This work by Emerson Burkhart shows an old man seating

Emerson Burkhart

American, 1881-1961

Life of the Spirit is Elevated by Pain, 1943

Oil on canvas

60 x 40 inches



Born in Kalida, Ohio, Burkhart received his first art lessons from a minister and later studied at Ohio Wesleyan University and the Art Student’s League in New York. Returning to Ohio, he taught at the Columbus School of Art and carved out a reputation as the region’s reigning artistic rebel. Burkhart died of a stroke when he was only 64. Despite his feuds with the Columbus Gallery of Fine Arts, the museum held a retrospective of his work within two years of his death. At the time the museum’s director called him “Ohio’s leading painter” and said, “Powerful pictures of tragic life and dead death are his claim to greatness.”

The subject of Life of the Spirit is Elevated by Pain is Oscar Coleman, of whom Burkhart said, “He suffered more hardships than anybody.” He explained that Coleman had lost his wife, his three children had died in a fire, and he survived a stroke that paralyzed one arm. Burkhart masterfully captures Coleman’s pain and perseverance; the lines on his face appear countless—the signs of a hard life endured.

This work by Emerson Burkhart shows an old man seating