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Thursday, July 28, 2022

Cool Falls and Cold Brews

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Hi Blog!

We left Pennsylvania behind and are now working our way toward Vermont. We planned a two day stop in south central New York to visit with our friends, Ginny and Eric. We have a big day planned with them on Friday, but today we were on our own. One of our favorite places in this neck of the woods is Ommegang Brewery outside of Cooperstown. We knew there would be lunch and beer tasting in our future, so we wanted to work up a real appetite. Because of the recent extreme heat, we looked for a nice woodland hike with a waterfall. We found the Robert V. Riddell State Park perfectly situated at the exit for Cooperstown. A few miles of hiking would lead us to a picturesque waterfall.

We arrived at the trailhead just as two local women were finishing their hike. They asked if we had hiked here before and we told them it was our first time. Lucky for us, they knew there was no longer a trail sign for the turnoff to the waterfall trail, but they had placed pink tape on the trees marking the turn. We thanked them for the trail info and prepared to enter the woods.

The All Trails description of the hike mentioned that it was lightly used. Other than the two women we met at the trailhead, we had the woods to ourselves. 

The trail alternated between deeply shaded woods to bright open fields.

We are in the thick of summer. The wildflowers are in full bloom.

We hiked in about a mile and a half and found the side trail with the pink ribbons. Below, Kathy marks a waypoint on the GPS to make sure we find our way back out of the woods.

Not to worry, the rest of the trail was well signed. Below, at a later junction, David points the way to the waterfall.

Pictured below is the image of the waterfall from the park website. 

Rather than a raging torrent, we found a secret garden with the gentlest of rivulets trickling down the mountainside:


Here is a look at the trickling falls in action. While the hike to the falls was less than two miles, it was mostly uphill. Kathy enjoyed a much needed break from the heat.


Our grandson would be particularly disappointed if we didn't include at least one "fun guy" photo in our blog. We felt he would appreciate this specimen, although it might not be rated PG:

There is nothing sweeter than fresh, ripe berries during a hike. These little blackberries were hard to find, but when we did discover them, boy were they tasty!

One section of the trail was completely enclosed with chokecherry bushes. They look good enough to eat, but don't. The chokecherry stem, leaves and pits contain cyanide. The berry itself is pretty bitter.  That said, it is possible to pit the cherries and make a good jam. 

After finishing our hike, we drove over to Ommegang Brewery. The brewery started in 1996, when Belgian breweries Duvel, Affligem, and Scaldis joined with importers/entrepreneurs Don Feinberg and Wendy Littlefield to build an authentic Belgian-style farmstead brewery in Cooperstown, NY. They found an old 140-acre hop farm in the Susquehanna River valley of upstate New York, south of Cooperstown.  Ommegang opened in the winter of 1997 with Ommegang Abbey Dubbel, an 8.5% ABV traditional Trappist-style dark ale. Brewed with a complex array of spices and packaged in 750ml bottles, Abbey Dubbel broke the mold of the emerging American craft beer scene. 
It's been a number of years since we were last here, and the expanded and new buildings are impressive.

While we waited for a table on their outdoor deck, we sampled some of their more recent concoctions. From left to right, an Oak Aged Tripel, Keep It Crunchy (granola stout with pecans, cocoa and vanilla), Three Philosophers and Abbey Ale.  We both chose the Three Philosophers as our favorite -- which David was quick to point out has always been his favorite.

After lunch, we stopped in the bottle shop to stock up for our trip to Vermont. Don't tell Eric and Ginny, but we got some samples for them, too!

Friday, July 22, 2022

N.C. Wyeth and the Brandywine River Museum

What a Chester County day!

After strolling about Longwood Gardens during the cooler morning today, we grabbed a tasty lunch at its Terrace Cafe before driving the short distance east to the Brandywine River Museum and the site of the Wyeth Farm, home to the famous painters N.C. Wyeth and his son Andrew Wyeth.

We started our visit with a tour of the N.C. Wyeth home and studio, which is where Andrew Wyeth spent the first 20 years of his life as well.  N.C. had taken art lessons as a young man from the famous illustrator Howard Pyle at Pyle's summer art school near the village of Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, and N.C. fell in love with the countryside.  As his career blossomed, he took the (then) fabulous sum of $2,500 he earned from illustrating Robert Louis Stevenson's "Treasure Island" to purchase 18 acres of land overlooking Chadds Ford village.  Here, he built his home:

The house was home to N.C., his wife and a gaggle of kids, who all excelled in careers of art and engineering.  When N.C. would finish an hour's work on his painting each morning, he would troop down to the house from his studio and pound on the piano in the photo below to wake the entire family for breakfast:

We toured the house, and then were taken up to the studio N.C. built, higher on the hill above his house:

N.C. was an imposing figure who, nevertheless was a kind and loving father with a tremendous energy and sense of humor.  A lifesize photo of him posed by his books in the entryway to the studio:

His most famous child, Andrew, was a painting prodigy and painted this self-portrait at age 16.  It now hangs on one of two opposing entrance doors into the main studio room --

-- while a self portrait by his daughter Carolyn, who retained use of part of the studio late into her life, hangs on the opposing door:

N.C. maintained an extensive book collection in the studio, including shelves of National Geographic magazines, all useful in his work as an illustrator of books and other materials.  Paintings of (l-r) his mother, himself and his father hang above the bookshelves:

N.C. was committed to the value of painting in natural light, with north-facing light (i.e., indirect sunlight) the most favored, and so included this huge window to provide the necessary light to do his work:

An expanded section of his studio was even larger to accommodate the murals he painted for various commissions (the painting shown was done by him for Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company, which donated it back to the Museum):

It seems N.C. Wyeths was plagued his entire career by being labelled a "mere" illustrator rather than a "painter" -- perhaps both in his own mind and in the mind of the public.  This is a shame, because his "easel paintings," as he called them to distinguish them from his illustrations, are superb.  This one, titled, "Island Funeral," is David's favorite work of his:

This corner of his studio displays two still life paintings he did, the one on the left with a notation that it was completed in three hours!

Here is a photo of N.C. in his studio with some of his work:

The studio also houses a large number of items N.C. called "props" -- items he used to help him paint various objects in his historic illustrations.  One wall contained over a dozen long rifles.  The main studio room contains boasts a genuine birchbark canoe he used for an illustration he did for "Last of the Mohicans" (see further below), and one whole room is filled with various other props:

N.C. died in a tragic accident in 1945 (when Andrew was about 28), along with a grandson, when the car he was driving stalled on railroad tracks near the home and was hit by a train.  That event was an emotional and artistic watershed for Andrew, whose bleak Chester County landscapes are said to be, in part, an attempt to capture emotions related to that event.

After touring the N.C. Wyeth home and studio, we repaired to the Brandywine River Museum itself to view the exhibits.  Before entering the exhibits, we stopped to admire the sweeping view of the Brandywine River from a second floor foyer:

The Museum presently has a large exhibit of self-taught artists such as Horace Pippin, a great "folk" painter from Chester County, Pennsylvania, and the inimitable "Grandma" Moses.  But more to the point of our earlier tour today, there was also an exhibit of many paintings by N.C. Wyeth and his grandson (Andrew's son), Jamie Wyeth.

It's almost impossible to describe the power of N.C. Wyeth's original paintings for the illustrations of such things as the Robert Louis Stevenson books.  The paintings are large -- perhaps 4 feet by 6 feet, and rich in color and depth.  While this painting that was used as an illustration for "Last of the Mohicans" was not necessarily the best or most powerful of the paintings, we took note of it because it is the painting in which N.C. depicted the birchbark canoe sitting in his studio:

Our story is primarily about N.C. Wyeth and not about Andrew or Jamie, but it was interesting to see some of their paintings on exhibit.  The Jamie Wyeth work that interested David the most was this assemblage painting of Andy Warhol:

It would be impossible to choose a favorite Andrew Wyeth painting, but, of course, this one -- "Christina's World" -- is perhaps his most famous.  The model for the female figure in the painting is a woman named Christina Olsen, whose family lived near the Wyeths.

That background made this David's unexpected favorite Andrew Wyeth painting of the exhibit.  Painted in 1952, only four years after "Christina's World," it portrays Christina as an older woman.  Before David learned that it was Christina, however, he was drawn to the painting because, in this work, she cuddles a kitten, giving a dramatic tone of tenderness overlaying the various other emotions attendant to her simple dress, the obvious poverty and desiccation of the room in which she sits, and her face that shows a life of hard work:


What a wealth of experience we had today, from Longwood Gardens, to learning about N.C. Wyeth and his children, to viewing a whole new selection of paintings relevant to all that!  We'll be thinking about and processing all these things for some time hereafter.

Day at Longwood Gardens

 Friday, July 22, 2022

Hi Blog!

It's been a while since we've been in Chester County. We had some free time this morning and decided to visit an old favorite - Longwood Gardens.

We only had a few hours to explore, so our first stop was the Conservatory. On the way there, we made a quick detour through the Rose Garden (see the photo above) and the Topiary Garden.  At Longwood, the Topiary Garden is not only a place of beauty, but an experience made possible by the many horticulturists who have shaped this beloved space for nearly a century. 

Longwood Gardens exists because a lumber mill operator was about to cut down old growth trees for timber in early 1906. This threat moved Pierre S. du Pont, American entrepreneur, businessman, philanthropist, and member of the prominent du Pont family to take action. On July 20, 1906, 36-year-old du Pont purchased the Pierce Farm primarily to preserve the trees. He was not planning to create Longwood Gardens, but within a few years, his desire to make it a place where he could entertain his friends transformed a simple country farm into one of the country's leading horticultural display gardens.

Ten years after purchasing Longwood, Pierre du Pont was just getting warmed up. By 1916 he was contemplating grand indoor facilities. The result was the stunning Conservatory, a perpetual Eden, that opened in 1921.

When you walk into the Conservatory, it is hard to believe it is over 100 years old. There is so much life inside it feels like a living breathing entity.

With over 110,000 plants inside the Conservatory, it was hard to pick just one.

So, here are some more.

During the summer, Longwood normally hosts an evening of fireworks and fountains. However, there is a huge construction protect on side to expand the Conservatory. They have cancelled the fireworks but have added unique light installation by Bruce Munro. Even in broad daylight, the light display installation looks amazing.

After strolling through the very humid conservatory, we passed through the Silver Garden. We miss the cacti of Arizona.

We spent a lot of time in the Orchid House. The displays were carefully arranged and categorized to show the differences between the various orchids in the collection.

We could have taken dozens of photos, but we tried to pick just the best of the best, sir!

As we worked our way around the Conservatory, we felt like we were walking through a tropical jungle.

As we left the Conservatory, we passed through the Bonsai Display. Here is our favorite.

Longwood Gardens has a history that dates back to the 1700s. A Quaker farmer named George Peirce purchased 402 acres of English-claimed land from William Penn's commissioners. George's son Joshua cleared and farmed the land and in 1730 he built the brick farmhouse that, enlarged, still stands today. In 1798, Joshua's twin grandsons Samuel and Joshua, who had inherited the farm, actively pursued an interest in natural history and began planting an arboretum that eventually covered 15 acres. The collection included specimens that they collected from the wild as well as plants acquired from some of the region's leading botanists.

By 1850, the arboretum boasted one of the finest collections of trees in the nation and had become a place for the locals to gather outdoors – a new concept that was sweeping America at the time. Community picnics and socials were held at Peirce's Park in the mid to late 19th century. The Pennsylvania guide noted in 1940 that "Longwood" received its present name from 'Long Woods,' as the section was known before the Civil War.

Pictured below is the first greenhouse on the property, which stretches from the old Pierce family home to the addition built by du Pont. Today the two houses are a history museum.

In 1928, du Pont began adding fountains to a garden he had begun developing in 1921. The space, directly south of the Conservatory, would become du Pont's most ambitious project—the five-acre Main Fountain Garden. The Main Fountain Garden "combines Italianate ornamentation and French grandeur with World's Fair showmanship. Like other great fountains, it is an engineering tour de force using the latest technology of the time." The Main Fountain Garden debuted to the public in 1931 and was the last major project in the Gardens during du Pont's life.

The fountain show was dramatic, as you can see from this video link, with booms from air cannons to accompany the pulsing fountains! 

After a fine misting from the fountain show, we stopped at the Cafe for a quick lunch. We finished our visit to Longwood Gardens with a loop around the west side of the park. We strolled through the meadow garden and followed the boardwalk around to the the Italian Water Garden.

Inspired by a trip he’d taken in 1913 to the Villa Gamberaia near Florence, Italy, Pierre du Pont planned every aspect of the project for what he would call “The Water Garden.”  From the sculptures to the engineering calculations, his attention to every detail was remarkable; he even determined that the northernmost pools should be built 14-feet longer than those to the south to counteract foreshortening from the viewing terrace. We found it a very cool place to visit on a very hot afternoon.

Our last stop was the Canophy Cathedral tree house. This ornate timber frame structure was inspired by Norwegian stave churches. The access stairs and a large open deck offer a magnificent lakefront view towards the Italian Water Gardens. A grand, gable window offers additional views over Large Lake. Reclaimed Douglas fir timbers and cedar planking with an oiled finish create a warm, rich glow. We've found our forever and ever house!

We probably could have spent the rest of the day exploring the gardens, but we had one more stop to make today. More on our visit to the Brandywine River Museum in the next blog!