Familiar faces reconnect at CFES

The words most often used by multiple artists and one principal were, “It’s great” and “It’s fantastic.”

“It” refers to the 73rd annual Art Show and Sale at Chadds Ford Elementary School. The event opened Friday night, and it was the first time the show was live and in-person in three years. The last time was 2019, pre-COVID.

The show is a major fundraiser for the CFES PTO, which gets 30 percent of the proceeds. And while it was exciting for the school, it was also special for the artists. Many of them only see one another at events such as the CFES show.

“It feels fantastic. There’s nothing like being with people,” said Annette Alessi on being back in person.

Friends. Artist Annette Alessi shares a moment with a friend and loyal supporter, Helga Testorf who posed often for Andy Wyeth.

And even beyond the sense of joy of being in person again, the annual art show at the school is special to her.

“I’ve been showing here for about 16 years, and I feel like I’m a part of history, part of the Wyeth tradition, and I feel like it’s a little reunion. So, it’s definitely special to me.”

While the past two years were disruptive to normal life, Alessi said she was able to use the time constructively. She said she was able to refine and refocus her energy and that allowed her more time to paint.

Jacalyn Beam has been showing at Chadds Ford Elementary for about five or six years. She said it’s basically her hometown show.

“I was born and raised in Chester County, so my schooling and background were all about the Wyeths in art classes. And I live here, I live in the Brandywine Valley, and I love it. I have painted in national juried plein air events for the past two years [in Texas, California, and New England], and I like painting Chester County and the Brandywine Valley the best.”

This year’s event hit her stronger than ever.

“I’m so excited [to be back in person]. I was thrilled to be invited back. First, it’s a nice group of ladies [referring to the PTO]. They take such good care of you; I can’t say enough about that. But besides that, this is the story of this land. This is Chadds Ford, and the people who live in Chadds Ford recognize these scenes. So, my heart is here, my spirit is here, the images are here, and I really enjoy being with these people,” Beam said.

As with the others, Nicki Wandersee said it’s great to be back in person.

“I really missed it. It’s better to see everybody, to talk to the other artists and meet the people who want to come in and look at the art. It’s great.”

She added that the COVID years have had an effect on her art, making her “a little more creative, taking more chances with my art.”

Helena van Emmerik-Finn has been showing at CFES for 17 years. She appreciates how it all began with Betsy Wyeth, Andy’s wife, starting it in 1949 and then staying involved when her sons Nicholas and Jamie were in school.

“It’s being a part of history, the fact that the Wyeths started this, and to have a piece of mine hanging in this school, it’s just such an honor,” she said.

As for being back in person, she said, “It’s great and a relief.”

Rick Phillips was this year’s featured artist, and he’s been taking part in the Chadds Ford show for about 10 years. So why does he keep coming back? History and camaraderie.

“I love the history of the Wyeths and the fact that they started the show. And these are my friends. I live in Claymont, and this is like a hometown show for me,” he said.

And while he said there’s no extra significance for him that the show is live for the first time in three years, he likes that it is live again.

“I’m just glad to be back. It’s nice to be able to see reactions to your work. And the artists, too. We’re like a big family because most of us know one another. And the patrons, you get to know them, too,” Phillips said.

And the artists weren’t the only people excited for the art show to be back in person.

Danielle Clark is the principal at CFES, and this year’s art show was her first in-person show as principal. She said her excitement began the day before the opening.

“When I came in yesterday, as the PTO was setting up and working with the artists, I was just in awe and overwhelmed by the quality of the pieces, the investment that the volunteers have to our school, and opening the school to our community is just fantastic. What better way to celebrate the arts and our school and marry the two together? It’s amazing.”

And coming off the COVID-caused shutdown of so many events, getting back in person is significant for Clark.

“The community was already supportive of our school, and the connection between the Brandywine Valley and the arts and history is already there, but having this be in-person … What a better opportunity to have people in our building? It’s just amazing to have people here.”

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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