|Vol. 17, No. 34||June 11, 1998|
WSFS, the principal subsidiary of WSFS Financial Corp. (NASDAQ/NMS:WSFS), will invest $40,000 to restore Wyeth's massive mural, Apotheosis of the Family, created to commemorate the bank's 100th anniversary. On June 8, Winterthur/UD conservators started work on scaffolding during banking hours in a busy, public lobby at 838 Market St., thereby providing visitors with a rare opportunity to witness the meticulous restoration process, WSFS President Marvin ("Skip") Schoenhals said.
"We felt a responsibility to be good stewards of this national treasure, and to help make fine art more accessible to the community," Schoenhals explained. "Our bank was founded 166 years ago on a promise to serve ordinary citizens, at a time when traditional banks were catering only to wealthy clients. Because Wyeth's mural celebrates the achievements of working families, it has become inextricably linked with WSFS."
Similarly, artwork by various Wyeth family members and by famed American illustrator Howard Pyle (1853-1911) now represents "an integral aspect of life in the Brandywine Valley," said Joyce Hill Stoner, art conservation. Widely regarded as Pyle's most talented student, Newell Convers Wyeth (1882-1945), of nearby Chadds Ford, Pa., strongly influenced his artist-son, Andrew, as well as Andrew's son, Jamie. This group of artists-abbreviated by Stoner as "P-W3"-will claim the national limelight June 21, when a new Wyeth Center opens in Rockland, Maine, she said.
"It's fitting that WSFS is launching this restoration project now," said Stoner, who recently completed a 60-page essay for the Wyeth Center's opening exhibition, "Wondrous Strange," which will visit the Delaware Art Museum in December. "This is, indeed, the Year of the Wyeths!"
Conserving a cultural icon
Spanning a space some 60 feet long and 19 feet high in the bank's central branch building, Apotheosis of the Family features a compelling depiction of the artist's famous son, Andrew Newell Wyeth. Born in 1917, Andrew was 15 when his father began painting Apotheosis, Stoner said. At the center of the mural, the creator of Christina's World (1948), now in his 80s, is shown as an adolescent nude, hoisting a bow and arrow.
Painted in oil across five pieces of canvas, the mural shows a family standing in front of a house, surrounded by neighbors harvesting fruit, weaving baskets, planting crops, hauling fish and chopping timber. Apotheosis also traces the seasons, from left to right, as spring merges into summer, then autumn and winter-a theme N.C. Wyeth may have borrowed from his son-in-law, Peter Hurd. At the request of former WSFS executive Frederick Stone, Hurd painted a four-part, seasonal 1932 mural of the Brandywine Valley, which still graces the dining room of a local home, Stoner reported.
Apotheosis falls within a category of "grand-manner classical" mural paintings, popular in the late 1800s, intended to celebrate fine art while inspiring hard work and high ideals, Stoner said. At the same time, however, bright colors, unusual perspectives and powerful abstract forms of clouds, smoke and sea reflect Wyeth's interest in avant- garde Russian art, and works by Marc Chagall (1887-1985), she said.
Unlike Apotheosis, earlier art by N.C. Wyeth, such as the Treasure Island series, featured dark colors and highly precise renderings of pirates and ships, said UD graduate student Alexis Miller, who will be on-site daily to manage the student restoration team.
"Later in his career, N.C. Wyeth began painting with much brighter colors, and he often painted in a new, more modern way," said Miller, a Williamsburg, Va., native, who will be supervised by Stoner and three other senior conservators: Winterthur Paintings Conservator Mark Bockrath, an adjunct UD faculty member; Richard Wolbers of UD; and Barbara A. Buckley, a UD graduate and independent conservator based in West Chester, Pa., who received her master's-level training at the Cooperstown Graduate Programs in upstate New York.
"Since 1932, grime and a coat of yellowing varnish have muted those colors. We're going to bring them back to life," Miller said.
Lisa Moberg (front) and Joyce Hill Stoner begin work
on the restoration of the N.C. Wyeth
mural in the WSFS main office in downtown Wilmington.
Apotheosis of the Family must be properly maintained, Donald H. Hadley II, WSFS vice president of administrative services, said, because "it belongs, in a symbolic sense, to the whole community." Despite the bank's status as one of the country's top-performing independent banks, he said, "customers still think of us as a hometown bank, and we need to be good neighbors."
WSFS Financial Corp. is a $1.5 billion financial services company. Its principal subsidiary, WSFS, operates 18 retail-banking offices in New Castle County and Dover, Del., as well as two in Delaware and Montgomery counties, Pa. Other operating subsidiaries include WSFS Credit Corp.; Community Credit Corp.; and the 838 Investment Group Inc. For more information, visit the Web site, http://www.wsfsbank.com
To view the mural, go to: http:// www.udel.edu/PR/NewsReleases/98/WSFS/wyeth.html