N.C. Wyeth works on view at Chester County Art Association

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EAST BRADFORD>> A rare giant of an exhibition will be on view at the Chester County Art Association.
Seventeen seldom-seen N.C. Wyeth paintings will be displayed Oct. 10-18 in the Art Association’s newly renovated Allinson Gallery as part of its Founders Exhibition and 84th anniversary celebration.
Sixteen of the paintings, called the Freedom Collection and illustrating literary works by American poets, are on loan from the Hill School in Pottstown.
The Giant is the 17th and by far the largest of the bunch. It usually lives at the Westtown School in Westtown, where it has long hung in the dining hall.
A noted early 20th century Chester County painter and illustrator with a sense of dramatic and masterful painting technique, Newell Convers Wyeth was a co-founder of the Art Association and helped establish the Brandywine tradition in painting. He also designed the art center’s logo, a silhouette of a man holding a palette as he paints at an easel outdoors.
He is the father of noted painter Andrew Wyeth, who died in 2009, and grandfather of Jamie Wyeth, a well-known artist in his own right.
“We wanted to tell our personal story through these paintings and other materials culled from our archives,” said Karen Delaney, Art Association executive director.
The Hill School paintings illustrate momentous events in American history and poems by the likes of Walt Whitman and Henry Longfellow. They too hang in the school’s dining hall, where nary a speck of catsup or mashed potatoes has ever been found on any of the works.
“There’s a grandness to these paintings; the figures are large and foreboding,” Delaney said. “And, as is typical of N.C. Wyeth, you feel like you’re part of the setting and invited in. You’re not a bystander.”
On view, among other works, are Washington Serving Liberty, Nathan Hale (September 2, 1776), Paul Revere’s Ride and Warren’s Address (June 17, 1775).
Sherman, based on a Richard Watson Gilder poem, depicts a ramrod-straight, steely-eyed William Tecumseh Sherman, Union commander during the Civil War, in cool tones of blue and gray against a backdrop of bustling soldiers and supply wagons. The literary inspiration for each painting comes from “Poems of American Patriotism,” a collection published in 1922 by Charles Scribner’s Sons.

:N.C. Wyeth’s Nathan Hale illustreated a poem by Francis Miles Finch. It will be on view Oct. 10-18. Courtesy photo

:N.C. Wyeth’s Nathan Hale illustreated a poem by Francis Miles Finch. It will be on view Oct. 10-18.
Courtesy photo

Included in the exhibit are publications by art critic and Art Association co-founder Christian Brinton, early letters from original Art Association director William Palmer Lear and paintings by charter board member George Gillett Whitney.
A student of N.C. Wyeth and an art teacher at Westtown, Whitney often took his students for visits to Wyeth’s Chadds Ford studio, according to Westtown archivist Mary Uhl Brooks.
The Hill School’s Freedom Collection to the Art Association marks just the third time the paintings have ever left Pottstown. The first was in 2011, when they hung at the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, Maine. The second was earlier this year, when the paintings traveled to the Heritage Museums and Gardens in Sandwich, Mass. and were part of a larger exhibit with works by Andrew and Jamie Wyeth.
The paintings came directly to the Art Association from Massachusetts.
Wyeth asked that the paintings never be separated. Michael F. Sweeney, a Hill School coach and its first athletic director, bequeathed them to the school in 1923.
The Giant isn’t that well traveled either. Counting the Art Association exhibit, it has been loaned out just eight times since it was given to Westtown in 1923, according to Brooks.
The class of 1910 commissioned the massive work in memory of classmate William Engle, who died of tuberculosis in 1916. While a student at Westtown, Engle studied with Wyeth at his Chadds Ford aerie; Wyeth considered him hugely artistically talented and a protégé.
The oil painting, which measures 5 feet by 6.5 feet, depicts six children on a beach, gazing up at a club-toting giant in the clouds that adults probably don’t visualize. Five of the kids are modeled after Wyeth’s own brood, including a blonde Andrew who stands nearest the ocean. At the left is a sixth, a boy in a white cap and presumed to be Engle.
Cost of the exhibit, which encompasses insurance, transportation and extra security, will total about $15,000, Delaney said.
Accompanying the exhibition’s short run are three talks.
Brooks will speak at 2 p.m. Oct. 10, on “Wyeth, Whitney and Westtown.”
Victoria Wyeth will share lore about her great-grandfather and the Brandywine Valley’s beloved and talented Wyeth family in a conversation Oct. 12 at 6 p.m.
And Christine Podmaniczky, curator of the N.C. Wyeth Collections at the Brandywine River Museum, will discuss Wyeth’s paintings in the exhibit Oct. 14 at 6 p.m. She will compare them to those the artist routinely sent during his lifetime to annual Art Association exhibits.
The exhibit is book-ended by receptions. Two sketch sessions are also offered.
For more information and to purchase tickets, visit chestercountyarts.org. Tickets, at $15 each, may also be purchased at the door.
The Art Association’s Delaney recommends reserving lecture seats online.

An exhibit is born from loaned works

For Digital First Media

Sometimes great ideas are born of chance encounters.
Such was the experience of Chester County Art Association executive director Karen Delaney.
On a tour last April of the Hill School in Pottstown with Headmaster Zachary Lehman, she was struck by the grandeur and number of N.C. Wyeth paintings hanging in the school’s dining hall.
She asked Lehman if the Art Association could borrow the 16 paintings for a special exhibit.
Lehman said yes.
As Delaney recently reflected, “This idea came up very quickly and we had to scamper to pull things together for the fall.”
They decided that the paintings – hardly well-traveled, since they’d only been shown outside the Hill School twice before — would come directly to the Art Association in special packing crates from a summer exhibit at the Heritage Museums and Gardens in Salem, Mass. That show highlighted three generations of Wyeth family artists.
Meanwhile, Art Association board member Lisa Larsen, whose children attend the Westtown School, learned about the coming exhibit. She approached Westtown leaders about including The Giant in the show, an important and beloved Wyeth work that usually hangs, like the Hill School collection, in the school’s dining hall.
Said Westtown School archivist Mary Uhl Brooks, “We were also happy to offer paintings by George Gillett Whitney.”
A charter Art Association board member, Whitney taught art at Westtown and was a devoted student and friend of N.C. Wyeth at his Chadds Ford studio.

To contact correspondent Sarah E. Moran, send an e-mail to semoran219@gmail.com.

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