The Brandywine River Museum: Art in a magical landscape

The many rapidly flowing streams in southeastern
Pennsylvania were logical places for settlers in the 1700’s and 1800’s to build
grist mills, using the power of running water to turn wheels and grind corn and
wheat into flour.

In 1864, as the Civil War raged in neighboring states, George
Brinton built Hoffman’s Mill at a well-traveled crossroads near present day
Chadds Ford. In 1967, Hoffman’s Mill and the surrounding land was purchased by
the Tri-County Conservancy under the auspices of local artist George A.
“Frolic” Weymouth to preserve the meadowland on the banks of the Brandywine.

addition to land conservation, the other main project was restoring the mill.
Work began in March 1970 and by its opening on June 19, 1971, the building had
been converted into the Brandywine River Museum, its newly renovated rustic
façade standing proudly along the riverbank. Today the millstone is a symbol of
the Brandywine Conservancy and several of them dot the museum property.

Ever since Howard Pyle brought his art school to Wilmington
around the year 1900, the local rolling hills, tree-lined riverbanks and
adjacent structures have been the subject of hundreds of paintings in what
became known as the Brandywine School. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of
this movement is the subtle interplay of art and nature, showcased in such
elegant pieces as “August” by
Weymouth, “Pennsylvania Landscape” by
Andrew Wyeth and “The Spring House”by
N.C. Wyeth. Aside from the many paintings by the Wyeths over the last century,
names such as Barclay Rubincam, William Trost Richards and Rea Redifer come to
mind as ones who cherished the history and natural beauty of this area, making
them a focus of their work. It is the special bond between the artist and the
inspirational natural surroundings that produces truly great works of art which
stand the test of time. Whether realist, abstract or post-modern, artistic
creations in this sublime setting have reflected the delicate grace of flowers,
trees and flowing currents nearby through piercing hues and deft brushstrokes.

Due to rapidly expanding housing developments and industry,
land conservation has become a major cause for preservationists throughout the
United States. It is because the southern Chester County region has become such
an attractive a place to live and do business that citizens across the
political spectrum have come together to shield treasured areas from the
encroachment of progress. Their efforts often intertwine with those of the
museum, with artists painting protected landscapes and conservationists
preserving the environment which forms their subject matter. Regional planners
and horticulturists regularly coordinate their work with that of the Conservancy,
with programs discussing this symbiotic relationship a focus for both groups.

The Brandywine Conservancy has been dedicated to not only
preserving our precious landscapes, but also spreading the word about
conservation through a series of workshops and lectures. This Spring the museum
begins its 41st year with improving public awareness of its history
and ongoing projects. In March, there will be a series of late morning lectures
each starting at 11 a.m. highlighting these topics. On March 14, associate
educator Jane Flitner will present “Art
and Nature”
, featuring works of art from the museum’s collection. The
following week, senior planner Sheila Fleming will present her lecture “The Brandywine Creek Greenway” focusing
on environmental management along a 30-mile corridor running from Honeybrook to
Chadds Ford. Horticulture coordinator and photographer Mark Gormel will give a
first hand look at the plants and animals of the region in his talk titled “Native Plants of the Brandywine Region and
their Liaisons”
on March 28th.

When visiting the Brandywine River Museum, you’ll see not
only a large collection of outstanding paintings by their native sons the
Wyeths, but also many other people who spent time in the region and captured
its rural beauty. One comes away from a tour through the Museum with a greater
appreciation for the important place these artists hold in the great family of
American landscape painters. So, the next time you see a work of art by one of
this area’s well-known talents or simply view one of the magnificent protected
panoramas around the Brandywine Valley, remember that it’s all possible because
a visionary artist captured a moment in time… and a conservationist helped
preserve it, for us all to enjoy.

For information on the Museum, go to For more
information about the author of this article, visit his website at or e-mail him at

About Gene Pisasale

Gene Pisasale is an historian, author and lecturer based in Kennett Square, Pa. His eight books and historic lecture series focus on the history of the mid-Atlantic region. Gene’s latest book is Alexander Hamilton: Architect of the American Financial System, which delves into the life and many accomplishments of this important Founding Father who almost single-handedly transformed our nation from a bankrupt entity into the most successful country in the history of mankind. Gene’s books are available on His website is; he can be reached at



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