Brimming with talented artists against the light of a formidable legacy formed by the likes of Howard Pyle and the Brandywine school, Delaware combines emerging artistic exploration with respect for American tradition. As these ten contemporary art galleries and museums demonstrate, Delaware’s art scene is passionate and energetic despite its humble size, and thrives from Wilmington to Milford, Ocean View to Dover.
The Biggs Museum opened in 1993 and houses a comprehensive selection of American art and design, with rotating shows that revitalize these historic works. Galleries 21 through to 24 exhibit artworks from 1910 to 1980, following the journey towards contemporary art.
An intimate gallery adjacent to the Hagley Museum, Somerville Manning exhibits 20th and 21st century art. Displaying a selection of works influenced by the style of the Brandywine Valley, Somerville Manning spans traditional pieces by John Singer Sargent to modern works by Greg Mort and Robert Jackson from within the gallery space at Breck’s Mill. The annual American Masters exhibition typically displays three generations of American artists.
The Anita Peghini-Räber Gallery features the work of the titular artist. Peghini-Räber’s work is characterized by a sense of freedom in content and execution, where abstract patterns and motifs merge into emotional landscapes, filled with color and assertive brushstrokes. A Swiss native, she has had her work exhibited in New York City, but her cosy and welcoming gallery in Rehoboth Beach is still a haven of sorts. In addition to showcasing her own paintings, Peghini-Räber also displays paintings, drawings and woodwork by other local artists.
While the University of Delaware offers multiple displays from the Old Gallery to the Mineralogical Museum in Penny Hall, the strong collection of African-American art in the Mechanical Hall is of particular note. Home to the Paul R. Jones Collection of African American Art, donated in 2001, the pieces provide a point of departure for wider African-American works, from the likes of Woodruff (1900-1980) and others.
The Ellen Rice Gallery primarily features work by Ellen Rice, but the space has also exhibited works by 140 contemporary artists. Rice is labelled “one of the East Coast’s most collected artists,” and her works can be found in private, government, and corporate collections throughout the United States, specializing predominantly in coastal scenes. Rice prioritises a synesthetic artistic experience in the gallery itself, selecting the rustic coastal setting to allow environmental continuity to run seamlessly from exterior to interior, hand-picking the meditative soundtrack from sound artists of national and international repute.
The contemporary collection at the Delaware Art Museum is the ideal starting point for any cultural tour. The museum’s American wing is particularly worthwhile, displaying works by Edward Hopper and Robert Motherwell. Visitors can immerse themselves in the Copeland Sculpture Garden; nine sculptures are scattered around the grounds of the museum.
The DCCA has a nomadic history, but has found permanence in a 35,000 square-foot space with seven galleries and 26 on-site artist studios. In a valiant effort to demonstrate the fast-paced, dynamic rate of exploration and production in the sphere of contemporary art, the DCCA remains a non-collecting museum presenting thirty exhibitions of works by regional, national and international artists annually.
While the impressive interior of Alfred L. DuPont’s mock chateau is furnished predominantly with elements of 18th century French design, the mansion built between 1909 and 1910 draws both building and grounds into a conversation between 19th century and contemporary design. The landscape gardens demonstrate this crossover perfectly; at the height of the vista stand two imposing elk designed by Prosper Lecourtier (1855-1924), which lead downwards to the ‘Long Walk’ and towards the ‘Reflecting Pool’, with its Gatsby-esque display. The fountain is surrounded by the Four Seasons, created by Henri Crenier (1873-1948), whose magnificent 23-karat-gold work titled Achievement stands over the maze garden. Nemours is a charming convergence of styles.
The Blue Ball Barn and Delaware Folk-Art Collection
Continuing from his signature chateau, the often overlooked Blue Ball Barn, designed by DuPont, was renovated in its historic image. The barn was updated from DuPont’s functional 1914 steel construction in 2004 as part of the Alapocas State Park, to include a glass-fronted exhibition space. The space now permanently houses the Delaware Folk-Art Collection; one of only three state-owned art collections in the United States. The folk art is arranged into five categories: “Art from work” to demonstrate the American identity formed through labor, “Fine Folk Art,” emulating high-end artistry, “New Traditions” displaying new artists, “Root Cultures” featuring African-American/Early European traditional art-forms, and “Salvage and Outsider Art” from upcycled discarded materials.
Established to pay homage to the Howard Pyle school of design, the Schoonover Studios feature a unique selection of American illustration. The birth of contemporary American Art is outlined in the evolution of Frank Schoonover as an artist, from his experimentation with 19th century photography to the early simple paintings and later diversion into an impressionistic style. Set in a famously artistic region of Delaware, Wilmington boasts many surrounding exhibits, framing the Studios as the central focus-point for cataloguing the historical progression of modern and contemporary art.