CHADDS FORD, Pa. -- Andrew Wyeth's humble studio in the picturesque Brandywine Valley isn't something the average day tripper would stumble upon, but the late artist made his wishes loud and clear for anyone who might have found their way down the winding wooded path to his door.
"I AM WORKING SO PLEASE DO NOT DISTURB. I do not sign autographs," announces a small white sign at the entryway.
Now, for the first time, the public will be able to get past that sign and venture into Wyeth's world.
Starting July 3, the studio will be open to the public for a handful of tours each day. Shuttle buses will transport a maximum of 14 people for the short ride from the Brandywine River Museum to the studio for each tour. Timed tickets go on sale June 1.
"He did a great job of keeping the place under wraps," said Christine Podmaniczky, a curator at the Brandywine River Museum.
The fieldstone A-frame structure was built as a schoolhouse in 1875 and purchased by Wyeth's father, the celebrated illustrator N.C. Wyeth, in 1925 when the school closed. Andrew Wyeth married his wife, Betsy, in 1940 and the old schoolhouse became their home, where they raised their sons, Nicholas and Jamie, as well as Wyeth's art studio. The family also spent many summers in Maine.
They moved to a house nearby in 1961, but Wyeth kept the place as his studio for the remainder of his life. He painted thousands of egg tempera paintings, drawings and watercolors there, from the dark self-portrait "Trodden Weed" to his hundreds of secret Helga paintings, which generated worldwide publicity and controversy when they were suddenly revealed in 1986.
After Wyeth's death in 2009, his wife donated the studio to the neighboring Brandywine museum. Extensive work was necessary before the building could open to tours.
"Structurally, it was a mess," Podmaniczky said, noting that the wood-shingled roof needed replacing, the foundation had to be stabilized and the chimney was pulling away from the rest of the structure. Every piece of the studio's contents was scrutinized, from the smallest paintbrush to the largest piece of furniture.
"We sent things out to conservators," she said. "Everything was catalogued and numbered, all the artwork was copied and the copies were hung in the exact same places as the originals."
The rooms are austere as well as cozy, lacking in decorative flourishes but filled with cherished mementos and personal collections that shed light on Wyeth's inspiration and interests.