In the far southeastern corner of Pennsylvania, just a few miles from Joe Biden’s stomping grounds in Centreville, Delaware, is the town of Chadds Ford.
Colonists settled there early, a lovely area of rolling hills, abundant water, and accessible fords across Brandywine Creek.
In September of 1777, Chadds Ford was the site of a Revolutionary War encounter known as the Battle of Brandywine Creek. Following a long and intense struggle, George Washington’s American troops were forced to retreat, but proved that they could stand up to the larger, better equipped, and better trained British and Prussian forces.
Today, Chadds Ford is better known as the home of some of America’s best-known artists, most of them belonging to the Wyeth family.
In addition to excellent portraiture and landscapes, N.C. Wyeth (1882-1945) was a premier illustrator in the first half of the 20th century. His works embellished books like Treasure Island, The Last of the Mohicans, and others in a series from Scribner’s Classics. He settled in Chadds Ford in 1907.
N.C. Wyeth’s daughter Henriette (1907-1997) also became an accomplished portrait artist. She married fellow artist Peter Hurd (1904-1984), who had studied with N.C. Wyeth. They lived in Chadds Ford for years before moving to New Mexico in 1940, where their work was strongly influenced by southwestern landscapes and colors.
Daughter Carolyn (1909-1994) also worked as an artist, focusing mainly on landscapes and teaching art classes in Chadds Ford.
The best known of the clan is Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009), whose paintings from Chadds Ford and coastal Maine spanned seven productive decades. Andrew Wyeth painted in all media, but he was especially known as a master of egg tempera in his portraits and landscapes.
Egg tempera painting involves mixing egg yolk with various pigments and using multiple layers to achieve impressive depth.
John McCoy (1910-1989) married N.C. Wyeth’s daughter Ann. Also an artist who trained with N. C. Wyeth, he taught painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts for more than 30 years.
George Weymouth (1936-2016) married Ann and John’s daughter Anna. Inspired by Andrew Wyeth to work in egg tempera, his impressive paintings covered a broad range of subjects.
That brings us to the point of this column, which some readers are no doubt anxious to reach.
Chadds Ford is home to the Brandywine River Museum of Art, which features works from the Wyeths’ extended family, including Andrew Wyeth’s son Jamie, who is still painting.
Being married to an artist has taught me much about art appreciation, so I was pleased rather than bored when Susan and I had a chance to visit the museum prior to a Good Faith Experience among the Old Order Amish in Lancaster County, about 40 miles west of Chadds Ford.
The Wyeths generally belong to the school of American realism, which is right up my alley.
I was mesmerized by Andrew Wyeth’s “Snow Hill,” painted to mark his 70th birthday. He placed several local friends into the imaginary scene, some dead, all of whom he had painted before. No tracks lead in or out from the maypole. Had they always been dancing in his head?
I loved Jamie Wyeth’s life-sized portrait of Den Den, a neighbor’s prized pig (featured at the top of the article) that he plied with buckets of sweet feed while painting its portrait – and using a lot of paint.
Other paintings were special, but the one I remember most clearly was by George Weymouth. Entitled “Eleven O’Clock News,” it portrays a handyman named Robert Wright who worked for the Wyeth clan for many years.
Wright appears to have been listening to a small transistor radio (by the window) while splitting firewood when something caught his attention.
The painting’s enigmatic title leads one to assume that he’d heard something on a morning newscast that caused him to pause and ponder, with a serious expression on his face.
The painting was from 1966, the height of the war in Vietnam. Did he have a son who had been drafted and sent to the front? Was there news related to the civil rights movement and the ongoing struggle for desegregation? Was a tornado on the way?
The painting led me to wonder what kinds of news cause me to pause these days. Reports come in such disconcerting quantities that it’s troubling to muse on the news for very long.
When we turn on the TV, listen to the radio, or tap our favorite news app, we find wartime atrocities by Russian soldiers in the Ukraine, mass shootings in the U.S., migrants in desperate lines at the border.
We see politicians posturing rudely toward our next Supreme Court justice, the first woman of color (and about time).
We hear more and more evidence of polarization between conservatives and progressives, urban and rural residents, neighbors and – well, other neighbors.
Sometimes the news is so heavy that we tend to shrug it off. It’s easier to let it slide than to feel the pain it conveys.
I’ve taken to living with the image of Weymouth’s painting and Wright’s thoughtful expression when I hear the news these days: trying to spend more time pausing and pondering … and maybe even praying.