After graduation from high school Burchfield won a scholarship to the Cleveland School of Art, where Henry G. Keller urged him to develop the personal style Burchfield later called "romantic fantasy." Most of Burchfield's early watercolors—he seldom painted in oil—are haunting scenes of nature in which graphic symbols become pictorial equivalents for feelings. After serving briefly in the army at the end of World War I, Burchfield found he had lost his romantic view of nature and turned during the twenties to increasingly realistic views of houses, streets, and industrial scenes that led critics to describe him as a midwestern Regionalist. Attempting to regain the intensely personal quality of his early work, in 1943 Burchfield again began painting the forces and mysterious presence of nature. He returned to watercolors done in his youth, reworking and enlarging them by adding sections of paper to the original sheets.
Virginia M. Mecklenburg Modern American Realism: The Sara Roby Foundation Collection (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press for the National Museum of American Art, 1987)