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February 26, 2018
“The Way Back: the Paintings of George A. Weymouth” At the Brandywine River Museum of Art
The Brandywine River Museum of Art is one of my favorite local places to visit, but not just because it’s all about celebrating the regional art of the Brandywine Valley. (The Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington shares that mission as well).
I especially like what could be called the “tie-ins” or events designed to highlight a certain aspect of the latest exhibit. This weekend’s “First Sundays For Families” is a case in point. Admission is not only free, the museum will offer one of its free, hands-on workshops designed as the website says, “to engage visitors of all ages in creative art activities and performances.”
The free “drop-in” workshop, “Make Your Own Museum,” on March 4th will show participants how to make their own miniature “take-home” museum using materials supplied by the workshop leaders.
The workshop theme is a tribute of sorts to the late George A. “Frolic” Weymouth, who was one of the key founders of the Brandywine River Museum, which opened in a former gristmill in 1971.
On the same day, an artist will be demonstrating the art of egg tempera, a type of painting that is featured in museum’s current exhibit, “The Way Back: the Paintings of George A. Weymouth,” which continues through June 3rd.
Visitors who know nothing about Weymouth, who died in 2016, will certainly get a good idea of what the museum calls his “larger-than-life personality” merely by viewing his story-filled paintings.
The exhibit can be viewed chronologically beginning with Weymouth’s first oil painting completed in 1948 when he was 12 years old. However, true to the museum’s educational mission, the exhibit offers a study of a rich artistic life, highlighting Weymouth’s varied career with such section themes as “Portraits and Inspirations” and “The Landscape as Muse.”
The added appeal of the exhibit is that many of the works were inspired by real events at Weymouth’s former home and studio at The Big Bend, a historic property named for its location inside a bend in the Brandywine where it flows in the Delaware River. Although it’s not far from the city of the Wilmington, the region is remarkably untouched and preserves an area along the Brandywine that once sheltered one of the largest Lenni-Lenape settlements deeded back to the Indians by William Penn.
Weymouth, who founded the museum’s umbrella organization, the Brandywine Conservancy, was a celebrated leader in conservation and historic preservation. The painting show here, “The Way Back” (1963) depicts his home at the Big Bend in the early stages of renovation – before it had staircase. The unusual perspective – the viewer is literally placed in the front seat of an one-horse carriage – is characteristic of Weymouth but also reflected of his background in carriage-driving, one of his many talents he pursued in his socially-active life.
Mentored by his friend, the late Andrew Wyeth , Weymouth was closely associated with the Brandywine Tradition of Art in that he developed a style rooted in his love of nature as well as his love of the former occupants of the valley. For instance, the portrait shown here, “Gathering Storm” (1964) is perhaps typical in that the sitter – an elderly African-American woman named Ethel Roach – was an important person in Weymouth’s life, but the work also symbolically represents the “storm” of the impending Civil Rights era.
A similar painting, “Eleven O’Clock News,” was painted a few years later and is another one of Weymouth’s enigmatic narratives (and tribute) to certain lone souls – the farm caretaker – who may want to keep up with the times while performing chores linked to the past.
Many of the paintings completed in the 2000s illustrate Weymouth’s punning sense of humor and perhaps his own discomfort with today’s technology – spider webs are shown in “Website” (2003) and “WWW” (2000), for instance.
Not surprisingly, Weymouth departed in many ways from Wyeth, who rarely granted interviews, but he did follow Wyeth’s advice to paint the people and places he knew intimately (often doing both at once, as in portraits that may show a figure fused with a seemingly exaggerated landscape).
My favorite paintings include Weymouth’s depictions of the winter landscape although he was also a master of capturing the heat and humidity of a Pennsylvania summer as in “August” (1974). Regardless of the size of the completed work, he generally started out with direct observation, or as he once put it: “open your eyes and draw. Look, look, look.” In my interviews years ago with Weymouth, he often said that he liked to roam his property and find his subjects among tall grasses or the banks of the Brandywine. “I live it – I love the feeling of the land, the atmosphere, the smell of it, ” Weymouth said in one interview.
Still, apart from his lifelong conservation efforts, Weymouth’s association with the Brandywine Tradition, especially in landscape painting, may have had more to do with his knowledge of farming and the region’s local folklore and customs. When visiting the museum look for “Indian Hanna” (1990). The painting is a tribute to a real Native American who stayed behind after the Lenni-Lenape tribes were forced to leave the land. You won’t find a portrait, however: Weymouth choose to depict the groves of blue bells that were said to have surrounded Hanna’s different, temporary homes before her death in 1800.
For more information about the exhibit and the museum’s hours, visit http://www.brandywine.org/museum/exhibitions/way-back-paintings-george-weymouth