The way Michael Lynch sees it, he’s taking a shot (or shots) in the dark, using them to reimagine an established tradition. Inspired by the Brandywine Valley’s vastly successful artistic past, Lynch’s Projected in Place offers a new look at such enduring works as Andrew Wyeth’s “Seated by a Tree,” “Monday Morning” and “Glass House,” Howard Pyle’s “Attack Upon the Chew House,” and Karl J. Kuerner’s “Inside Looking Out.” He and collaborator Matt Nelson have found a way to superimpose and project actual-scale versions of the artwork onto surfaces at the site of their inspiration—spots like the iconic barn at Kuerner Farm in Chadds Ford.
Nelson’s family owns the Downingtown framing shop that used to frame Kuerner’s work. He introduced Lynch to the projection concept. Lynch began buying equipment, first experimenting with historical projections at Lincoln University, where he’s a sociology professor and the director of the Center for Undergraduate Research. One initial experiment involved a famous photo of Lincoln alum Thurgood Marshall projected on the library steps. Bruce Mowday’s book, Stealing Wyeth, inspired the current Brandywine connection.
A Wyeth family devotee all his life, Lynch has fond childhood memories of numerous school trips to the Brandywine River Museum of Art. “That’s where it happened for me,” says the 46-year-old West Chester resident.
He calls his own artistic effort “large-scale guerilla street art”—and not all the traditionalists in the Brandywine Valley are falling for it. While the Wyeth Foundation for American Art seemed supportive initially, interest ceased when the Brandywine Conservancy began telling Lynch to “stay off its proverbial lawn.” Early last year, it considered scheduling a virtual presentation at the museum with him there, but then declined. “It was an awkward and disappointing experience,” says Lynch. “It comes down to old money and old ways, and the folks who are still breathing want to anchor the tradition in one direction. This might not fit the old model, but history is lazy—and I don’t want it to be.”
In essence, Lynch sees his innovation as a way to propel Wyeth—and all Brandywine art tradition before and after him—into the 21st century. The Brandywine Museum often works with artists on site-specific projects, but they’re developed from preliminary concept to completion with input from the museum’s curators. “In this case, Mr. Lynch came to us with a finished concept that we felt wasn’t a good fit,” says Andrew Stewart, its director of marketing and communications.
After he’d already staged a projection at the museum-owned Andrew Wyeth Studio and N.C. Wyeth House without seeking permission, Lynch’s request to project inside the house at Kuerner Farm was denied. Instead, Lynch held his largest unveiling at the neighboring Christian C. Sanderson Museum in Chadds Ford this past fall. “The first time I climbed Kuerner Hill, what washed over me was how much of a privilege it was to be there,” Lynch says. “I looked down from the hill, and felt like the king of the world. I’m doing the artistic interpretation for myself, but in hopes of creating a whole revival of the Wyeth legacy.”
Karl Kuerner gave Lynch permission to wander the hill. “Michael is enthusiastic,” he says. “What he’s done with my art gives the public more knowledge of what I do. It’s a different take, but sometimes you come to a fork in the road and you have to take it. He’s plowing his own pathway, and he can do that with Howard Pyle or anyone in the Brandywine School tradition, as long as he does it respectfully. He’s certainly been respectful in approaching me, which is what any artist appreciates.”
From a legal perspective, Lynch says he’s within fair use rights. He’s disseminating an image—essentially light on a wall. It’s a likeness in an altered size and format, and thus an artistic expression. Reprinting and publishing an actual image of the same copyrighted art in, say, a pamphlet for distribution, promotion or sale would require permission from the Wyeth Foundation.
For Lynch, the time-consuming part is the research that often comes with unearthing the original locations. “It’s sleuth-type work—say, trekking around the N.C. Wyeth house to find all the trees Helga was painted against,” he says.
Many quests remain, including the actual “Marshalton Shed.” No one has been able to confirm the location rendered in Wyeth’s painting, though Lynch has traversed the village and distributed a flyer looking for information. He believes it depicts the back doorway of the shed at Marshallton United Methodist Church. “It’d be great if we can confirm it,” he says.
“The first time I climbed Kuerner Hill, what washed over me was how much of a privilege it was to be there.”
Lynch currently has a catalog of nearly 100 projection installations, including one for celebrated singer/songwriter and native son Jim Croce. He remains busy working out details for a spring exhibit at the large barn outside Chadds Ford Historical Society. He’s also been in discussions with Chadds Ford officials about a spring exhibit at Painter’s Folly, now that the township owns the building and wants to celebrate its history. There’s also been a meeting with the board of the Howard Pyle Studio in Wilmington about projecting the photos of Pyle and his students.
For his part, Kuerner hopes Projected in Place will introduce the Brandywine tradition to a younger audience. “Andy Wyeth’s art doesn’t need more publicity—it’s iconic,” he says. “The Brandywine tradition was there before the Wyeths, and it won’t stop with the Wyeths. If Andy were alive, he’d think it was fantastic.”
Lynch, of course, couldn’t agree more. “From everything I’ve read, Andy had a mischievous nature,” he says. “I think he’d get a huge kick out of this and think it was cool.”