Photographs explore the sites and meanings of Andrew Wyeth's works
By J. Chambless
'Olson House' (2010) by James Welling.
By John Chambless
If you're familiar with Andrew Wyeth's works and inspirations, "Things Beyond Resemblance: James Welling Photographs" is a fascinating excursion into Wyeth's world. The exhibit, which opened on Aug. 8 at the Brandywine River Museum of Art, features photographs of places seen in Wyeth's works, or related somehow to the artist's themes. With the public access to Wyeth's studio and the Kuerner Farm where he painted many of his best-known works, Welling has taken evocative images of the frozen skin of ice on the water trough in the Kuerner barn ("Black Ice"), the place setting on the kitchen table at Kuerner's which dimly reflects the scene through the window behind it ("Groundhog Day"), the decay of the painted surface of Wyeth's studio ("Studio Wall"), and the looming Olson house in Maine ("Olson House in Snow").
There are photos taken inside the cuploa atop the Painter's Folly mansion in Chadds Ford, the former home of illustrator Howard Pyle -- one a white-on-white view, and one cloaked in sinister shadows.
Welling has also done some sleuthing to uncover things you've seen in paintings but perhaps never in real life. There's "Fleece," a photo of Wyeth's paint-speckled coat, and "The Carry," which is the scene captured by Wyeth in his famous view of rocks and water. In his gallery notes, Welling says he tracked down the location by using Google Earth. There's a photo of the stone ruins of Mother Archie's Church in Chadds Ford, the jagged, skeletal tree seen in Wyeth's "Night Mare" (1973), and the spectacular sycamore depicted in Wyeth's "Pennsylvania Landscape" (1941).
In Maine, Welling explores the Olson home, getting a photo of it from the perspective seen in "Christina's World," only in the photo, there's a barn out back. Welling's impeccable eye for color is seen in "Alvaro and Christina" and "Basket and Workbench." His photo composite "River Cove" (2010) perfectly captures Wyeth's air of somber, silent mystery.
In addition to approximating the "Christina's World" view, Welling sets up "Evening at Kuerner's" as closely as possible, but it's clear that time has altered the scene just as much as Wyeth himself manipulated elements in his works. It's in Welling's images of things tangentially connected to Wyeth's works -- even the moldy interior of a minivan parked on the former Messersmith property in Chadds Ford -- that show how deeply he has thought about Wyeth's themes.
There are chairs and a table full of art books in the gallery to invite visitors to sit and learn more about Wyeth and Welling, and the gallery has the whitewashed gleam of one of Wyeth's interiors.
For the first time, the Brandywine has taken an exhibit outdoors as well. Scattered around the museum grounds, the N.C. Wyeth house and studio, Andrew Wyeth's studio and the Kuerner farm are "Gradients," which are panels that encapsulate the colors seen in the landscape or in a particular scene, perhaps letting us enter the mind of an artist as he contemplates a subject. In the garden in front of the museum, a vertical panel contains the hues of the blossoms and flowers as well as the lush green plants themselves. Across the Brandywine from the museum, there's a horizontal panel that picks up the dark tones of the tree trunks and muddy stream. The exhibit continues through Nov. 15, so the works -- which reflect the colors Welling found in July -- will become a reminder of summer when the landscape itself has turned brown.
It's Welling's eye for the same light, color and meanings that Wyeth loved that makes "Things Beyond Resemblance" so intriguing. Even if you're a relative newcomer to Wyeth's works, these strong, contemplative photographs will beckon you to discover more.
"Things Beyond Resemblance" continues through Nov. 15 at the Brandywine River Museum of Art (Route 1, Chadds Ford). The museum is open daily. Visit www.brandywinemuseum.org.
To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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