A Day at the Delaware Art Museum

A Day at the Delaware Art Museum

Recently, I had the pleasure of spending a day at the Delaware Art Museum with my son and grandchildren. While I remember visiting this charming museum as a student, I was overwhelmed by the notable upgrades and unique features of this incredible place. The works of Chadds Ford artists like Howard Pyle and N.C. Wyeth are prominently featured in the museum’s permanent collections, which made my heart swell with joy! An added bonus was the Delaware Art Museum’s beautiful sculpture garden, where my grandchildren ran and played happily after our visit. The Delaware Art Museum certainly has something for everyone, so I wanted to share a little bit more about this very special place.

The Location of the Delaware Art Museum

The Delaware Art Museum is located conveniently just outside Wilmington’s city center in the picturesque area of the Kentmere Parkway. It’s just a few blocks from Wilmington’s Rockford Park and is generally walkable from many parts of the city – it’s only 15 minutes from the popular neighborhood of Trolley Square, 40 minutes from Rodney Square in center city, and 45 minutes from the luxurious suburb of Greenville. If you are traveling by car, the Delaware Art Museum is not far from the I-95 off-ramp into Wilmington, and the museum offers free on-site parking.

The History of the Delaware ARt Museum

Originally founded in 1912, the Delaware Art Museum was first known as the Wilmington Society of Fine Arts (WSFA). The WSFA was established to honor the life and art of renowned American illustrator Howard Pyle (1853-1911). Originally, Pyle’s works were acquired by his pupils and patrons, and the WSFA held exhibitions of Pyle’s work at the Hotel duPont in Wilmington. The exhibits also included the works of Pyle’s students and other local artists. Later, between 1915 and 1919, mining magnate Willard S. Morse gifted the WSFA over 100 of Pyle’s pen and ink illustrations to expand the collection.

As the WSFA grew, it needed to find a more permanent location. In 1922, its stewards rented several rooms in center city Wilmington in the New Library Building, where it was housed for many years. In 1938, the estate of Samuel Bancroft, an American businessman and collector of Pre-Raphaelite work, contacted the WSFA with an offer: it wished to donate a large collection of art in addition to 11 acres of land designated for a museum. WSFA accepted the offer and was able to raise funds for construction of the museum. The museum opened in 1938, and the name of WSFA was officially changed to the Delaware Art Center (later, the Delaware Art Museum). Since 1938, the building has undergone many upgrades and expansions, and it now stands as a state-of-the-art facility with a preserved historical footprint.

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Collections & Exhibits at the Delaware Art Museum

The Delaware Art Museum holds a vast collection of late nineteenth century and early twentieth century American artwork, in addition to its Pre-Raphaelite collection. A large portion of the collection contains work by Howard Pyle and his students – principal pupils of Pyle included artists like N.C. Wyeth, Stanley Arthurs, and Frank Schoonover. Additional works in the Delaware Art Museum’s collection belong to more modern artists like Louise Nevelson, George Segal, Jacob Lawrence, Robert Motherwell, and Jim Dine. 

Outside the Delaware Art Museum, visitors can take a stroll through the Copeland Sculpture Garden. This lovely oasis features sculptures by nationally acclaimed artists settled thoughtfully among native plants and trees. In the warmer times of the year, the Delaware Art Museum also uses this area to host an array of delightful events and performances for visitors. 

In addition to its permanent collection and sculpture garden, the Delaware Art Museum also hosts special exhibits every year. Historically, exhibitions have ranged from modern art to folk art and everything in between. Several exhibits have also included work from the relatives of Howard Pyle to honor the museum’s original purpose. The Delaware Art Museum regularly updates its website regarding its collections and exhibitions, so check back regularly. 

Take a Class at the Delaware Art Museum

Because the Delaware Art Museum was founded in honor of Pyle, who was not only a great illustrator but a great teacher, education has long been part of the museum’s history alongside its art. Between 1938 and 1943, the Wilmington Academy of Fine Arts held educational programs in the museum, and programs for both experienced artists and the general public are still available there today. If you have always dreamed of becoming an artist or are already an experienced creator, the museum has something designed to meet your needs. The Delaware Art Museum is currently offering classes in the areas of:

  • Ceramics

  • Photography

  • Drawing & Painting

  • Printmaking

  • Metalsmithing

  • Writing

  • Youth Classes

  • Camps

There is certainly something for everyone – adults, teenagers, and children alike – so be sure to sign up if you live locally. I have had many friends who have enjoyed these classes and have made lifelong friends in the process!

Immerse yourself

The Delaware Art Museum contains so many wonderful examples of the rich cultural heritage of the Brandywine Valley. As I walk through the collections, I am reminded how grateful I am to live in such a beautiful and inspiring place. If you live in the region or plan to travel to this area anytime soon, I highly recommend adding the Delaware Art Museum to your list of places to visit. If you’re looking for a bit of locally-inspired jewelry to mark the occasion, don’t forget to check out my collection of keepsakes today!

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