We had the extraordinary privilege of spending the day Sunday...exploring Kuerner Farm. Andrew Wyeth discovered Karl and Anna Kuerner’s farm on one of his boyhood walks. The Kuerners, German immigrants who settled in Chadds Ford after World War I, fascinated the artist. Over time, he developed a complex relationship with the family and the farmscape, aspects of which he explored in many of his best-known works of art (taken from the Brandywine Conservancy & Museum of Art website).
After a late night seeing a performance by the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra, we woke early Sunday morning and headed for Chadds Ford. Michael baked cinnamon scones, we filled our thermos with coffee and donned long underwear, multiple layers, scarves, gloves and even took our winter coats. It was in the forties when we left around 7:15 am...
We arrived at the Brandywine Museum of Art at 8:45. Soon, we were headed to Kuerner Farm. Driving through the sentinel-like entrance posts was surreal. As we drove up the driveway, between the big white house and the red barn, it literally (and I am not just being sentimental here) feels as if you are driving into one of Wyeth's paintings. Our escort explained that we would have full access to the house, barn and grounds...and we were free to begin unpacking. It was overwhelming, really. Neither Michael, Benjamin nor I could really wrap our heads around being given full access to Kuerner Farm for an entire day...
First we walked down to the house. Walking up to the back door was like a sort of dream. Moving toward the big white house that grows up out of the earth, and seeing the bell for the first time...it was amazing.
Walking over a fragrant carpet of fallen needles, I half-expected Anna Kuerner to round the bend with her cast iron pot, collecting pine cones to use for kindling.
Inside the back door, to your left, you can look into the woodshed. Although there is now a public restroom inside the back door, most of the house is essentially the same as it is depicted in Wyeth's paintings and drawings.
The wood shed is part of the house, easily accessed from inside. And from the outside, we see its stone exterior and red roof...
As we moved through the first floor, directly to the front porch, we caught glimpses of the kitchen...Anna's wallpaper, the Home Comfort stove..and the Groundhog Day window.
Outside, on the front porch...I cried. I am not embarrassed to admit it. I just feel things a lot more deeply since surviving breast cancer. And so, I cried. To stand on the Kuerner's porch and look across the road to Kuerners Hill (the setting of Snow Hill)...it was truly one of the most emotional experiences of my life.
The front porch feels very intimate. In fact, the whole property feels that way. In Wyeth's paintings the house appears huge, but when you are standing in the grass looking toward the farm pond, or the orchard, or the pasture or barn...it all feels connected and you feel connected to it. The pot hanging from the porch ceiling was a powerful image to see in person. Whether it is original to the house, I don't know...but it sure looks like the pot in which Anna collected her pine cones.
Well, at this point -- after our brief tour of the house -- we were ready to unpack the van. We'd brought painting boxes, easels, supplies, water, drop cloths, and of course...fully stocked camera bags. Michael headed for the orchard. I chose to photograph the mushrooms growing under the pines outside the back door. Soon, Benjamin and I joined Michael along the treeline. Michael was already painting at his easel.
Benjamin and I explored the property around the house, the orchard and the farm pond. Every inch of the property evokes remembrances of Wyeth's work. Honestly, it is incredibly intimidating to try to capture images -- even photographs -- of the Kuerner property without comparing your own composition to that of Wyeth. I would photograph a blade of grass or a corner of the house and think, Andrew painted that far more brilliantly. He was able to reproduce colors and textures that my beloved digital camera simply cannot -- I don't think any machine could reproduce those images because it cannot experience the place, it can only copy it.
After a bit, we returned to where Michael had been painting. He was ready to move further down the hill, toward the house. Benjamin was ready to paint at that point, so Michael prepared an area for him beneath a wonderful old apple tree.
As they set up, I wandered back to the van to refill my coffee and fetch Benjamin some drinking water...and some scones. We had elevensies and then Michael moved down the hill toward the house.
I left Benjamin alone on the hill, sitting beneath an apple tree, painting. He looked so content. And so happy. Again, I was overcome with emotion. Never in his ten years have I walked away from him that he did not appear apprehensive toward the idea -- we are very much attached. But as I walked away with my cameras, I glanced back and saw he was at ease painting.
I played alone, and wandered a great deal over the hills, painting watercolors that literally exploded, slapdash over my pages, and drew in pencil or pen and ink in a wild and undisciplined manner.
After leaving Benjamin in the Kuerner's orchard, I wandered through the opening in the fence and walked down the hill toward the big, red barn. Chicory dots the hillside and I follow deer paths away from my sweet boy and toward the driveway. There I found a few straggly strands of milkweed still standing. And upon closer inspection, a wonderful collection of milkweed bugs gathered on a trampled clump of nearly black stalks.Andrew Wyeth
As I walked along the driveway, the wall caught my eye - what a beautiful mosaic of stone and plaster and years of use! Then, I saw a lamp glowing through the windowpanes.
I continued on toward the house. Through the hedgerow I could see Benjamin up on the hill, sitting beneath the apple tree painting. I opened the back door and stepped inside the Kuerner's home. Quietly, I moved toward the kitchen.
The kitchen, with its peeling yellow wallpaper glows warmly despite the clouds outside. Unfortunately, there are modern elements that remind me the Kuerners no longer reside here, nor does Andy ramble up over that hill to visit them anymore. Bright red fire extinguishers flank the stove, a modern counter-top rests on the otherwise vintage sink. But the stillness here hearkens back to a simpler time. I hear only the din of crickets and songbirds, occasionally interrupted by the harsh call of a crow.
I stood in the kitchen for only a moment and then moved back through the house toward the back door - unsure if I was permitted to venture upstairs. Outside, I discovered more treasures to photograph.
Soon, I was moving back toward the orchard. Benjamin had painted a sweet little watercolor of the Kuerner's home. "I added the streaks of soot on the chimney," he told me as I approached. Michael was now moving back up the hill. Benjamin was ready to stretch his legs, so he and I explored. I was eager to look around the big red barn.
We walked inside the barn and heard a voice greet us with, "Hello." I called back our hello and then we stepped inside the setting of Andrew Wyeth's painting, Spring Fed. We were standing in the tiny room and I was fiddling with my camera settings - trying to find the right combination of settings to photograph in the dim light -- when a man approached us.
The soft-spoken man explained, he had accidentally photographed us. As he fiddled with his own camera -- bringing up thumbnails of the photographs to which he referred -- he asked if I would be willing to give him my e-mail address so he might forward copies of the photos to us. When I saw his photos I noticed they were taken from the vantage point of the third floor of the house. "May we go upstairs?" I asked.
Upstairs. It is upstairs that seemed the most magical of all the areas in the house. If you are familiar with Andrew Wyeth's work or, if you have ever paged through Wyeth at Kuerners and read Betsy Wyeth's intimate insight into what the artist achieved there (save for the Helga project, which had not yet been publicized), you too would want to visit the upstairs.
It is as if time stands still in the rooms on the second and third floors of the Kuerner's house. A combination of familiar relics and the modern unfamiliar. For example, in the room in which the artist painted Karl, a more modern-looking rug lies across the wooden floor planks. Yet, the basin on the windowsill seems like familiar territory and the hooks dominate.
After a few moments, Benjamin and I stole down the stairs and returned to the outside. We walked up the driveway again and returned to the shed. It was originally used for cord wood and farm equipment; it now lies in seemingly staged disarray. One's initial glance reveals fence posts, a roller, and farm equipment...but we also discovered an upholstered chair and dozens of plastic lids and other refuse.
We decided to take a walk around the property -- but first, we stopped for lunch. The temperature had risen since we'd arrived and it was now in the low sixties, under a cloudy sky. We ate our turkey and Asiago sandwiches and hydrated ourselves, then took a long walk up past the treeline -- where we saw two deer (possibly those Michael and Benjamin told me they had seen earlier). Then we walked down around the house toward the spring house and pasture.
We had arrived at 9:30 am and it was nearing the end of our allotted time at Kuerner Farm. We'd spent seven hours exploring the world of Andrew Wyeth and the Kuerners and it was not nearly enough time! I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to tread upon a carpet of thin, brown pine needles, smell wild mint growing in the pasture, hear water tumbling down the spillway from the farm pond and watch white-tailed deer along a treeline...all on the very ground we've come to know from Wyeth's paintings and drawings. Now browsing through Wyeth at Kuerner is emotional. I shared the photograph of Benjamin and I (taken by the man in the barn) on Facebook...a friend wrote about the Kuerner house, that place is church. Yes.
Few places remain where one may experience the kind of peace Kuerner Farm provides. The unpolluted sky overhead, the thick green grass beneath our feet, beauty in abundance. It was magical, to say the least. I am so grateful we could share it with Benjamin!