Contemporary Art In The Natural Environment

Contemporary Art In The Natural Environment


The Brandywine River’s first site-specific outdoor installation, Gradients by James Welling, opened earlier this month. While our colleagues at the Brandywine River Museum of Art are buzzing about the exhibition as an expansion of Welling’s artistic practice and the museum’s first-ever commission by a contemporary artist, my  colleagues at the Brandywine Conservancy and I are thrilled with Gradients for a very different reason. We are grateful for the ability of Gradients to draw museum visitors out of the galleries and into the landscape…the landscape to which we are deeply connected and committed to preserve.

Summer Written in Steel

The Gradients panels are located outdoors—on the banks of the Brandywine River within a vibrantly blooming native plant garden, above a lush wild meadow, nestled within an apple orchard. One would imagine the crisp, metallic panels with their hard edges and angular shape would be out of place in these natural settings, appearing stark and cold against the softness and warmth of a summer backdrop; and yet, they blend harmoniously with their settings, appearing almost as if they blossomed right out of the earth.    

Standing amidst a sea of native wildflowers in bloom and below the lush green spread of a maple tree, the Gradients panel in front of the museum appears to be a near mirror reflection of the colors of a summer garden. The peak bloom period—when the garden was ablaze with deep purple phlox, shining golden oxeye sunflower, soft pink common milkweed, and the diverse greens of the native grasses—is captured in a near perfect rendition. Over at the N.C. Wyeth House and Studio, the panel installed in the apple orchard simply radiates with a full spectrum of color.

As the lush greens of summer begin to fade to yellow and then brown, the vibrancy of nature’s summer palette will persist in Gradients. The panels will be a stark reminder of the ephemeral nature of all living things and of the ever-evolving landscape of the Brandywine valley.

Protecting the Art in Nature

We are hopeful that Gradients will encourage our visitors to stop and look closely at the environment around the Brandywine Conservancy and Museum of Art campus. Trying to identify the source of each vibrant color provides an opportunity to look more closely, to look deeply…at a wildflower, at the Brandywine River, at a meadow alive with a myriad of colors. When one looks more closely, it is impossible to not see “art” in nature itself. We hope that Gradients will inspire in our visitors a love of the landscape and, in turn, a passion for protecting the “art” of our natural world.

 Visit our Events page to learn more about our walks, tree plantings, exhibitions, outdoor art workshops and garden tours. We’d love for you to join us in celebrating the “art” we see in nature every day and making the landscape part of your next visit.