"Go big or go home." Maine is too far away, so I decided to paint big.
|Reflections, Carol L. Douglas|
Although Brandywine Creek looks like a sleepy, tidal river, it drops about 160 feet from its head of navigation to this point. That was enough to create good mill raceways. To the west were the fertile grain fields of Pennsylvania; just downriver are navigable channels out to the ocean. It was a perfect place to help birth the American Industrial Revolution.
Gilpin's Mill on the Brandywine, c. 1827, attributed to Thomas Doughty. Courtesy Bryn Mawr.
By 1687, there was a grain mill on the Brandywine. In 1735, Quakers settled across the creek from Wilmington proper. By 1796, the village could grind 400,000 bushels of grain per year.
The first paper mill opened in 1787; the first cotton mill in 1795. In 1802, E.I. du Pont bought in and established his now-famous Eleutherian Mills. By 1810, he was the biggest gunpowder manufacturer in the country. E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company would become one of the world’s largest conglomerates. It’s still the largest chemical company in the world, in the form of DowDuPont.
Of course, none of this history is visible. That’s both good news and bad news. The water is clean enough to swim in, something that wouldn’t have been possible a few decades ago. But all the beautiful old mills are gone. In some cases, their footings remain as the foundations for modern condos, which line the river on the Brandywine side.
1905 postcard of the Dupont Gunpowder Mills, courtesy of University of Delaware.
The loveliest building in our vicinity was the Masley glove factory, but it was around the bend from us, hidden by trees. Otherwise, there were platitudes: bridges and trees and the characteristic muddy bank of a mid-Atlantic river. While there was a pretty early twentieth century plant across the river, it was dwarfed by modern office buildings. I've escaped the orbit of urban skylines and won't willingly return.
So I decided to paint the glove factory's reflection in Brandywine Creek. There was no way such an absurdity would work on a small canvas, so I went large. The wind came up as I painted, so I didn’t capture exactly what I felt.
Did it work? I don't really think so, but it was more fun and more challenging than playing it safe. I’m feeling quite a bit better this morning. I can finish—if not in style, than at least with my self-respect intact.