[Portrait of Charles M. Burns]
(John McLure Hamilton, Artist, c. 1919)
Athenaeum of Philadelphia.
Local ID #: 2001.M09.01
Philadelphia-born church architect Charles M. Burns was the son of Charles M. and Eliza Van Dyke (Rousseau) Burns. Although he entered the University of Pennsylvania in the Class of 1859 as a second-semester freshman, his academic career was finished by the end of his junior year when he volunteered for Civil War action. By 1862 Burns was in battle at Mobile, AL with Admiral Farragut; he would return with Farragut to New Orleans in 1864. Therefore, although city directory listings for Burns commence in 1863, it is doubtful that Burns would have returned to Philadelphia before 1865. Once he did return to Philadelphia, he launched a distinguished architectural career, with a specialty in ecclesiastic buildings, especially Protestant Episcopal churches.
While managing a steadily growing practice, Burns still attempted to further his own education by enrolling at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1876. His own talents were soon recognized, however; and by 1879 he had left off his own student activities in order to become a member of the faculty of the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art, with responsibility for "Theory and Practice of Freehand Drawing and Design." According to artist Joseph Pennell, who attended Burns's class and wrote a memorial article (really more a diatribe against Philadelphia) after Burns's death, "If he found that you could accept [his criticism], his interest in you was endless and tireless. But if you did not, the heavy black eyebrows and bristling black mustache, with the flaming red necktie underneath, passed you by -- and that was worse than anything." After this stint at the PMSI, Burns would continue as instructor of drawing at Haverford College through 1885.
Burns was among the first group of architects proposed for membership in the Philadelphia Chapter of the AIA in 1870 and later served as treasurer for the group. Widely known as a portrait painter of some distinction and as a watercolorist, he exhibited at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876; and his architectural drawings appeared in exhibitions at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1887, 1888, 1890, 1892 and 1894. After his retirement to Camden, NJ, Burns passed some of his ecclesiastical work along to Henry Macomb.
On 21 April 1870 Burns was elected an associate member of the AIA, but his membership "lapsed" in October 1875, according to the bulletin published for the 17th Annual Convention of the AIA (1883).
Sandra L. Tatman.
Clubs and Membership Organizations
- American Institute of Architects (AIA)
- Philadelphia Chapter, AIA
- Philadelphia Sketch Club
- Markham Club
- Philomath Club
- Century Club
- University of Pennsylvania
- Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
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