plein air events - Chadds Ford -
Plein air landscape painting of a farm, by George Bodine

“Paint Out Chadds Ford” celebrates the Brandywine Tradition of Art and a time when early American illustrators and painters such as Howard Pyle, Frank Schoonover, John McCoy, and N. C. Wyeth were inspired by the history and beauty of the region around Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania.

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A completed plein air painting, by Bruno Baran

From the organizers and Catherine Quillman:

In the world of plein air art competitions, it’s often difficult for professional artists to decide where to spend their time and hard-earned entry fee money.

Sometimes the prize money is a big draw, and sometimes it’s the reputation of the plein air event. A small organization known as the Chadds Ford Historical Society (CFHS, offers no prize money nor is it organized by a prestigious arts organization (although the nonprofit group has many artistic connections including the Mid-Atlantic Plein Air Painting Association or MAPAPA).

The group’s annual three-day event, “Paint Out Chadds Ford,” has been drawing a waiting list of artists for more than a decade. Located in the heart of the Brandywine Valley, not far from the home of one of CFHS’s founders, the late Andrew Wyeth, the society considers its plein air event to be an important tradition.

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Painting en plein air – the Brandywine Battlefield park, by Jacelyn Beam

“Paint Out Chadds Ford” is one of the few plein air events in the country to be held in the winter. “Winter was Wyeth’s favorite season,” says Catherine Quillman, a CFHS board member who now chairs the plein air event. “I have interviewed him as an arts reporter with the Philadelphia Inquirer, and he used to say that the colder months allowed him to see the ‘bones of a landscape.’”

Plein Air Events
Volunteers at the artist check-in area

In planning the event, known among artists as being well-organized with plenty of volunteers to assist the artists, the historical society works with MAPAPA, a group that also funds extras such as free snacks and picnic fare given out the last day, when artists are asked to bring in all their works in time for the artists’ reception.

One seasoned plein air painter, Jacalyn Beam, who was recently voted into the prestigious Washington Society of Landscape Painters, is a former chair of “Paint Out Chadds Ford.” She limited the juried show to around 20 accepted artists from the Mid-Atlantic area. The society’s headquarters (“The Barn”) has limited display space, but the finished works hang for more than a month and CFHS often selects artists to display in the museum gift shop.

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Painting en plein air: the Barns Brinton house by Jacalyn Beam

There is a $10 jurying fee, but the society keeps its registration costs for the three-day event on the low side, according to Quillman. Members of MAPAPA pay only $30; non-members pay $50.

“Our space is usually reserved for historical exhibits,” says Catherine Quillman, “But there are two large rooms and CFHS members tend to come to all our events. They like the “Paint Out” exhibit because it typically features local farms and landmarks they know well.”

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“Karl’s Pond,” oil on linen, 14 x 11 in., by George Bodine

Participating artists are not required to paint all three days, but many do so in order to paint a range of subjects. Last year’s list of 15 suggested painting sites (the list is complete with an illustrated map and photos) included stone ruins such as “Mother Archie’s Church” and a 19th-century former creamery (now an auto repair shop) that provided plenty of rustic charm since it stands next to the old train tracks of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Both sites were Andrew Wyeth’s painting subjects.

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Painter’s Folly, by Jacelyn Beam

Other sites favored by the 2019 Paint Out were the restored Pennsbury Mill; the cluttered inside of an old barn; young steers on a working farm; and another Wyeth favorite site, “Painter’s Folly,” the Italianate mansion and former home of Howard Pyle, the acclaimed “Father of American Illustration.”

“The artists often find their own place to paint,” says Quillman, “but we find that most people like to see the list of sites because it gives them an easy way to review a property before the event, and it gives them such details as whether the property has an open landscape or a scenic barn.”

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Painting outdoors at the Kuerner farm

The historical society counts Wyeth and his brother-in-law, John McCoy, as early members who promoted the restoration of two of the CFHS’s 18th-century buildings both by urging their purchase and by painting the structures in their colonial simplicity. The c. 1714 Flemish-bond brick Barns-Brinton house and tavern, for instance, was depicted in one of Wyeth’s earliest tempera, the 1948 “Tenant Farmer,” painted when Wyeth was 31 years old.

Today the former building (restored as a tavern) as well as the c.1725 John Chads house and the nearby spring house that once served as a one-room schoolhouse, are among the sites that are open to the plein air participants. Artist Carol Mangano of Elkton, Md., a newcomer to the event, set-up a still-life in the Chads House and painted it looking through the window from outdoors.

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Artist Carol Mangano with buyer

Other artists escaped the cold by painting in the lobby of the Brandywine River Museum or in the lower barn area of the Kuerner farm, shown here:

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The Kuerner farm

Beam, a longtime Paint Out participant, enjoys winter painting in the way it heightens the senses. “You feel the atmosphere, the weather, the temperature,” she says, of evoking the setting in her work. “People say to me: ‘I feel it.’ The reason they do is because I felt its unique qualities. I can’t do that in a studio.”

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