Freelance arts journalist Catherine Quillman had less than a year to complete her recently published art book “100 Artists of The Brandywine Valley” (Schiffer Publishing Ltd.) But the most challenging aspect was not, as she anticipated, writing its 256 pages. It was narrowing the field from the hundreds of accomplished artists who live and work there.
“In my publishing contract, my working title was ‘100 Artists of the Brandywine Valley,’” says Quillman, author of five books about the region. “That turned out to be a good title because it was a good way to focus on a valley long associated with a realist art movement known as the Brandywine tradition.”
Geographically, the Brandywine Valley is a diverse territory, extending some 60 miles from the source of Brandywine Creek to the Christina River. Quillman narrowed her search for 100 contemporary painters, sculptors and photographers by both their residency and their artistic approach.
The profiles here, edited for space, offer a glimpse of how the book evolved into what Quillman calls a comprehensive guide to the region’s art. The book’s six sections also present a microcosm of major art trends in America. They include Classical Realists such as sculptor A.J. “Buddy” Obara Jr. and photographer Michael Kahn, Contemporary Realists such as Peter Sculthorpe, and the Magic Realists and Storytellers of the Brandywine Valley, such as Jean Diver, Timothy Barr and Ken Mabrey. Here is a look at a few other local artists.
“100 Artists of the Brandywine Valley” is available at major area bookstores, as well as the museum shops at the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, and the Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington. For more, visit.schifferbooks.com.
Ken Mabrey was born in Dallas, Texas, and moved with his mother and brother at a young age to the northern region of Wilmington. He earned his undergraduate degree in the fine arts from Indiana University and a master’s from Yale University’s School of Art. He lives today in Arden, the historic, single-tax community established in 1900 in New Castle County. Although its residents once included Shakespearean actors and followers of the American Arts & Craft movement, Arden’s most famous association was with the socialist writer Upton Sinclair — a connection not lost on Mabrey, whose work is often centered on the failings of American society. Allowing his imaginative powers to take flight, he invents visual narratives he describes as “tempered with fantasy and braced with irony.”
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Nationally known trompe l’oeil practitioner Robert Jackson was educated at the University of Delaware, where he studied not art, but electrical engineering. Today Jackson’s still life paintings are found in museums and major collections, including that of the Brandywine River Museum, which purchased “Target the Artist” (2009), his tribute to the late Andrew Wyeth, following a major exhibit that of trompe l’oeil practitioners from across the country. Jackson is also a traditional studio painter. He works meticulously in oil, completing one painting at a time and working directly from still life objects. As he sees it, he creates painting challenges, and much like any traditional still life painter, chooses objects—apples, balloons and vintage toys are typical—not only for their textures and colors, but for their dramatic potential. They become “protagonists,” he says, when he displays them on his collection of antique bottle crates instead of what he terms “nice tabletop arrangements.” In the end, viewers can enjoy what has gone missing in still life painting: humor.
Sarah Yeoman was born in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, and spent her childhood summers in the Adirondacks. While her husband, Wilmington native Paul Skibinski, is a mixed-media artist, Yeoman reports that she “has watercolor flowing in her veins.” Well-known for exquisitely detailed landscapes, animal portraits and giant florals, Yeoman is largely self-taught. She has had an unusually diverse education, which has included the study of music, sculpture and metal-smithing at Penland Craft School in Penland, North Carolina. As a watercolorist, she says she has an almost Zen-like approach, creating imaginative (but also painted on location) scenes that “convey the immediacy and undeniable presence of the artist.” That might be a down-among-the-thistles view of Ashland Hollow, the community garden she shares with several other horticulturally minded artists in Delaware.
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Mary Page Evans is a native of Virginia who has exhibited since the 1970s, when she had gallery shows in Washington, D.C., and studied at the Corcoran School of Art. She is recognized for her mixed-media approach to the landscape, working much like a traditional plein aire painter while abstracting nature. She describes it as a process that combines close observation with constant reworking. “I am always creating and destroying until I arrive at the inevitability of this particular landscape.” Although she frequently paints her garden, Evans has found most of her subjects outside the Brandywine Valley. They include the vibrant colors of the Shenandoah Valley and the towering cloud formations seen along the beaches of Delaware and Florida.
Carolyn Chen is a Wilmington native whose background—she is a graphic designer who earned her undergraduate degree in business administration from the University of Delaware—may seem at odds with life as a painter. She is considered a classic realist in part because of her training at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where she developed a painterly approach and learned the techniques of “direct” painting, an approach defined by direct observation and on-site painting. Chen traces her ancestry back 27 generations in Hong Kong and China, and finds herself, as a first generation American, interested in maintaining ties, even if it’s in paint. “It’s a small bridge that I am making to my past.”
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A self-styled Cubist, Edward Loper Jr., is a celebrated artist in his native Wilmington. Early in his career, Loper studied at the famed Barnes Foundation on Philadelphia’s Main Line. He learned what he calls “a way to see” there, and eventually mastered the art of building form through color and composing complex scenes with little or no preliminary drawing. In his five decades of painting, Loper says he knows how to approach a scene, quickly “scrubbing” in outlines and shapes and “thinking about color later.” An on-site painter, Loper frequently looks for subjects that appeal to his heart as well as his eye. They include scenes along the Brandywine and the streetscapes of Wilmington’s West End, where he grew up. His favorite location is Manayunk, the Philadelphia neighborhood famous for its steep inclines. Lugging his paint box as he climbed up and down the slanted streets of this mini-San Francisco, Loper once found a crooked house to paint.
Allen Carter is a native of Southampton, Long Island, who has lived in the Brandywine Valley for the past 22 years. He maintains a studio in his home in Greenville, where he pursues his “post-retirement life” as a painter of portraits, still lifes, landscape and trompe l’oeil murals. “I knew what I wanted to do—paint—and not just paint, but paint as a classic realist,” Carter says of his return to college for an undergraduate degree after decades working for the international divisions of General Electric and Unisys. Carter’s Old-Master style is derived in part from visiting cities in Europe, where he embarked on a self-guided study of art history. Carter writes, “It gave me the unparalleled opportunity to see some of the greatest architecture of our times and to walk the halls of some of the world’s most renown museums.”
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A native of Wilmington, Kathleen Buckalew earned her undergraduate degree in studio art from the University of Delaware in 1978. She also earned a master’s in photography from George Washington University and studied photo preservation at the Rochester Institute of Technology. She has worked since her college graduation as a photographer, first in the photo labs of the Delaware Art Museum, later at the National Gallery of Art, where she continued to develop her darkroom skills with work that included creating archival prints from glass plate, nitrate and film negatives. In recent years Buckalew has focused on fine art portraiture, often working in a thematic series such as “The Face of Farming,” a five-year project that included images of Delaware farmers. In addition to portraits, Buckalew has developed a distinctive style with architectural forms and color-saturated landscapes.