Local couple hosts former residents

Members of the Thomson family ascend the stairs during a tour of the Sipala house.
George and Helen Sipala point out the bed in which they slept as Andrew Wyeth painted their picture, "Marriage."

CHADDS FORD -- The owners of a historic Chadds Ford home along Baltimore Pike hosted the house’s former owners during a sentimental reunion on Saturday.

Helen and George Sipala live in the Italianate house known as “Painter’s Folly” that was built in 1857 by Richard Painter, one of the original settlers of Chadds Ford. The builder owned about 500 acres of land from what is now Route 202 to the Brandywine Creek and after whom “Painter’s Crossroads” was named, according to Helen Sipala.

The Sipalas were also close friends and confidants of the late artist Andrew Wyeth, who, among other things used them as models for his famous painting, “Marriage.”

The visit by the Thomson family of Baltimore was prompted by their discovery of a real estate advertisement that the home is for sale, and they contacted the Sipalas asking for a chance to take a last look at it.

Accepting the invitation by the Sipalas, the Thomsons showed up en masse -- three generations of them – to see the elegant, three-story mansion that family matriarch, Anne, 86, had grown up in during the 1930s, and in which she and her husband lived for several years after that.

Along with Anne, who is a descendant of artist Howard Pyle and the Atwater family, came her husband, Bill; their son, Billy; Billy’s brother, Gordon; Billy’s companion, Karen; and two grandsons for the sentimental journey.

What the Thomsons found when they arrived were a host and hostess eager to share lunch and display the home’s exquisite interior. Helen also regaled them with stories of their relationship with Wyeth as they walked past walls and stairwells covered with his works.

The Sipalas had done extensive restoration improvements and brought in antiques, which they were both proud of collecting. George had also painted each room and hallway in subtle colors that reflect the tones of Wyeth’s work.

When asked how it felt to see the old homestead, Bill Thomson said, “It’s déjà vu. The walls were all white when we were here.”

During a tour of the house, Bill Thomson also drifted back in his memories to the time he built a boat in what had been the maid’s quarters, and it was almost too big to get out when he was finished.

In the same vein, Anne spoke fondly of her youth when she was shown the room that had been her bedroom.

But much of the talk was about Andrew Wyeth, whose works are scattered liberally around the house.

Helen, 80, and George, 85, Sipala began their relationship with Wyeth in 1990, when they found someone sitting outside their house painting landscape. “We saw him out by the pool painting. We saw him back there and found out it was Andrew Wyeth. . . . We weren’t gaga over Wyeth or art at the time,” Helen said.

However, that meeting led to a fond relationship that lasted until just several weeks before Wyeth died in January of 2009. Helen recalls that throughout their friendship, Wyeth had visited their home almost every day, usually bringing them a little gift. On that last visit, it was Christmas.

“It was his last Christmas. He came over with an oxygen tent, and Helga (Testorf, his model) had to help him out of the car,” Helen said.

As the Sipalas’ relationship with Wyeth quickly warmed, he told Helen and George, “You know, I think you should have some Wyeths here, and I think you should have some signed.”

And so he brought them art.

As time evolved, the Sipalas gave Wyeth a key to the house, and they decided to allow him to do his painting, “Marriage,” in 1993, showing Helen and George in bed.

According to Helen, Wyeth came often and early, sneaking up the back steps to their bedroom and making sketches and studies. Sometimes they anticipated his arrival, placing manikins in the bed and hiding in the closet to watch his reaction.

During the tour for the Thomsons, Helen showed the very bedroom and the bed where they lay as Wyeth created that painting.

There are many memorable features of the Sipala house including a bedroom containing several paintings of Helga, staircases lined with works of art and a number of large chandeliers, dripping with glistening glass droplets from the ceiling.

The home is liberally checked with windows and is hugged by a wrap-around porch.

Why is it up for sale?

Helen said they love the place, but it looms as a possible challenge. She is not sure they will be up to handling great renovations or work that might be needed.

They’re in no hurry, however. “It will probably take five years or so to sell,” she said.

About the Author

Chris Barber

Chris Barber is the editor of the Avon Grove Sun. She was previously southern bureau chief of the Daily Local News and editor of the Kennett Paper, earning honors in writing and photography. Reach the author at agsun@kennettpaper.com .