I’d like to introduce you to some of my dear old friends. These friends are not living, breathing people, though. They are treasured works of art that I first met in my youth. The introductions were made by my grandmother on my mother’s side – “Memar” as we called her – one of four names bestowed upon my grandparents by my sister many many years ago. As the first born grandchild, she was granted the distinct honor of determining what we would call our grandparents. Three of the four names stuck until their deaths. The fourth – my grandfather on my mother’s side and Memar’s husband – decided after a brief indulgence that “Bepop” was not going to do, and instructed us all to instead please call him “Grandad.”
As early as I can remember, whenever we visited Memar and Grandad at their home in Kennett Square, PA, we would almost always make a trip to the Brandywine River Museum, in nearby Chadds Ford. I imagine that our first excursion occurred around the holidays, as the Brandywine has an amazing Christmas exhibit, of decorations, dolls and trains. My memories of childhood are filled with the shear joy and wonder of watching those model trains zip around seemingly miles of tiny track. Those Yuletide trips, while always highlighted by the holiday displays, were typically accompanied by a quick visit with the aforementioned old friends.
These friends have wonderful names. “Den-Den”, Blind Pew”, “Christina’s World” – these and many more were the friends we’d come back to see over and over again. They waited for us patiently, adorning the walls of the converted mill that became the Brandywine museum. The building itself caught my attention from the get-go, a premonition of the my future vocation.
But it was these friends that were the reason for our visits. What a treat it was to enjoy their company as we gazed upon the tempera brush strokes that made up their wonderful images. While these friends had many different creators, our favorites were those painted by the three generations of Wyeths.
As a young child, I first made friends with those created by the patriarch of the Wyeth trio – NC. He was a prolific painter best known for his illustrations that adorned some of the classics. I recall being mesmerized by my friends from “Robin Hood”, “The Deerslayer”, and “Treasure Island.” As a very small child, some of them were a bit frightening, yet I always had to visit them just the same.
As I grew older, I befriended NC’s son Andrew. The best known of the trio, Andrew’s works run a wide range, with only some initially appealing to the younger me, and now all speaking to me in deep and profound ways each time I am in their company. Memar knew Andrew from her docent days at the Brandywine, and I shall never forget the day, several years ago, when she pointed to an elderly man who was strolling along the river whose name the museum carries. “That’s Andrew,” she simply said. I felt as is I was in the presence of royalty. Or the creator of many of my dear old friends.
NC’s grandson and Andrew’s son Jamie Wyeth created some friends who were a bit more bold and edgy than those of his dad and grandfather. His painting of a brash young man in motorcycle leathers and dark shades was one I always find to be both exciting and fascinating. He strikes me as someone trying to be much cooler and older than he is, yearning to be seen as a rebel, though unsure how to truly play the part.
But perhaps my best friend of all is a huge and happy fellow named Den-den. The very large canvas is home to a tremendous pig. He seems to be smiling, as he stands atop straw and is bathed in a lovely light. Yet his expression also conveys something else, as if he was in possession of some wonderful secret, and is daring me to guess what it is. To this day as I return to visit my friends, I always stop and enjoy Den-den’s company, hoping that one day his secret will be revealed. And he’s always there for me, just like good dear friend should be.