Kuerner Farm

Visiting Kuerner Farm has become an annual pilgrimage for our family. It is undertaken as a sort of ritual. We look forward to seeing the house - a static structure - appearing to come alive in each season. Although the buildings remain relatively unchanged, their place in the landscape defines them to us and inherently, we recall Wyeth's intimate portrayal of the people who once called the farm home.

Home of Karl and Anna Kuerner | Kuerner Farm | © 2017 Jessica Allen

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.
— from "Kuerner Farm," originally published October 2015

Every time we round the bend on Ring Road and the tall, white block-shaped house appears before us, it feels as exhilarating as the first time we visited in 2015. Driving between the two stone entrance posts feels as if we are leaving the contemporary world behind and entering the pages of Wyeth at Kuerners. As we move up the drive we spot Princess and Nancy, two goats who currently reside at the home (and who, I've been told, welcome the occasional snack of a pretzel or two!). We pass the red barn (on our left) and the remains of what we assume may have been the Kuerners' chicken coop (on our right); tangled in briers, it is virtually hidden from view.

At the top of the hill we find the long, open shed that was used for storing cordwood and farm implements; farm equipment remains. We park our van and gather our things. Michael, the painter, carries his easel and a bucket of supplies. Benjamin, the woodworker, straps a trapper's basket to his back (filled with wood blocks for sketching on; he intends to carve them). I, of course, grab my camera bag. And so we set off to explore Kuerner Farm.

It had rained all night and the grass was quite wet. The sky was overcast and the air was heavy with the scent of damp earth. Michael starts his day along the treeline at the top of the orchard slope. Benjamin decides to come along with me as I walk down around the recently mowed farm pond. A pair of Canada geese noisily exchange greetings. As we walk we discover the blooms of spring beauty (Claytonia virginica), common blue violets (Viola sororia), garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata), and early winter cress (Barbarea verna).

We walk around the front of the house. Although we've visited a number of times, there is one image from the Kuerners' kitchen I have yet to capture: Anna's wallpaper. 

Each time I stand in Anna Kuerner's kitchen I feel a tinge of melancholy. I imagine what it must feel like to travel so far from one's homeland to start a new life in a new country. Her life here - as I understand it - was filled with much toil and heartache. I wonder if the cheery yellow wallpaper ever made her smile?  

We step back outside. Down a few steps and across the lawn, we begin walking along the fence posts. I am looking for something. An image I never fail to capture at Kuerner Farm - Cladonia cristatella or, British soldier lichen. The lovely little lichen grow on the tops of two fence posts along the Kuerner lane and I delight in finding them! As we've never attended a Plein Air Day event that it hasn't rained, I have always been fortunate to find mosses, lichens and fungi to photograph. The stone wall behind the barn is a favorite haunt of mine!

As a nature photographer, I explore the exterior of the barn before I enter it...however, I always make a point to step inside and visit the subject of Andrew Wyeth's painting, Spring Fed. Standing in the milk room - where a stone trough is brimming with water that flows from a spring - immediately transports me to another time and place. The water - full of life - spills over the edge of the trough as if at any moment Anna Kuerner might step inside to fill a bucket. Stepping outside of the milk room I move to the rear of the barn. An eerie blue-white light streams in from the window, illuminating the neatly arranged tools on the wall.

Kuerner Barn (Interior) | Kuerner Farm | © 2017 Jessica Allen

I exit the barn. There is one image I still intend to capture. Like the Cladonia cristatella lichen, I seek this subject each time I visit Kuerner Farm. This afternoon I will sit for some time in the grass, waiting patiently until I spot my muse. I first saw him last April. He is always cautious to avoid attracting too much attention. He has a family he is tasked with protecting. After a few moments, I notice him. I watch him move between the trees, chirping busily as he travels to and fro. And then...I see her: the mother.

These bluebirds rear their young on the grounds of Kuerner Farm. Each spring I've watched them feeding their nestlings and again in June - I watched as they welcomed a second brood in an entirely different nesting spot. Like our visits to Kuerner Farm, observing these bluebirds has become a sort of spring ritual for me. To imagine that the bluebirds as well as the white-tailed deer, black vultures, Canada geese, and other creatures living on Kuerner Farm might well be descendants of those observed by Andrew Wyeth is quite remarkable, if not a bit magical.

Last week, as I reviewed my images from our first three visits to Kuerner Farm, I struggled to remember how we became so invested in our relationship with the Brandywine River Museum. Michael's grandfather (also a painter) had always been a fan of Andrew Wyeth. Newly married, Michael and I visited the Delaware Art Museum to attend the Wondrous Strange exhibit. Young and poor, we could only afford post cards...so, a framed post card of Jamie's painting, Lighthouse (1993), hangs in our kitchen to this day! 

When Benjamin was seven-years-old he was heavily interested in knights and pirates. We regretted the fact that he was a mere four-year-old when we took him to see N.C. Wyeth, Storyteller at Lebanon Valley College; he had only a faint recollection of the exhibit. We decided to take him to the Brandywine River Museum. He fell in love with the huge paintings from Treasure Island and The Boy's King Arthur. That fall, we visited The Andrew Wyeth Studio. We were smitten. I fell in love with the small house, Michael was inspired by the cozy, well-lit studio space and Benjamin began collecting soldiers just like Andy's!

We would end up taking the same tour again, and then also touring the N.C. Wyeth House and Studio. I would read, N.C. Wyeth: A Biography, as well as Andrew Wyeth: A Secret Life and discover details of their sometimes painful realities. Our library of Wyeth-related art books increased rapidly. This year alone we've shelved four or five newly procured titles.

In March of 2015 we had the pleasure of meeting Jamie Wyeth when he visited the Brandywine in celebration of his retrospective. Later that year, after re-watching the documentary, Snow Hill, we were interested in visiting the Kuerner property. It would be the first of many visits.   

We support the Museum as members and happily attend the Brandywine Conservancy Native Plant Sale each May. With the much appreciated advice offered by Horticultural Coordinator, Mark Gormel, we've been able to transform our small property into a native plant wildlife habitat in only a few short years. So many amazing events are scheduled for the 50th Anniversary of the Museum and 100th Anniversary of the birth of Andrew Wyeth - we look forward to celebrating!