Local art presence strong at CFES

While there were artists from all over, local artists and history were strong at this year's Chadds Ford Elementary School Art Sale and Show.

That art history, as one would expect, shows the influence of the Wyeth Family. It was Betsy Wyeth, the wife of Andrew and the mother of Jamie, who started the event in 1948. But that legacy continues through other artists, and the one artist who ties the elements of the history together is Chadds Ford's Karl Kuerner.

Kuerner's first teacher was Carolyn Wyeth, the sister of Andrew and the daughter of N.C. Wyeth. And it was Kuerner's family farm that Andrew Wyeth used as a subject and inspiration for many of his paintings. The farm belonged to the young Kuerner's grandparents.

He told the audience during a Saturday afternoon talk that, unbeknownst to him, his father took some of "Young Karl's" drawings to Wyeth and she said she wanted to talk to him. He was 13 years old at the time.

Concord Township artist Annette Alessi, left, with her friend Helga Testorf. Testorf referred to Alessi as her "protégé."

After their initial talk, Kuerner said, "She told me, ‘I've seen your drawings. Now go home, go home and do something that means something to you.' I thought it was like homework."

A short time later, the 13-year-old walked over to his grandparents where Andrew Wyeth was painting and asked him if would be OK for him to paint the farm.

"It was my family's property, but it was Andy's turf," Kuerner told the crowd. "He told me, ‘If you see it through, you'll have your own voice.'"

With all the technique he learned from the Wyeths, Kuerner said the main thing that he learned was to paint what you love.

"Andy talked about commitment, what it means to be an artist, to work every day and put emotion into it," he said.

That's the lesson Kuerner applies to all his work: "Every piece I do is from my own life history. Everything is intimate to me."

He said he also learned never to grow up, to keep looking at things as a child might. "If you do that," he said, "you'll never grow old."

He shared one humorous story about his relationship with the Wyeths. He said that Andy took over as his mentor after Carolyn died. And one day he asked Andy for a suggestion on one of his projects. While he didn't say what the suggestion was, he did say, "It was the worst mistake I ever made."

Art hunters look for something to buy.

Ironically, while he has judged the show before, this was the first year Kuerner showed at the CFES Art Sale and Show. He praised the event and its tradition.

"Obviously, it wouldn't be here if it wasn't for Betsy. But having an opportunity to show here and share an intimate part of Chadds Ford is significant."

Though Kuerner was the only native Chadds Ford artist showing, other Chadds Ford area residents took part.

Jacalyn Beam, of Pennsbury Township, who began the plein air event at the Chadds Ford Historical Society, was the donating artist this year, and it was only the second time for her showing at the school.

"This is a great show. It supports educational programming, which is so important," she said.

Chadds Ford photographers Rob Porter and Bob Lott were showing this year, as was Jerry Dowling, of Concord Township, who studied for a time with Kuerner.

Chadds Ford photographer Rob Porter checks out a photo someone took on her cell phone.

Dowling, like Beam, said supporting the school is important. "It means hometown to me," he said.

Judy McCabe Jarvis, a former Chadds Ford resident, also said it's important to help the school. Her ties to CFES include that fact her two daughters went to the school.

This year's featured artist was Len Garon, who has no residential ties to the Chadds Ford area but has been showing at the event for longer than any of the others. Garon has been in the show for 37 years and the featured artist three times.

"I love this show, the food and the people, the school tradition and the Wyeth connection," Garon said. "The people are arty and real, and everybody is a volunteer. It's nice to come back every year and see old faces and renew friendships."

This year's featured artist Len Garon marks a card letting shoppers know the painting has been sold.

Another artist from Concord Township is Annette Alessi, who has her own Wyeth connection in the person of Helga Testorf who gained notoriety as the model in more than 40 Andrew Wyeth paintings and drawings.

Testorf said she saw Alessi's art for the first time at the CFES show about three years ago and fell in love with her work. "She's my protégé," Testorf said.

The Chadds Ford Elementary School Art Sale and Show is a fundraising event for the school's PTO with 30 percent of the sale price of each piece being donated to the PTO. Final figures for the two-day event were not available at press time, but event Chairman Nichole Scull said Saturday that Friday night grossed roughly $30,000.







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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