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The Brandywine River Museum, Chadds Ford, PA

July 14, 2012

This was another one of those days when we met up with another artist we’ve met online.  Robert Bohne became a Facebook Friend a while back, and has followed our progress through Pennsylvania.  Bob has lived his whole life in the Chadd’s Ford area, and offered weeks ago to guide us through the Brandywine River Museum.  Andrew Wyeth’s studio has only recently been opened for tours, and he was looking forward to seeing it for the first time as well.

As we walked from the parking lot toward the museum, I felt almost like a kid about to enter a candy store.  A silly thing for a 68 year old man, I suppose, but I have been a fan of N.C. Wyeth and his son, Andrew Wyeth, for many years.  My art library included books about them.  When I started painting, I spent a lot of time studying work by N.C. Wyeth, Maxfield Parrish, and the Hudson River School.   While I had seen their work in books, I had never seen one of their original paintings in person.  This was exciting stuff.

We were here on Andrew Wyeth’s birthday, and admission to the museum was free to the public all day.  They even had birthday cake in the restaurant.

Tours are available only by museum shuttle at certain times.  We spent some time in the museum until our scheduled tour, then rode the short distance through the woods to the studio.

We were disappointed that photography is forbidden inside the studio.  The building had been used as living quarters for a time, then became studio only when the family moved to another house not far away.  In the photograph above, the studio itself is in the front section that juts out, with the large window.  When the interior tour ended, another group was already waiting, and our shuttle was ready to go, so we begged for a quick run around to the front, and got this one shot of it.

Andrew Wyeth was apparently an intensely private person.  The docent said that when this was strictly studio space, the weeds surrounding it would be allowed to grow high, and Andrew would park his car behind the studio out of sight from the street.  The front door had been removed, and this back door became the entrance.  Apparently many neighbors who had lived in the area for years had no idea the famous artist’s studio was here.

Posing in front of one of the studio windows with Robert Bohne (on the right).  The window is a south-facing one that opens onto a painting area.  We learned that both N.C. Wyeth and Andrew Wyeth painted only by natural light.  There were no artificial lights on in the studio when they painted.  N.C. apparently didn’t paint on dark days, and Andrew probably went outside to sketch.

The actual studio room itself was off limits to just about everyone.  Even guests later said that Andrew would come out of the studio, turn and lock the studio door before greeting them.

Almost everything in this building is a reproduction, from the framed art, to the “sketches” pinned to the walls and strewn around the floor of the studio, down to the large easel that Andrew worked at.  But every item has been marked, scratched, and bears paint smudges exactly as they were on the original items.  The painting studio really is an “unfinished” space.  Cracks in the ceiling… peeling paint.  Nothing but natural light coming in the big window.  The space itself really could easily be in one of Andrew’s paintings.

Robert has lived in the Chadd’s Ford area his whole life, and we enjoyed some of the anecdotes and insights he shared about the area – and about the regional painters represented – as we toured the Brandywine River Museum.

We took a break after the tour, and went to Hank’s Place for lunch.

Hank’s is just across the street from the museum entrance, and not far from the studio.  Bob had told us that Andrew frequently ate lunch here.  While the outside is colorful, the inside is simply furnished, but full of patrons.  After the meal, the waitress asked if we’d like dessert, and Bob mentioned that we were probably having birthday cake later.  The waitress knew exactly what he meant, knew that today was “Andy’s” birthday, and knew how old he would have been.  She said that a few years ago, he gave all the daytime staff autographed copies of his book.

After lunch, we returned to the museum, and I spent some time with my nose almost up against many N.C. Wyeth and Andrew Wyeth original paintings, along with those by others that are displayed in the galleries.  It was a treat to see original work by Howard Pyle, Frank Schoonover, Jasper Cropsey, William Trost Richards and others.  Having Bob as our personal guide added a lot to the visit.  He shared things about the area, the regional artists, and some of the subjects in Andrew Wyeth’s paintings.

I was in awe of the work on display at the museum.  These were some of my art heroes, and I could see all those strokes, bold and tiny, that one misses when looking at a reproduction in a book.

We plan to return on Sunday.  The museum is open to the public on Sundays with free admission.  We’ll take the opportunity then to tour N.C. Wyeth’s studio, and I want to spend a bit more “up close and personal” time with some of the paintings.

I’ve used the term “hallowed ground” a couple of times on our travels.  The Brandywine River Museum and the Wyeth studios was a major destination for us.  For an artist, this falls into the category of hallowed ground.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. William R Moore permalink
    July 14, 2012 4:58 pm

    Ralph, Thanks for sharing. Hey, feeling like a kid is a good thing. :0)

  2. July 14, 2012 5:28 pm

    Ralph, I feel like a kid everytime I walk into that museum. It never gets old or boring. Having you and Nell as company was an added bonus. I love your enthusiasm, and both you and Nell are such comfortable people to hang out with. I can’t wait to retire so I can take my own cross country museum trip. Hope you get a chance to visit the Butler Museum in Ohio. Happy motering my friend.

  3. David Rowe permalink
    July 15, 2012 2:17 pm

    Ralph, if you should meander into South Carolina the museum in Greenville has one of the largest collection of original Andrew Wyeth’s on permanent display you will find anywhere. There is an entire section devoted to these beautiful paintings. This is an excellent museum and admission is free. Really worth a detour if you have never been before.

    • July 16, 2012 10:35 am

      Thanks for the tip, David. Hopefully, we can get that way eventually. Meanwhile, maybe one of our readers will take advantage of the information as well.

  4. May 19, 2013 5:58 pm

    i’m here because of a search for wyeth’s ‘she’s back’ that i saw at the brandywine.. or maybe i dreamed it! i am glad that i found your site!

    lisa/z from ecuador

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