Civic group honors Karl Kuerner

The names Wyeth and Kuerner are deeply rooted in Chadds Ford culture. Indeed, artist Andrew Wyeth used the Kuerner Farm as a backdrop, and its owners as models, in numerous paintings.

The farm represents a family legacy, and when Karl Kuerner Jr. — the son of the man Wyeth befriended in the early part of the 20th century — donated the family farm to the Brandywine Conservancy, a visual piece of artistic and cultural history was preserved.

 Karl Kuerner Jr., left, accepts the congratulations of being named Outstanding Citizen from Bruce Prabel, whom the Civic Association named Outstanding Citizen last year.

Karl Kuerner Jr., left, accepts the congratulations of being named Outstanding Citizen from Bruce Prabel, whom the Civic Association named Outstanding Citizen last year.

In honor of that, the Chadds Ford Civic Association presented Kuerner with its Outstanding Citizen award during the group’s Oct. 21 members’ meeting hosted, fittingly, by the Brandywine River Museum.

Kuerner still gathers hay on the Ring Road farm, and the museum runs tours through the property and occasionally offers art classes there.

Civic Association President Bill Delaney called Kuerner a “very generous man and a true patriot,” and quoted Kuerner’s son, the artist Karl J. Kuerner III, saying the elder Kuerner is “a true man of the earth.”

Last year’s outstanding citizen, Bruce Prabel, who said he had “unlimited admiration” for the elder Kuerner, read the award:

“Karl Kuerner Jr. selflessly donated 33 acres of the family farm to the Brandywine Conservancy in 1999. The Kuerner Farm on Ring Road has earned the United States National Historic Landmark and the U.S. National Register of Historic Places designation thanks to the philanthropic spirit of Karl Kuerner Jr. and his family.”

Karl Kuerner Sr., a former soldier in the German Army during WWI, came to Chadds Ford in the 1920s. Wyeth’s first painting of the farm and the family came in the early 1930s. Kuerner Sr. and his wife, Anna, worked the farm and raised five children.

Their only son, Karl Kuerner Jr., continued the family’s farming legacy. His son, Karl J. Kuerner III, picked up on the Wyeth influence and became a renowned artist in his own right. The younger Kuerner even studied under Andrew Wyeth’s sister, Carolyn.

During the Civic Association meeting, father and son took part in a program commenting on a variety of photographs and paintings – some by Wyeth and some by Kuerner.

One of young Karl’s paintings, “Unloading Straw” shows his father unloading straw in the barn. He refers to it as “the ultimate portrait of my father.”

“It’s his church. It’s his cathedral,” the younger Kuerner told the audience. “It explains his whole life to me as a son. Of course, it was easier to paint than unload the wagon.”

Chadds Ford musician Skip Barthold entertains before the start of the meeting.

Chadds Ford musician Skip Barthold entertains before the start of the meeting.

Two other Kuerner paintings depict the link between his and the Wyeth family. One, showing a train rounding a bend at night, is called “Out of Nowhere.” It represents the train that killed N.C. Wyeth when the illustrator’s car stalled on the railroad tracks on Ring Road.

Young Karl said his father was at the scene of the accident and told him, “That train must have come out of nowhere.”

The other painting is “Andy at Work,” a portrait of Andy Wyeth who was at the Kuerner home working on a drawing. According to Kuerner III:

“When I was younger, I had asked Andy if he would pose for me. He blew me off saying, ‘I usually paint. I don’t sit.’…But, I did catch him coming over to our place to do some drawing, and I had the chance to sit behind him. He didn’t even know I did this. At the end of the day he asked, ‘What do you think of my drawing?’ I said, ‘I really don’t care about your drawing.’ He said, ‘Oh my God, you got me.’”

State Rep. Stephen Barrar, R-160, also attended the event and gave the elder Kuerner a state flag and read a citation from the House of Representatives. He said the donation of the farm allows the conservancy to protect the farm’s “natural and cultural resources for many years to come.”

About Rich Schwartzman

Rich Schwartzman has been reporting on events in the greater Chadds Ford area since September 2001 when he became the founding editor of The Chadds Ford Post. In April 2009 he became managing editor of ChaddsFordLive. He is also an award-winning photographer.

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