Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry

Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry
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Friday, May 8, 2009

Kuerner Stable


KARL KUERNER SR (quoted from Gene Logsdon): "This place is, well, like home to Andy. It IS home, by golly. Andy and me, we've known each other a long time. My land butts up against the Wyeths' over the hill across the road, and the Wyeth kids played around this farm from little on up. I raise my Brown Swiss cattle, grow a little oats and hay for them. My son and I work together. We mow grass and trim trees and such for people around here. I don't farm so hard anymore. More money in taking care of estates."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL "Following the Footsteps of Andrew Wyeth - Kuerner Farm, Part 1": It had been drizzling on and off all morning, big drops that felt as if they came from the trees, but we were in the middle of the field and trying to make the most of limited shoot time. We shielded our gear with towels and endured. I've been treading the footsteps of Andrew Wyeth again. Thanks to my friend Gary and access provided by the Brandywine River Museum, the two of us have just spent several days photographing in and around the Koerner House and other sites in Chadds Ford, PA.

Kuerner Farm is where Andrew Wyeth reached adulthood as an artist. He became part of the Kuerner family and the land. Among his best works are the "soulscapes," he painted here. One could certainly never stand and photograph one, nor would I ever want to try.

Gary and I were still in the upper field, once an orchard, when the rain picked up. We headed for the only open door, but I stopped first to shoot the Kuerner house behind clusters of yellow flowers, wet and glistening in the grass; so Gary arrived at the stable first and dryer. When I got there he was already shooting, peering over gates into stalls and passageways toward depths in the base of the Kuerner barn that had been dug into the side of the hill. Three more stories of barn were above us. It was an immense structure.

In the picture above most of the barn is in front of me. Behind me is the old milking room where Wyeth painted "Spring Fed." The great stone trough is still there, still filled from the underground spring which flows when the faucet is turned. At the foot of the trough the bucket is still perched upside down between the wall and the pipe. The windows are more as they are in one of Wyeth's sketches. Other sketches suggest this was not just the milking room but also the room where animals were slaughtered and butchered. In several Anna is seen busy, cleaning the milkroom. In a final watercolor, there is just a single window through which we see Kuerner Hill brightly glowing and the bull standing by the barnyard wall. In the final tempera, however, we are looking into another room, through more windows with bull and Kuerner HIll proud in the background. However, as I looked through the actual windows nothing lined up and a pile of farm refuse was in the outer room.

The facts of Spring Fed mostly remained but I felt none of its spirit. It was the barn itself that called to both of us. For the next hour we made images peering into the shadows of the lower barn, a place where time seemed to have stopped. Whatever lay behind the red door, for now it barred our way.

The Brandywine River Museum and Kuerner Farm