Scurrilous sea gulls showcase sins at Brandywine River Museum

Avon Grove Sun columnist Caryl Huffaker, left, poses with artist Jamie Wyeth at the preview for Wyeth's show, "Seven Deadly Sins." Courtesy Photo

The new show at the Brandywine River Museum, "Seven Deadly Sins" by Jamie Wyeth, is a show with the strong moralistic theme that has echoed through the centuries. It does not depict tortured humans, but a collection of the most scurrilous sea gulls even seen.

In an interview last week Wyeth said about his paintings, "Seagulls are repellent birds. They are always being painted like soft white birds but they are not. They are scavengers, thieves, and independent. I wanted to paint them life-sized and so alive you could hear their sounds."

And unless you are tuned out to what he has created, you feel as though you can hear the cries of these raucous birds.

Unlike his artistic predecessors, Wyeth has expressed the deadly sins with such strident creatures; the room full of these raucous fowls is dramatic. With the use of careful placement of white, the paintings truly come alive.

Painted with brilliant gobs of watercolor paint on hand made paper - made from shirts - the paintings are mounted on special cardboard with a brilliantly colored border showing. These glimpses of crimson, yellow and orange are just the edges of full-sized paintings of flames that bring color to the heavily white paintings.

This is a special acid free cardboard that Wyeth first enjoyed using to contrast the elegance of the dancer Rudolph Nureyev done on the down to earth simplicity of corrugated cardboard.

He has a long history of painting animals and birds, and, unless the models are dogs, they are seldom pleasant. The large painting "Portrait of a Pig" has that evil eye, and in the painting of "Black Angus" they appear to want to shoulder you out of the way. His earlier crow paintings were also on the offensive.

Wyeth's niece Victoria Wyeth gives enthusiastic lectures at the museum about the work done by Jamie Wyeth, as well as by family members Andrew and N.C. Wyeth. As Victoria checks with Jamie about his work, just as she did with Andy before his death, Jamie said how pleased he was with the lectures that Victoria gives, as most art lectures put people to sleep, and hers are definitely invigorating.

In the short video that is a part of the show, visitors see Jamie working on the finishing touches for the painting, "Inferno, Monhegan." One sees him constantly touching the paint and putting his fingers in his mouth. He said until he saw the video he had no idea that he put his hand in his mouth so frequently. Then added, "At least it is water colors and not oils."

Jamie had high praise for Joyce Hill Stoner, the guru at Winterthur who knows all about different paints and papers in her job as art conservationist at Winterthur. When asked about any worries over using paint so thick He said, "Joyce has been a tremendous help in some of the paint mixtures. She is very talented."

As you can imagine, being lined up to do a series of 10-minute interviews all day long is not something anyone would rush to do. But as Jamie said, "The people at the museum have been so generous and helpful I am glad to do it." This beautifully hung show will then travel to Salt Lake City and Denver.

The collection of the seven deadly sins was sold to a private collector as a set, and he has been pleased the owners are allowing them to be on tour for a while so the public can see them. The other paintings of gulls are not part of the set, and he has even painted three more since the show was originally shown.

The professional public relations people Hillary Holland and Laura Englehart had an almost perfect interview set up. Each media person was allowed 10 minutes. Jamie and I sat on the bench placed for viewing the video. While this prevented visitors from watching the video, I suspect they were getting a bigger kick peeking around the partition and watching Jamie. TV camera trucks were in the parking lot and the media personnel were lined up on the other side of the partition with an amazing collection of fantastic cameras. At the end of eight minutes you were warned with a big smile that you had two more minutes. This was a truly professionally run press conference.

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