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Conservation and inspiration on display at Brandywine River Museum of Art

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STORY WRITTEN BY TARA LYNN JOHNSON
For 21st Century Media

The Brandywine Valley is an area that has inspired artists, including the Wyeths, for more than a century. The latest exhibit at the Brandywine River Museum of Art showcases that and explores the connection between art and the environment in “Lure of the Brandywine: A Story of Land Conservation and Artistic Inspiration.”
The exhibit celebrates the unique attributes of the landscape that attracted artists Jasper Cropsey, William T. Richards, and members of the Wyeth family to the area as well as the fact that the more than 59,000 acres of scenic and natural resources, farmland, and historic properties in the area are now largely protected through the efforts of the Brandywine Conservancy.
“The core of our mission is to protect the Brandywine watershed and associated waterways. Our programs focus on a multifaceted approach to conservation, aimed to preserve and restore water quality and quantity,” said Sherri Evans-Stanton, director of the Brandywine Conservancy, which aims to preserve and manage the natural, historic, agricultural, and scenic resources of the Wilmington, Delaware, and Philadelphia regions. “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 exhibition includes landscapes painted by artists from the mid-19th century through today. Works are grouped to illustrate the environmental programs of the Conservancy: Saving Agricultural Lands, Protecting Historic Structures, Enhancing Water Quality, Connecting Trails and Greenways, Preserving Scenic Character, and Conserving Natural Resources.
Karl J. Kuerner’s work “First Cutting” is included in the Saving Agricultural Lands group. He was inspired by the wind moving through the rows of hay behind his grandparents’ farm in Chadds Ford. He painted the piece in 1992.
Most of his work features memories or representations of his life experiences.
“I grew up right on the property, experienced the cutting of the hay, helped my father farm it,” he said. “I paint whatever means anything to me: landscape, still life, portrait. It’s a documentation of who I was and am.”
Part of who he is and how he became an artist – he was not only inspired by but worked with the Wyeth family, well-known artists in the region. He learned from Carolyn Wyeth for seven years and watched Andrew paint as well (both are children of famed painter N.C. Wyeth).
Even if he didn’t know the Wyeths or wasn’t inspired or taught by them, he’d still be an artist, he said. He has family members who paint and believes the gift is inherited.
“And it’s your legacy, a chance to leave something to tomorrow’s grandchildren,” he said.
Kuerner paints what he observes, but only if he has meaning to share.
“You could paint eight hours a day and say nothing,” he said. “When you put something down visually, you paint as if you have something to say.”
Through the landscape paintings of the region that he has called home for most of his life, he hopes to open that world to people who haven’t seen it or who have driven through, but haven’t really taken notice.
“In this exhibit, the artists have a profound love for this Brandywine Valley or else the paintings wouldn’t be so strong,” he said.
The paintings are all different and expressive of their creators, even though they focus on the same area. Every artist’s view is unique and “nobody will ever see it quite like you do,” he said.
The Conservancy works to preserve much of nature the way it stands, but development seems to creep into all counties. Despite the growth, Kuerner thinks the Brandywine Valley still has magic.
“You can’t put it into words,” he said. “You have to experience it.”

IF YOU GO
WHAT: “Lure of the Brandywine: A Story of Land Conservation and Artistic Inspiration.”
WHEN: Daily from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. through Aug. 10.
WHERE: The Brandywine River Museum of Art, U.S. Route 1, Chadds Ford.
ADMISSION: $12; seniors 65 and older $8; children 6 and older $6; 5 and younger free. Museum admission is free on Sunday mornings from 9:30 a.m. to noon.
INFO.: Call (610) 388-2700 or visit brandywine.org.

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