From Calder to Wyeth, Two Families Sum Up the Philadelphia Art Scene

Only a few regions can call themselves home to a dynasty of famous artists; Philadelphia and The Countryside has had several.

Over the last three centuries, a trio of generations of both Wyeths and Calders has made significant contributions to the area and the art world.

Their work is a must-see for any visit here.

Tucked back in an old gristmill, the Brandywine River Museum is home to the collection of the Wyeth family, by all accounts a dynasty of dynamic artists. Renowned for its holdings of the Wyeth family of artists, the Museum features galleries dedicated to the work of N. C. Wyeth, Andrew Wyeth and Jamie Wyeth. The Museum’s outstanding Heritage Collection is a cross section of American art, with a special focus on artistic practice in the Brandywine valley. Victoria's great-grandfather, Newell Convers (N.C.) Wyeth (1882-1945), was a painter and illustrator, best known for his contributions to classics such as Treasure Island, Robin Hood and Robinson Crusoe; and her grandfather, Andrew (1917-2009), made a name for himself as an "Americana" landscape and portrait painter. Andrew is famous for secretly creating more than 200 paintings and studies of his neighbor Helga — many of them nude — and for working skillfully with challenging media, such as watercolor and egg tempera.

Andrew's son Jamie (born in 1946) upholds his family's artistic tradition and vision. Like the two generations of Wyeth men before him, his paintings fall under the Brandywine School tradition: focusing on the people, animals and landscapes of the region. Also like the Wyeth men before him, Jamie's works have been described as mythological, whimsical, humorous and even "strange" and "macabre."

As the Wyeths painted freely in the Pennsylvania countryside, another family was working diligently nearby in a different medium. The area's three generations of Alexander Calders — Alexander Milne (1846-1923), Alexander Stirling (1870-1945) and Alexander "Sandy" (1898-1976) — were all prominent sculptors, and contributed significantly to Philadelphia's public art scene.

Alexander Milne is best known for creating some 250 sculptural ornaments for Philadelphia's City Hall in 1894, including the much-loved William Penn bronze statue which stands atop the building. Alexander Milne's son, Alexander Stirling, also worked in Philadelphia, sculpting Swann Memorial Fountain — a working fountain in the center of Logan Circle that consists of three large pieces representing the Delaware, the Schuylkill and the Wissahickon. Stirling also created many of the sculptures found on the University of Pennsylvania's Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

The younger Alexander Calder, "Sandy," is credited with having invented the mobile. Like his father and grandfather, Sandy's work can also be found on the Ben Franklin Parkway — both on the street and inside the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Where his father and grandfather favored the figurative tradition, Sandy preferred abstraction and in his later years, large-scale works. We bring the arts to life, inspiring visitors—through scholarly study and creative play—to discover the spirit of imagination that lies in everyone.

We connect people with the arts in rich and varied ways, making the experience of the Museum surprising, lively, and always memorable.

Looking at the words of these six gifted artists — not to mention that of the Peale and Sartain families — it seems there must be something about Philadelphia that encourages and retains multiple generations of great artists.

 

share this article