A Visit to Andrew Wyeth’s America: Brandywine, Pennsylvania

Stark. Imposing. Untouched. Pennsylvania’s Brandywine Valley, with its rolling hills, vast estates, and unspoiled countryside, has been called the England of Pennsylvania. Steeped in American tradition, it was in these hills the revolutionary soldiers fought British troops in their quest for freedom. Centuries later, Americans turn to the area as an oasis and escape. These vistas and valleys are where renowned American landscape artist Andrew Wyeth set his austere, though bucolic, vision of the American landscape and the real people who inhabit it.

The Brandywine Valley is unlike other heavily trafficked historical areas in the eastern U.S. It has a story and a soundtrack uniquely its own. With a heavy focus on Americana and aesthetic contradictions, the valley just southwest of Philadelphia offers city travelers and families a distinctly American portrait of pastoral life that is as true today as it was nearly a century ago when Wyeth took out his easel and watercolors.

Brandywine Battlefield Park

Long before the tragedy in 2001, September 11 already had historical significance. On this date in 1777, George Washington’s Continental Army fell to General Howe’s British forces, allowing the redcoats to take Philadelphia in the coming weeks. This led to a turning point in Washington’s military strategy, which he honed over the winter of 1777 and 1778 in nearby Valley Forge. Despite the loss, the Battle of Brandywine stands as a significant event in the Revolutionary War.

Today, a 50-acre park marks the battle site as well as the encampment for the continental army. The sites of Washington and Lafayette’s headquarters are still open for public viewing, and a modern visitor’s center educates travelers and displays artifacts from the war, including uniforms, rifles, and other weapons. Throughout the year, Brandywine Battlefield Park Associates presents events, reenactments, and history camps for interested participants who want to learn more about this important historical site.

Brandywine River Museum of Art

Although his name is the one most closely associated with the land itself, Andrew Wyeth is only one of three generations of Wyeth artists to live in the Brandywine Valley. The works of the Wyeth family, along with other American and regional artists, are on display at the Brandywine River Museum of Art in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania.

The very architecture of the museum is a significant part of its appeal, capturing the essence of Americana along with the particular aesthetics of Andrew; his father, illustrator N.C. Wyeth; and his son, Jamie Wyeth. Built along the banks of the Brandywine River in an old grist mill that dates back to the 19th century, the museum offers a visual representation of the region and its people. As Andrew Wyeth himself once stated, the meaning of this place (and his work featuring it) “is hiding behind the mask of truth” and available for all who are willing to see it.

The Brandywine River

Sometimes called river, sometimes called creek, the body of water that shares its name with this region is a significant part of its appeal. Stretching 20 miles along southeastern Pennsylvania and the northern tip of Delaware, the Brandywine is the geographic feature that defines and outlines this region.

All along the banks are opportunities to take in the sites and the bounty provided by the river, but many prefer to experience it via canoe, kayak, or inner tube for a little fun and exercise. Any of these options are a great way for families to spend a warm afternoon.

Mt. Cuba Center

The art and landscape of the Brandywine Valley is only possible because of its delicate natural balance. From the local flora and fauna to the preserved lands and massive estates throughout the region, the Brandywine area requires a lot of maintenance. The Mt. Cuba Center, a botanical garden located in Hockessin, Delaware, focuses on just that.

Founded by Mr. and Mrs. Lammot du Pont Copeland, the center sits adjacent to the family’s former home on a hilltop overlooking the countryside. Its mission as an oasis of preservation and life for the Brandywine Valley makes it the literal keeper of the beauty that surrounds it. Mt. Cuba offers educational and creative events and classes that tap into a wide range of interests, from the annual Summer Splash to plant-collecting field trips.

Americana Realized: Your Trip to Brandywine

Open and rustic, at times stark, but always pure, the lands, mansions, and highways of the Brandywine region serve as a stark contrast to the hustle of Philadelphia just a few miles away. Steeped in history and marked by an aesthetic that is purely American, the lands Andrew Wyeth depicted in his watercolors haven’t changed much in nearly 100 years. The area offers travelers from near and far a chance to step back in time while remaining firmly rooted in the here and now. Timeless and true, a visit to the Brandywine Valley is one you won’t soon forget.

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