Most people don’t even think twice when seeing a barbershop. Yet if you walk up the stairs of the Christian C. Sanderson Museum into the Pocopson Room, your eyes quickly note a rustic gem, known as the “Chads” Ford Barber Shop” sign, painted by N.C. Wyeth and produced just after the turn of the 20th century.
This wooden relic is approximately 7 feet wide and 5 feet high, with two arcs cut into the top center flanking a black-shaded five-pointed star. Painted in black is a silhouette of Gen. George Washington, his cockaded tri-cornered hat the mark of a commanding officer. Joining Washington is the young Marquis de Lafayette, who fought with Washington’s troops at the Battle of the Brandywine and six other engagements of the Revolutionary War, including the final victory at Yorktown in October 1781. The placement of Lafayette on the right is significant, as Lafayette is known to have ridden on Washington’s right side as they marched triumphantly through the streets of Philadelphia in August 1777 before their first battle together. Below these portraits is written, “THIS IS THE PLACE WHERE WASHINGTON AND LAFAYETTE HAD A VERY CLOSE SHAVE.”
The sign’s weathered surface reveals its exposure to the elements over many years. It is known to have hung outside the barbershop over the last 85 years. The entire sign had been covered with a “yellow material from Du Pont” by Andrew Wyeth, giving it a canary-yellow tint. In June 1998 students from the joint University of Delaware/Winterthur Program in Art Conservation helped restore the sign, which is made of five wooden boards coated with white and black paint. Diligently working under the direction of Joyce Hill Stoner, Ph.D., then Chair of the Art Conservation Department at the University of Delaware, art restorers managed to stabilize the widespread cracking and flaking paint, while retaining its historic, earthy charm.
The Battle of the Brandywine occurred in and around Chadds Ford and involved a total of 30,000 troops. Washington lost that conflict, one that history buffs recall as the largest land battle in North America up until the Civil War, but survived to fight another day.
So, the next time you pass a barbershop, think twice about the delicate and unstable the beginnings of our young nation and how two patriots had a very close shave back on September 11, 1777.
Visit the Sanderson Museum – A Man’s Life, A Nation’s History at 1755 Creek Road (old Route 100) in Chadds Ford, PA just North of Route 1 or online at www.SandersonMuseum.org . For information on the author of this article, visit www.GenePisasale.com.