I have just returned today from participating in the Wayne Arts Center Plein Air Festival in Wayne, PA. It was a lovely, well run event with one major flaw which was outside of the control of the event organizers…it never stopped raining!
That is not much of an exaggeration. There were some breaks which I know all of the artists tried to take full advantage of but these breaks were brief and we had to work as fast as we could while keeping one eye on the constantly lowering clouds.
We were supposed to paint in Philadelphia on Friday the 20th but I have no real interest in city painting and, quite honestly, felt I needed a break. Since my days in art school I have always been a big fan of the Wyeth family. N.C. Wyeth and Andrew Wyeth have both had a big influence on me and the Brandywine River Museum was only about an hour south of where I was staying. The museum has probably the largest collection of Wyeth art as well as original paintings from N.C. Wyeth contemporaries such as Howard Pyle, A.B. Frost, Frank Schoonover and, my great favorite, Dean Cornwell. Whether I needed a day off or not I was determined to pay a visit to the museum.
The museum and conservancy also own the Wyeth house and N.C. Wyeth’s studio as well as the Kuerner Farm where Andrew painted so many of his Chadds Ford paintings.
"Evening At Kuerners" Andrew Wyeth 1970
Even though this was supposed to be a “day off” I did have all of my gear in the car and approached the museum staff to inquire about the possibility of painting out at Kuerner’s Farm. I was told by the head of security that they do not allow private vehicles on the grounds of the farm. But he suggested that I might make a quick left here and a sharp right there which would bring me to the home of Karl Kuerner III, the grandson of Wyeth’s subject, who is also an artist and probably would not have any objection to my parking on his property and painting. He even thought that Mr. Kuerner might let me paint from the top of Kuerner’s Hill which overlooks the farm below. The hill itself features prominently in many of Wyeth’s paintings.
I did find Mr. Kuerner’s driveway and went up and parked the car. One has to feel some sympathy for the people of Chadds Ford who are hard working farmers going back many generations but who also, by chance, happen to have lived near and with one of the most recognizable American artists in recent memory and, as such, are constantly being descended upon by nosy intruders such as myself. They are rightfully very protective of the Wyeths.
After parking the car I noticed one lone figure out on the hill with a spade in hand. I assumed this was Mr. Kuerner and approached him. He saw me coming and stopped working, just watching me approach. I got to within about 20 feet and asked “Mr. Kuerner?” Silence and a stony stare. I got to within about 10 feet and again asked “Mr. Kuerner?” Same response. I handed him my card and said that I was an artist down from New York to do some painting in the area and would it be alright if I left my car in his driveway and did a little painting. He finally said that his son was not at home but felt it would be alright for me to park and paint. When he mentioned his son I felt I might not be talking to the person who I was supposed to be talking to. As it turns out I was standing on Kuerner Hill with Karl Kuerner Jr., the son of Wyeth’s subject. I asked him what he was doing out on the hill and proceeded to get the most wonderful lesson on the evils of Canadian thistle and what it will do to a wheat field, how the grass is harvested and baled and how the Kuerner family saw itself through hard times by brewing and selling a peach/whiskey cider! I learned that the original barn, which stood not far from the railroad tracks, was burned to the ground by embers from the passing locomotive. The barn stood just around the bend from the railroad crossing where N.C. Wyeth was killed after his car, which bore him and his young grandson, was obliterated by a passing, unscheduled train.
Mr. Kuerner warmed up to me to the point where he finally suggested that I could wander where I liked to find a view I might like to paint which is precisely what Andrew Wyeth used to do. Wyeth was accepted by the Kuerners and was allowed to roam where he might whenever he wanted. If he got tired he just went into the farmhouse and took a nap despite the fact that his own house was only a few hundred feet over the hill. You can now imagine my growing excitement, tracing the footsteps of the great Wyeth in search of a subject. Mr. Kuerner, who is very strong and spry and in his mid to late 80s, walked me to the top of the hill, paused for a moment, and informed me that this is the spot where his fathers ashes were spread. I had read some time ago that his ashes were spread out of his old World War One German infantry helmet by my host, Kuerner the third and Wyeth.
Mr. Kuerner then left me by myself and, like Wyeth, I began to roam around looking for a good angle of the house. From most of the close vantage points at the bottom of the hill the view of the house is blocked by trees and I laboriously returned to the top of the hill. While the angle was not particularly good and I was now a good quarter mile away and above the house I decided that it was here, atop Kuerner Hill, where Andrew Wyeth roamed countless times and among the remains of Karl Kuerner Sr. that I would paint Kuerner Farm.
After reading all of that I am certain that you are very anxious to see the painting but I am sorry to say that almost as soon as I got myself set up…it began to rain! I waited it out under the stand of pines at the top of the hill and, when the shower finally passed I began to work again. After working for only about twenty minutes it began to rain again! I waited for about a half hour under the sheltering pines but finally decided that nature would win this round.
Set up atop Kuerner Hill
I show the painting here which is no more than the beginning of my lay-in. But I am happy with it and I will frame and keep it for myself as a reminder of my brush with the legacy of one of my heroes.