Arts & Antiques

The Lure of Art and Land Conservation

Exhibition spotlights artists’ appreciation of region’s natural beauty

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For more than two centuries, the Brandywine Valley has been celebrated for its picturesque streams, rich farmlands, dazzling gardens, abundance of mills, and distinctive architecture.

Through the lens of land conservation, the Brandywine Conservancy & Museum of Art is now providing a fascinating look at the art of the region in its exhibition, “Lure of the Brandywine: A Story of Land Conservation and Artistic Inspiration.”

Running from June 7 through August 10, the show celebrates the Brandywine Conservancy & Museum of Art’s dual mission—to display the work of top-flight artists from the region and to preserve the environment. “The core of our mission is to protect the Brandywine watershed and associated waterways,” says Sherri Evans-Stanton, director of the Brandywine Conservancy. “We work to save farmland and historic properties, plan and manage land use, promote reforestation and use of native plants, and create trail networks ”

The 45 works of art in the exhibition convey a strong sense of the region’s distinctive identity. A number of important loans are included, as well as works from the museum’s rich holdings in landscape painting.

Organized in groups, the paintings illustrate the primary environmental programs of the Brandywine Conservancy–Saving Agricultural Lands, Protecting Historic Structures, Enhancing Water Quality, Connecting Trails and Greenways, Preserving Scenic Character, and Conserving Natural Resources.

“Lure of the Brandywine” underscores the innate link between artists’ appreciation of the region’s natural beauty and the Brandywine Conservancy & Museum of Art’s commitment to ensuring that legacy for generations to come.

Take N. C. Wyeth’s illustration for a poem entitled “Back to the Farm.” Painted in Chadds Ford in 1907, it was one of a number of scenes that originally accompanied the poem by Martha Gilbert Dickinson Bianchi and appeared in the August 1908 issue of Scribner Magazine. The artwork sprang from Wyeth’s strong emotional response to the area’s natural beauty and from the value he placed on a way of life so enmeshed with the natural world.

Plowing fields remained an essential aspect of farming until the late 20th century, but in truth it actually exacerbates soil erosion and the loss of nutrient-dense topsoil. Locally, the Brandywine Conservancy works with farmers to improve land stewardship by embracing more modern practices. One of these “no-till farming” reduces soil disturbance, resulting in less soil erosion, more water infiltration, and richer, more productive soils.

It’s a revelation to see the old-time Brandywine pictures, especially the work of artists who traveled widely in pursuit of a vanishing wilderness. One of the earliest landscapes is Thomas Doughty’s “View on the Brandywine, Gilpin’s Paper Mill.” Doughty (1793-1856) provides a romantic view of the river, rendered with his characteristically fragile and lyric approach. Another is a sparkling autumn river scene by Jasper F. Cropsey (1823-1900).

A generation later, we find William Trost Richards (1833-1905), who was also drawn to the beauty of the rural countryside. A trio of vigorous and imposing landscape paintings were crafted while the peripatetic Richards lived on his Coatesville farm in the 1880s.

Moving into the 20th century, the contemporary works are dominated by the Wyeth clan, a prestigious family of painters whose works are the thrust of the museum’s collection. Works include those by Andrew Wyeth and his father, N. C., sisters Carolyn and Henrietta, son Jamie, and brother-in-law John McCoy. The works of current artists of the region include George “Frolic” Weymouth’s “Indiana Hanna” (1990), Frank Delle Donne’s “Landscape with a Tree” and “The Way Back” (1963), as well as James McGlynn’s “Breck Mills” (1978).

Through these gifted artists’ skilled eyes and hands, the pastoral Brandywine Valley comes alive while delivering thought-provoking connections to the Conservancy’s activities that have preserved more than 59,000 acres of scenic and natural resources, farmland, and historic properties.

The sparkling exhibition convinces us that the Brandywine Valley does indeed merit full-length treatment as a theme show.

Wyeth Studio Earns Preservation Award

The Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia has selected the Andrew Wyeth Studio, owned by the Brandywine Conservancy in Chadds Ford, as an award winner for the 2014 Preservation Achievement Grand Jury Award. The studio was among 15 projects selected by a panel of historic preservation experts to receive this year’s award.

Built in 1875, the studio where Andrew Wyeth’s famous paintings came to life for nearly 70 years was originally a remote, one-room, stone schoolhouse.  Thousands of works of art are associated with this studio, including those inspired by the farms and open space of the Brandywine Valley and the Brandywine River. Wyeth painted in the studio from 1940 to 2008, less than a year away from the time of his death in January of 2009.

In addition to major structural work, the restoration project included attention to details such as preserving the aged appearance of the studio ceilings and walls, and restoring the original wide floorboards. In 2011, the Conservancy began a program of assessment and design for both the preservation of the studio and the collection of personal objects owned by the Wyeths.  Collections included an extensive assortment of cast lead soldiers, an art library, movies, furniture, props for paintings, and painting supplies and tools.

The Conservancy pursued National Historic Landmark designation for the property, a status already granted to the adjacent N.C. Wyeth House and Studio and the nearby Kuerner Farm.  The Andrew Wyeth Studio is open for tours daily through Nov. 23, 2014. Visitors may also tour the N.C. Wyeth House and Studio and the nearby Kuerner Farm. For more information, visit http://www.brandywineconservancy.org/