An Arduous Path: Genevieve Burnett & the Jones Library Connection



Jones Library (43 Amity St, Amherst, MA 01002, Amherst MA)

An Arduous Path: Genevieve Mae Burnett (1945 to 2015) to the Burnett Gallery

The first librarian of the Jones Library was Charles Robert Green, from 1920 to 1954. It was during his tenure that the library received the extensive art collection of William Albert Burnett, a prominent and very successful Amherst businessman who, in his world travels, had assembled a group of 117 paintings and 18 bronze sculptures he had intended to open to the public but died in 1924 before succeeding. In 1926, Burnett’s art legacy was gifted to the library, including Albert Bierstadt’s “Platte River, Nebraska 1863.” Its sale raised $2.4 million and helped finance the expansion of the library in the early 1990s. This gallery was named in his memory.

William Burnett’s granddaughter, Genevieve Mae Burnett, was a child artist who grew into a perceptive, dedicated creative who was brilliantly attuned to suffering and bliss. While she was born into affluent circumstances, mental illness, now referred to as neurodiversity, and its treatment stripped her of the benefaction her family wealth might have brought her. She persisted as a fine artist despite all the life hazards she encountered. 

Gallery art shows are often collections of objects that hang on the wall trying to sell themselves, which is fair enough to the artist, but some art does more than this. This exhibit tells the story of the mystery of generations and the definition of life success. Despite her fortunate birthright, Genvieve suffered from a life of self-abnegating auditory hallucinations that told her she was a spoiled child, was spoiled and stupid, and was doomed to hell. Her last message to herself in her journal before she died in November 2015 was, “Will I go to hell?” hardly a recipe for success. And yet here she is, represented in a gallery many artists struggle to get admitted to, a success emerging from an arduous path.

More about Genevieve Mae Burnett→