Sharing the Common Wealth showcases objects, artifacts, documents, structures and buildings from the collections of PHMC.
The Deerslayer

N.C. Wyeth, The Deerslayer cover design, 1925. The State Museum of Pennsylvania


In December 1967 PHMC chairman James B. Stevenson accepted an original painting by N.C. Wyeth (1882-1945) for the collection of The State Museum of Pennsylvania from Mrs. George R. Bailey of the George R. Bailey Foundation of Harrisburg, Dauphin County, in a ceremony held in the museum’s Memorial Hall. The painting had been created as the cover design for the 1925 Scribner Illustrated Classic edition of James Fenimore Cooper’s 1841 novel The Deerslayer, the last of the five Leatherstocking Tales. The 40-x-32-inch, oil-on-canvas painting depicts the hero of the series, Natty Bumpo, peering from a forest in a buckskin jacket and holding a Pennsylvania long rifle. Like most of Wyeth’s illustrations, it conveys character, drama and action through the use of vibrant colors, illumination and bold texture.

N.C. Wyeth was one of the most celebrated American illustrators of the 20th century. In 1911 he began a lucrative association with Charles Scribner’s Sons as a book illustrator, beginning with the first title in the classics series, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. He went on to paint illustrations for 25 more classics, in addition to hundreds more for other books, magazines and advertisements.

Wyeth had studied under artist and illustrator Howard Pyle (1853-1911), who trained his “Brandywine School” students in Wilmington, Delaware, and Chadds Ford in Chester County, Pennsylvania, along the Brandywine Creek. Moved by the natural beauty of the region, Wyeth set up a studio in Chadds Ford where for 30 years he created, in addition to illustrations, a variety of landscapes, genre paintings, portraits, still lifes and murals. He also was the father of five talented children, three of whom became painters, most notably his son Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009), who also lived and worked in Chadds Ford and became world famous for his regionalist compositions.

In 1965, 20 years after N.C. Wyeth’s untimely death in a car accident, PHMC opened and dedicated a new building for The State Museum. For its first special exhibit, the museum with the cooperation of Andrew Wyeth, mounted N.C. Wyeth and the Brandywine Tradition, which ran from October 13 to November 28. Several prominent guests came to see the exhibit, including Wyeth family members and even former U.S. president Dwight D. Eisenhower, who received a special tour with Andrew. The ambitious show featured a retrospective of 119 of N.C. Wyeth’s paintings, a full-scale recreation of his studio, and a display showing the process of taking an original painting to engraved color plates for printing. Paintings in the exhibit came from a variety of sources, including N.C. Wyeth’s widow, Carolyn. Among the many paintings she lent was The Deerslayer cover design, which was #15 in the show. At some point after the exhibit, the painting was acquired by the Bailey Foundation, which then donated it to The State Museum.

The Deerslayer cover design will be on display again in the forthcoming Pennsylvania Icons exhibit at The State Museum, which opens in fall 2015.


Kyle R. Weaver is the editor of Pennsylvania Heritage.