Kuerner Farm is known for being the inspiration behind nearly 1,000 of Andrew Wyeth's paintings, including Evening at Kuerners, Spring Fed and Groundhog Day. The farm was only a short walking distance, over the hill, from where Wyeth was born and raised. Who could have ever predicted that a sorrowful chain of events would guide the artist to a powerful source of sheer brilliance?
Wyeth's Visits to the Farm
Andrew Wyeth was the youngest of four siblings. Due to Andrew's poor health, his father N.C. Wyeth, a talented artist, became not only his home tutor, but also his art teacher, developing the young boy's deep passion and natural skill for painting landscape. Under his father's guidance, Andrew quickly mastered the art of watercolors.
During one of his walks, young Andrew discovered the Kuerner farm and soon became intrigued by the couple who owned it, especially the man Karl, who told him great stories of his experience in the German army. He developed a close relationship and fondness for the Kuerners, and over the following years of friendship, he gained enough trust to be granted the privilege to freely roam the grounds, as well as the house and barn, in order to paint and draw as he pleased.
After N. C. Wyeth’s tragic death, Andrew found a surrogate father in Karl Kuerner as he longed to have a male figure in his life. In 1948, he began painting Karl and his wife Anna, along with every changing detail of their farm. Interestingly, the farm’s location was only a few yards away from the site of his father’s accident.
Between 1971 and 1985, Helga Testorf, a caregiver, baker and musician, whom Andrew met at the Kuerner farm while she was tending to Karl, became a primary subject for his work, without Helga's husband or Wyeth's wife being aware of it. Helga had no modeling experience but felt quite comfortable in allowing the artist to study her for extended periods of time while he painted her meticulously. Most of the Helga paintings present her as a passive and unsmiling woman.
Today, tours of the Kuerner farm are available at Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford. The museum acquired the farm in 1999, thanks to Karl Kuerner. Later in 2004, educational tours of the site were offered to the public. Kuerner Farm Tours last one hour, Thursday through Sunday, from April 1st to November 21st. Children under six years old are not permitted to partake in the tour. Transportation to the farm is by shuttle bus from the Brandywine River Museum only. On the tour, visitors can view reproductions of Wyeth's work, as well as many parts of the barn, house and property that were the basic inspiration to so many of Andrew Wyeth’s masterpieces.
Brandywine River Museum also offers tours of the N. C. Wyeth House and Studio, where both N. C. Wyeth and Andrew Wyeth lived and worked. These tours are scheduled from Tuesday through Sunday, April 1st through November 21st. Transportation is by shuttle bus only.
A Bit of History
In 1911, N.C. Wyeth bought 18 acres of land in Chadds Ford, where he raised and nurtured a creative family. After his death, Mrs. Wyeth remained living in the house until 1973. In 1977, the property was granted National Historic Landmark Status. Today, the Brandywine River Museum owns the land and buildings, which are meticulously maintained in order to keep the original character of the site.
Andrew Wyeth’s first exhibition was held in 1937, in New York City at Macbeth Gallery. It was the onset of his famous career as his entire collection sold out. Although Wyeth received numerous honorary degrees throughout his lifetime, his work has always been considered controversial. You can find his paintings in collections at nearly every major American museum. Andrew Wyeth died at home in his sleep on January 16th, 2009 at the age of 91, after a brief illness.
- by Dan Woods