CHADDS FORD, Pa. — There is a sign on the door of Andrew Wyeth’s studio that indicates how much the famous painter valued his privacy. It reads, “I am working so please do not disturb.” Added is a preemptory “I do not sign autographs,” in case the would-be intruder were a fan.
Three years after the artist’s death, at 91, the doors of that studio are being thrown open, with tours beginning July 3. Fans are expected in large numbers.
Wyeth’s widow, Betsy, donated to the Brandywine River Museum the former schoolhouse that served as their home and her husband’s studio. The gift, when combined with Andrew’s father N.C. Wyeth’s home and the Kuerner Farm, gives the museum and its parent organization, the Brandywine Conservancy, a trifecta that is sure to please anyone interested in Andrew Wyeth and his work. Each attraction is located less than a mile from the museum, where tours regularly depart.
Andrew Wyeth’s time, both as a child and in his later years, was split between these hills in southeastern Pennsylvania and coastal Maine, where the family summered. (It was in Cushing, Maine, that he painted “Christina’s World” in 1948, the work that, after being purchased by the Museum of Modern Art, made him famous.)
The studio in Chadds Ford was built as a schoolhouse in 1875, and Wyeth lived and worked here from 1940 until 1961. Subsequently, he retained the building as a studio and used it until 2008. Thousands of Wyeth’s works, many featuring the farmlands and open spaces of the Brandywine Valley, were painted at the studio. The famous “Helga” paintings were done here, as well as those of Kuerner Farm, to which young Wyeth walked through the woods as a child.
What draws people to the studio of a famous artist? “I think they’re trying to understand what went into the work, what was his thinking,” said Lora B. Englehart, public relations coordinator for the conservancy. “They’re also curious about what kind of environment he lived and worked in.”
The building retains the essence of both the man and the artist. Wyeth made sure the building was practically swallowed by the surrounding trees and brush. This, along with the sign on the door, enabled him to work in peace, for the most part.
“Locals didn’t know he lived here,” said tour guide Catherine Reich.
The house has been set up to look as it might have in the 1950s, one of the artist’s most fruitful periods. The tour begins in the foyer, which served as the family dining room. It is replete with photographs of family and friends, as well as works of art that inspired Wyeth. Off the foyer is the kitchen. It was to here that a proud Wyeth would race from his back studio to hang his latest painting over the mantel.
The interior has some charming oddities: In a closet stands a human-sized roll of imported Italian watercolor paper, the kind Wyeth favored, and two walls retain the scribbled numbers the artist used to jot down while on the phone, much to his wife’s dismay.
The largest room is filled with costumes as well as the thousands of toy soldiers Wyeth collected throughout his life. Bach, the artist’s favorite soundtrack to work by, plays quietly on a stereo.
At the far end is a section that son Jamie, born in 1946 and a well-known painter in his own right, used for a time in the late 1960s. He has re-created this space, even smearing oil paint on the easel to give visitors the sense of a recently working artist. The smell of the paint carries through the rooms, adding a welcome sensory element to the tour.
The studio at the rear of the house is where Andrew worked. The artist’s credo that “art is messy” is manifest here, with drawings and sketches all over the floor and materials laid about, including the eggs he bought at a local store from which he made tempera, the thicker type of paint he was famous for using.
What first strikes visitors here are the two large windows. Wyeth found the north light to be the most consistent, and it floods the room as it did in the artist’s day. The museum has decided to keep the ceiling and walls as Wyeth left them — the paint is cracked and fading, and the whole room has a distressed look that the artist felt put him in touch with the textures he so often re-created in his work.
Brandywine River Museum
1 Hoffman’s Mill Road, 610-388-2700, www.brandywine
museum.org. The museum is featuring through Oct. 28 the exhibit “A Painter’s View: The Andrew Wyeth Studio.” Studio tour through Nov. 18; adults $20, seniors $16, students age 6 and up $14. Fee includes museum admission. Book ahead.