Brief Trip Log of Brandywine River Valley Sights
A trip log by Evelyn C. Leeper
Copyright 2017 Evelyn C. Leeper

[Who Shall Be Captain - Howard Pyle] [Treasure Island End Paper - N C Wyeth] [The Buccaneer as a Picturesque Fellow - Howard Pyle]

Last week Mark and I did a two-day "getaway" to the Brandywine River Valley in Delaware and Pennsylvania. Our first stop was Second Time Books in Mt. Laurel, a fabulous used bookstore, where we picked up a couple of books about infinity, a couple of anthologies of new Cthulhu stories, and a few other odds and ends.

We then drove to Wilmington, Delaware, for the main stop of the day, the Delaware Art Museum (seniors $10). This is known for its collection of works from "the Golden Age of Illustration" (the 1880s through the early 20th century), in particular those of Howard Pyle. In fact, four of the sixteen galleries are devoted to Pyle. Pyle was one of the first of the Golden Age illustrators (for example, he illustrated James Branch Cabell's works), and also wrote adventure books such as The Story of King Arthur and His Knightsand The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, which he also then illustrated. He is probably best known for his paintings and other illustrations of pirates. His visualization of pirate dress has been the major influence on pirate costumes in movies and popular fiction ever since, even though it is extremely fantastical and highly impractical. But his detail in clothing--the blousing of a sleeve, for example--makes the picture stick in the mind of the viewer.

Just as Pyle's pirate illustrations influenced pirate films, his painting on display here for A. R. H. Ransom's "General Lee as I Knew Him" may well have been the inspiration for the scene of Lee with his troops in the film Gettysburg.

Another gallery is "The Art of the Book Cover" from the 17th century to the present--or rather to the point when dust jackets made decorative covers unnecessary. They also had a terrific temporary exhibit of the work of Mac Conner, known for his illustrations in the "Saturday Evening Post", "Colliers", and other magazines of the 1940s and 1950s. (In spite of the exhibition title referencing the television series "Mad Men", Conner had nothing to do with it, or with Madison Avenue advertising agencies.)

Dinner was at Southeast Kitchen. The Khmer Chicken Wings (10 for $12) were quite good, but due to some confusion we ended up with Yellow Chicken Curry ($10) rather than Vietnamese Yellow Chicken Curry ($14). The latter was highly recommended on Yelp and/or TripAdvisor; what we got was just okay. (It could also be that the former was overrated--we will never know.)

The second day we drove to Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, for the Brandywine River Museum, a.k.a. "the Wyeth Museum" (seniors $15), because its focus is the work of the Wyeth family: N. C., Andrew, and Jamie. N. C. Wyeth was from the Golden Age of Illustration, was a student of Howard Pyle, and is probably best known for his cover paintings and illustrations for many of the Scribner Classics series of books: Treasure Island (and other Stevenson titles), The Last of the Mohicans, and my childhood favorite, The Mysterious Island. (I read the latter so many times that it literally fell apart.)

N. C.'s son Andrew Wyeth is best known for the painting "Christina's World", though obviously he has hundreds of other works. While Pyle tended to use a very vibrant palette, and N. C. Wyeth did as well (though occasionally muting his colors), Andrew Wyeth's palette seems to be almost entirely white, black, gray, and brown. Even when other colors creep in, they tend to be very muted. Andrew's son Jamie uses more color than Andrew, but has not returned to the full intensity of the Golden Age.

The museum had a large gallery of the works of the three Wyeths, but it also had a major exhibit of Andrew Wyeth specifically, with 73 works and covering half of each of two floors, in honor of his centennial. ("Christina's World" was not among them; it hangs in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.) The rest of the museum consisted of landscape paintings and still lifes, which were not our primary focus.

After the museum, the plan was to visit Baldwin's Book Barn in West Chester, the largest used bookstore in the Philadelphia area (for a loose definition of "the Philadelphia area"). It was not really far from the museum but it took us an hour to get there. We followed the GPS until we got to a point where the road was closed, with tape blocking our lane. So we tried to drive around and approach from the other side. This was not easy, and when we had finally circled around, we discovered that the road was ever more closed at that end (with tape completely across both lanes). So we went back to the first detour and drove around the tape. As it turned out, the reason for the detour was a little further down the road than the Barn, so we were able to reach the Barn. According to the owner other customers had also managed to get there, but some did have to call for directions. (We tried to call, but had no reception on our cell phone!)

It was worth it just to see the place. It's a renovated barn, with floors added, so that there are now five floors. The fifth is an overflow storage area. The fourth is confusing--the two sides are not directly connected, so you have to go down to the third floor, cross over to the other side, then climb the stairs there. (Oh, and there are only narrow, somewhat steep stairs--people with mobility issues should probably skip this store.)

The science fiction and literature are behind a closed door on the third floor that does not look like a door for customers to go through. (It's closed because the other side has gaps which would let the air conditioning/heat escape.) The literature (and poetry) sections at least are alphabetized by author--most of the (non-fiction) sections seem randomly shelved. On the other hand, United States travel/history books are separated by state (when appropriate), and foreign ones by country.

There used to be a bargain room, but that seems to have been converted into a military room. There is a set of floor plans, but it's a bit hard to read.

At the present, they are not buying books, or rather they are buying only high-end books, because they are just swamped. I did note a couple of fairly empty sections: mathematics and North Dakota, but on the whole, the shelves were pretty full. Most of the shelves are wooden crates on their sides, stacked from floor to ceiling.

After an hour here (not nearly enough if I were in a serious book-buying mode, but I am trying to avoid that these days), we left and went to the Agave Mexican Restaurant for lunch. This was actually right near the museum, but it did not take an hour to get back. I had Molote de Tinga (Mexican fried ravioli stuffed with chicken and seasonings, $14) and Mark had the Torta de Carnitas (traditional Mexican sandwich with pulled pork and seasonings, $10). Both were good, and not what we usually see on the menus here (but also not standard Tex-Mex dishes. Mark's torta was quite substanial, but most people would say the portion size of my dish was a bit skimpy.

And then home.

For people interested in the Golden Age of Illustration, these two museums are a perfect pairing. (I will note that eastern Pennsylvania also has the Frazette Museum, but that is much further north, near Allentown/Bethelem/Easton.)


Evelyn C. Leeper (