Features appear in each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage showcasing a variety of subjects from various periods and geographic locations in Pennsylvania.

One of the most treasured aspects of the artistic heritage of the Commonwealth is the Brandywine Tradition of representational paint­ing, a legacy around which much activity is centered. For years the beauty of southeastern Pennsylvania’s Brandy­wine River Valley has captivated artists and provided them with a natural studio. It seems appropriate, then, that this beautiful river valley should also be the home of one of the state’s truly remarkable cultural centers – the Brandywine River Muse um and Conservancy.

It was the Brandywine Tradition which first brought artistic notoriety to the valley, and it was Howard Pyle (1853-1911) who is acknowledged to have brought that tradition to life. An artist and teacher known primarily for his book and magazine illustrations, Pyle had a pro­found impact on the development of the graphic arts, as well as on generations of artists. His work, and the work of his students (often referred to as the “Brandywine School”), is distinguished by vivid landscapes of the Brandywine Valley and dramatic depictions of history and fiction.

One of Pyle’s most gifted pupils was N. C. Wyeth (the father of Andrew and grandfather of Jamie Wyeth), whose entire family has made numerous, outstanding contribu­tions to the art world in general, and Pennsylvania in particular. Among Pyle’s other notable students were Maxfield Parrish, Frank Schoonover, Harvey Dunn, George Cope, Peter Hurd and Jessie Willcox Smith. Much of their work was created as illustration and retains influences directly traceable to Pyle’s instruction.

The most renowned collection of their works is at the Brandywine River Museum, located at the intersection of U.S. 1 and Pa. 100, in Chadds Ford. The museum features the work of three generations of the Wyeth family, as well as compositions by other painters who worked from the late nineteenth century to the present, and other changing exhibitions related to the Brandywine Heritage. The Brandy­wine River Museum is part of the Brandywine Conservancy, an environmental organization committed to preserving the region and the art which it inspires.

In the museum’s short ten-year history, visitation is fast approaching two million. People have traveled from every state in the nation and eighty foreign countries to see the museum, which is known for its outstanding collection of American art. Andrew Wyeth’s famous series of nude por­traits of Siri Erickson, the daughter of one of Wyeth’s neighbors in Maine, is always on display, attracting thou­sands of visitors yearly.

The collection may be viewed in the museum’s three galleries – all are a rustic, yet charming design of hand-hewn wooden beams and thick, white plaster walls – a most effec­tive display place for works of art. The third floor gallery is generally used for major changing exhibitions; the second floor is reserved for works of the Wyeth family; and the first floor gallery is where tours begin. At the first floor entry, visitors see an overall view of conventional paintings, accepted by academicians and commissioned by patrons during the decades around the turn of the century.

Autumn on the Brandywine by Jasper Cropsey (1823-1900), who was called America’s “painter of the autumn,” is an instructive example of the magnetism which the natural beauty of the Brandywine Valley had to painters who were not necessarily part of the “Brandywine School.” A num­ber of other paintings by masters such as Fitz Hugh Lane and Thomas Birch introduce the visitor to the conventional representational works of the late nineteenth century. The Heritage Gallery then unfolds to a magnificent showing of the prints and illustrations of F. O. C. Darley, the tromp l’oil work of George Cope, as well as a diversity of paintings by Pyle, Frank Schoonover, Maxfield Parrish and Horace Pippin. Other stunning works frequently on display include N.C. Wyeth’s Blind Pew and The War Letter and George A. Weymouth’s August. Additional favorites are Jamie Wyeth’s Draft Age and his celebrated Portrait of Den Den, a most visually exciting, larger-than-life-sized painting of one of his pet pigs.

Contemplating the marvelously painted, photographed and sculpted works is not all the Brandywine River Museum has to offer its visitors. Bibliophiles may be interested to know that the museum’s library recently received a re­markable collection of books and magazines featuring N. C. Wyeth’s works in print (from Dr. Edmond L. Cooper of Birmingham, Michigan). Among the most fascinating are a signed edition of John Fox’s Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come, many issues of the Saturday Evening Post and a 1979 issue of South Carolina Wildlife, which has a number of Wyeth’s illustrations of fishing, hunting and rural scenes.

There are numerous oilier aspects of the Brandywine Heritage embodied in the museum’s and conservancy’s programs. Schoolchildren throughout the Commonwealth, for example, have taken part in the education program, wherein classes are guided through the galleries, told of the history and techniques of the different works and, most importantly, encouraged to express their impressions about what they have seen.

A nature trail runs alongside the Brandywine River for about a mile in either direction from the museum, providing the museum’s horticulturist with a wonderful teach­ing laboratory in which to instruct children about trees, plants, shrubs, and all kinds of foliage native to the Brandy­wine Valley. In fact, the only plantings permitted to take root on conservancy property must be flora native to the region. Courses at the Brandywine are not limited to schoolchildren; the horticulture program manages a number of wildflower identification courses, as well as a veritable army of dedicated volunteers who help with the conser­vancy’s gardening programs. And as one would presume, the approach to the museum is appealing. Carefully culti­vated gardens of wildflowers – Day lilies, Black-eyed Susans and Queen Anne’s Lace, among the most popular-burst with color all summer long.

But the idyllic setting which is now the Brandywine Conservancy did not come about as a matter of chance. In 1967, some business interests, as one of many possible uses under consideration, sought to convert the century-old grist mill which stood upon the land into an industrial tank farm. For obvious reasons, this notion was unaccept­able to area residents.

George A. Weymouth, a painter of distinguished merit and chairman of the conservancy board, in association with a group of dedicated people who believed in his vision, came to the rescue. An outcome of their protests and dedicated efforts was, among other things, the Brandywine Conser­vancy and the striking buildings which house the art and environmental organization.

The museum structure is a work of art in and of itself; it is also a monument to historic preservation. When archi­tectural plans for the museum building were being devel­oped, only one architect, James R. Grieves of Baltimore, asked to see the paintings which would ultimately be dis­played before submitting his proposal. He was also the only architect to propose renovating the mill, rather than com­pletely leveling it. In preserving the original structure of the mill and combining it with an elegant and ultra-modern, yet somehow rustic interior which looks out onto the Brandywine River and the lovely foliage surrounding it, Grieves created a sort of total environment, most compat­ible with the philosophy of the conservancy and the coun­tryside of historic Chadds Ford.

The Brandywine Valley is steeped with history and located near interesting sites, not the least of which is Chadds Ford where the museum is located. The Chadd family, after whom the town is named, settled on the Brandywine near a ford which also bears their name about the turn of the eighteenth century. Legend has it that although John Chadd, a son of the original settler, was neither exceptionally talented nor educated, he was a shrewd businessman. With the development of commerce along the East Coast, Chadd recognized the need for improved transportation and accommodations along newly developed routes. As a result, he applied for and was granted a license to open a “Publik Inn,” the original site being on U.S. 1 near what is today the Chadds Ford Inn. In addition. he seized the opportunity to build the only documented ferry service crossing the Brandywine River in Pennsylvania.

Chadds Ford and the Brandywine River Museum also stand just a cannonball’s flight from the Brandywine Battle­field, where an ill-fated military action involving George Washington and Lafayette was fought on September 11, 1777. Other nearby places of interest include two former du Pont family estates, Longwood Gardens and the Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum.

In the midst of this historic setting, rests the Brandywine River Museum, where carefully researched and well thought out interpretation is inherent in each of its exhibits. To complement the four main yearly exhibitions, there are also smaller but equally important shows loaned from other in­stitutions. In addition, museum programs regularly include a number of special events such as antique shows, concerts, craft fairs and a special seasonal display, “A Brandywine Christmas.” Numerous and diverse shows are utterly crucial to the museum’s planning, for multiple exhibitions have drawn visitors from far and wide, encouraging the repeat visits which have come to be the pattern of visitation at the Brandywine River Museum.

Currently, through March 14 [1982], works by Andrew Wyeth and Franz de Merlier are on display. Wyeth’s pen and ink illustrations were done in 1940 for Henry Canby’s The Brandywine, a book from the “Rivers of America” series, while de Merlier’s paintings were completed between 1926 and 1946, the time he lived in the Brandywine region. Following these exhibits, beginning March 19 and closing May 16, will be a show of the illustrations of Charlotte Harding, one of Howard Pyle’s students whose drawings were published in popular magazines and children’s books.

Perhaps James H. Duff, the executive director, described the activities and summed up the significance of the mu­seum most accurately when he said, “I’m convinced the preservation of the Brandywine Heritage will have a lasting impact on Pennsylvania’s history. The museum and con­servancy are saving a provincial heritage, but it’s a tradition that has touched people around the world. The Brandy­wine River Museum and Conservancy, and the programs we administer, are pace-setters in today’s museum world.”

 

The Brandywine River Museum and Conservancy is open daily from 9:30 A.M. to 4:30 P.M. – $1.75 for adults, $1 for children 6-12, students with i.d. and senior citizens. Chil­dren under six admitted free. Group tours are available by reservation. For further in formation, please call (215) 388-7601, or GL9-1900.

 

Karen Mooney is a freelance writer based in Wilmington, Delaware. She has studied art history and museum studies at the University of Delaware and has worked on a consult­ing basis with many of the museums in the Brandywine region.