UPDATE FOR READERS:
Over the years I’ve seen some great exhibits at the Philadelphia Museum of Art including the Renoir Landscapes and the recent one featuring Frida Kahlo. However, the one that will always stay with me most is the amazing Andrew Wyeth Memory & Magic exhibit. His art highly influenced some of the imagery I tried to create in The Thief Maker and continues to captivate me.
This summer I finally ventured out to the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, PA, which houses much of Andrew’s art as well as other painters and works from his father, N. C. Wyeth and son, Jamie Wyeth. About an hour from my neck of the woods in South Jersey and about forty minutes from Center City Philadelphia, the museum is a picturesque three-story masterpiece that cozily wraps around a lazy stretch of the Brandywine River (where kayakers can be seen gently passing by) and is situated in quaint pastures just off of Route 1. Part of the museum’s appeal beyond the beautiful setting is the level of intimacy it allows visitors to achieve with the works of the Wyeth Family, and in some cases, with actual members of the family. Guided tours by shuttle-bus take you to the N. C. Wyeth House and Studio, and to be able to see the family quarters and the working space of three generations of world-renowned artists is a unique experience few other museums can claim.
But what really sets the museum apart is the guided tour of Andrew’s and Jamie’s galleries on the third floor by Andrew’s granddaughter and Jamie’s niece, Victoria Wyeth. When she’s not helping patients at a nearby psych ward, she’s at the museum engaging visitors. Young, energetic, and witty, Victoria is clearly in love with her family’s accomplishments (who can blame her) and simply can’t stop talking about it. She seems to pick pieces at random depending on what she fancies for the day or hour or based on questions she eagerly takes from the group. The level of detail and story she is able to provide from first-hand experience on the inspiration behind a particular piece is as entertaining as it is astounding. When we came upon a painting of Jamie’s depicting a pumpkin carved out from the inside in a large brooding patch, Victoria encouraged the children to come up front and playfully said to them, “Now you’ve all had nightmares, right?” and proceeded to tell the story of the nightmare her uncle had that lead him to his artistic creation.
The museum features layers of generations, each inspiring the next. In one gallery you can see the works of famed illustrator Howard Pyle who taught and heavily influenced N. C. Wyeth, who went on to classically illustrate a famous edition of Treasure Island. You can then view N. C. ‘s portrait of little Andy with a fire-truck, and then see how Andy grew up to become the celebrated Andrew Wyeth. Then Victoria will explain how her grandfather, Andrew, currently in his nineties, just painted a new gallery edition a few months ago depicting a neighbor on a motorcycle stopped at an intersection.
And that’s the beauty of the Wyeths. The painted what they knew, and loved where they lived, be it on the rocky coasts of New England or their homesteads in the Brandywine River Valley where N. C. eventually settled. They didn’t travel the world for their inspiration or study art in Paris. They looked at their neighbors, the countryside, their family, and their landscapes and they created art through the generations that will last for all time.
For more on the museum:
For more on how Andrew Wyeth influenced my writing:
Below are some photos I captured around the museum and also at the Brandywine Battlefield Park which is just down the way from the museum on the other side of Route 1.
Written and photographed by David H. Schleicher