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When you enter the Brandywine River Museum of Art, you can choose the new Winslow Homer exhibition on the third floor or Holidays & Snowdays. The person at the front desk will likely recommend the former. Ignore that advice.
Instead, spend your hours on the second floor, where Holidays & Snowdays, a delightful exhibit as fleeting and surprising as our November snowfall, makes up part of the museum’s annual year-end celebration, Brandywine Christmas. It’s running through January 6.
Beyond the printed page
Holidays & Snowdays features the original illustrations of artists James Ransome, Matthew Trueman, and Beth Krommes. They make a diverse trio and the illustrations are thoughtful, exciting re-imaginations of holiday stories old and new. Ransome, a painter and illustrator from New York, boldly infuses The Nutcracker in Harlem with a warm, jazz-inspired palette of rich pinks and blues. Liberated from the printed page, the richness of Ransome’s oil paintings blares like a Christmas clarion.
Matthew Trueman’s illustrations may be less brassy, but like most quiet things, they reward closer attention. You can’t tell by looking on the printed page, but an angled view of the cover illustration for Simon and the Bear: A Hanukkah Tale reveals that Trueman has cleverly constructed, painted, and pressed folds of paper to create the sharp lines of icecaps and the barely raised relief of a lone, glowing menorah. Trueman, a Pennsylvania native, credits his origin as an illustrator to early childhood visits to the Brandywine Museum, and his homecoming lends a cozy touch to the holiday atmosphere.
Cold, dark, and cozy
The real star of the exhibit, however, is Beth Krommes. Illustrator of Before Morning, Krommes combines wood-engraving and painting techniques to accompany a child’s simple poetic prayer for snow. The heavy, black lines of the woodcut root the viewer stolidly in each scene, while softer, painted strokes of snowfall transcend the heavy physicality of black-barred buildings. Defying the uncompromising weight of the physical world, the snow swaddles and softens the city and its inhabitants, creating a warm sense of intimacy.
While Krommes’s use of contrast could have easily engendered a sense of tension, it instead provides a lilting counterpoint to the poetic captions that accompany each canvas.
Curated by Christine Podmaniczky (who is also curator of the museum’s N.C. Wyeth collections), the captions introduce the paintings (“It’s cold. Everyone is bundled up / Darkness comes easily and it’s cozy inside / But during the night…/ While the world is asleep…”), then trail off to let the title of each storybook vignette carry the verse.
Skating circles around sanctimony
Holidays & Snowdays delights not only with lusty portrayals of the holiday season but with the diversity of its artists and the simple layout of the pint-sized gallery. Podmaniczky notes, “I knew I wanted to present as much of each story as possible, so we had to limit the number of artists in that gallery.” (It’s not particularly well marked; look for the gallery behind the second-floor bathrooms.) The festive force of the exhibit is a joy, and so is Podmaniczky’s clear attention to its three distinct narrations. Skip the sententious third floor altogether — the ebullient Holidays & Snowdays evokes the spirit of N.C. Wyeth, artist and illustrator, and innocently asks, “Is there a difference?” To which one might cheerfully respond, “Does it really matter?”
Find the full lineup of Brandywine Christmas events here, including a Sensory-Friendly Train Morning on Saturday, January 5. Additionally, the museum offers sensory-friendly packs full of resources for visitors with a variety of needs.
You can help keep BSR going strong in 2019 and beyond. Make your gift here.
What, When, Where
Holidays & Snowdays: Illustrations for Three Children’s Books. Through January 6, 2019, at the Brandywine River Museum of Art, 1 Hoffman’s Mill Road, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. (610) 388-2700 or brandywine.org/museum.
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