.

In 1996, the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts “discovered” the archived collection of 122 Burwash watercolors at the New Hampshire State Library and contacted the artist, then 90 years old, working as a sculptor in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Sixty years after his emergence as an artist in New Hampshire, his paintings were organized into a traveling exhibit for the first time in a show entitled Finding Light in Dark Times: New Hampshire Paintings by Nathaniel C. Burwash.

In 1996, Burwash was the first artist to donate his papers to the New Hampshire Artist Archives which has been established by the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts and the New Hampshire State Library. Nathanial C. Burwash died at his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, one month shy of reaching his 94th birthday. At
the age of 92, he continued to carve sculpture and arrange exhibitions of his work.

Edited for the Winter 2002 issue of NH Arts, the State Arts Council’s newsletter, from an article written by Mary Rose Boswell for the 1996 traveling exhibition, Finding Light in Dark Times exhibition brochure.

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Last updated: March 31, 2006

 
 
 
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