So….no secret….I am the lover of what some consider to be more obscure or less popular bits of Chester County history. Among those bits would be Ker-Feal, the country home of Dr. Albert Barnes.
“When I looked out the window at Ker-Feal this morning, God went over the head of all artists in my estimation: He had made a picture of wide fields and luscious hills covered with an immaculate white; and holding the fields and hills together in the composition was a beautiful network of white lines made up of lacy patterns of branches of trees and twigs of bushes.”
~ Letter from Albert C. Barnes to Mrs. Owen J. Roberts, March 30, 1942 (courtesy of County Lines Magazine February 2019 article)
Ok so yeah. THAT. Makes me itch to see Ker-Feal as I have never been and have never been invited to tour the property and take it all in.
Sigh. It sounds amazing, doesn’t it?
Which is why I am so glad that County Lines Magazine’s February, 2019 issue will feature a terrific article on Ker-Feal!
The article was written by my pal Kirsten at Natural Lands. Partway down the article you will see a photograph of the cover for a 1942 House & Garden Magazine. That is my personal contribution to this article as I have that magazine.
Most people who know of Albert Barnes think of the extraordinary art collection he left in trust for the public, first at his Lower Merion home and then later moved to a modern museum on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia. The world-class collection includes over 181 Renoirs, 69 Cezannes, 59 Matisses, 46 Picassos and so much more.
But few know about another residence in Chester County, home to a different type of collection.
Here’s a short version of that story.
…Dr. Barnes and his wife, Laura Leggett Barnes, acquired an 18th-century farmhouse in Chester Springs, Chester County in 1940 and called it “Ker-Feal.” Named after Barnes’s favorite dog, Fidèle de Port Manech, Ker-Feal translates to “Fidèle’s House” in Breton. Dr. Barnes adopted the Brittany spaniel mix on a trip to France.
(Now go and read the article – it’s amazing, well-written, and interesting)
Dr. Barnes’s country home, Ker-Feal, was featured on the December 1942 cover of House & Garden Magazine; Dr. Barnes and Barnes foundation instructor Violette de Mazia also wrote articles in the issue. This image right here specifically in my post is from the magazine copy which I purchased.
by Stephan Salisbury, Staff Writer @spsalisbury | firstname.lastname@example.org
Ker-Feal, the 137-acre Chester County property used by art collector Albert C. Barnes as a country retreat, and owned since his 1951 death by the Barnes Foundation, will have conservation easements placed on it, keeping the land open even if it is sold.
Although there are no plans to sell the property, which is in West Pikeland Township, the Barnes Foundation has worked with Natural Lands, a land conservancy based in Media, to work out an arrangement that allows for subdivision of the property into four permanently protected parcels.
Thomas Collins, head of the Barnes, said in a statement Wednesday that the purpose of the easement was to “preserve the open space and rural character of Ker-Feal in perpetuity.”
….In October, Natural Lands and the Barnes applied to West Pikeland for permission to subdivide Ker-Feal into the four parcels….In addition to the open-land restrictions, the agreement formalizes and protects the route of the Horse-Shoe Trail, a horseback riding and hiking trail that runs through Ker-Feal and on toward Harrisburg.
Also part of the U.S. Library of Congress’s Gottscho-Schleisner Collection (Library of Congress). August 1942.
What the article and conservation easement do NOT cover as per my understanding of the article, is what happens to the art collection housed there.
So anyway, I wanted to share this update because it is preservation progress. At least it appears the Barnes Foundation is NOT interested in selling at this point. But since they broke Dr. Barnes’ Trust, who knows what the future might hold, right?
The house should be a museum in it’s own right.
But safe for now is a win, and I am happy about the news.
Dr. Barnes’s country home, Ker-Feal, was featured on the December 1942 cover of House & Garden Magazine; Dr. Barnes and Barnes foundation instructor Violette de Mazia also wrote articles in the issue. This image right here specifically in my post is from the eBay listing for the magazine copy which I purchased.
Ker-Feal. The country home of Dr. Albert Barnes on 1081 Bodine Road off Yellow Springs Road in West Pikeland Township, Chester County. (And before people start to holler, I found the exact address on the Internet. It’s not a secret.) It also houses a Barnes art collection. His American Art collection. And after what I read today in The Philadelphia Inquirer, I have to ask, is it at risk?
by Stephan Salisbury, Staff Writer @spsalisbury | email@example.com
….“Selling Merion is expressly disallowed” by the foundation’s charter documents, said Barnes president and chief executive Thomas Collins.
…..Joseph Neubauer, chair of the Barnes board of trustees, could not be reached for comment. No other board member would comment on future plans for Merion or Ker-Feal. A Barnes spokewoman said, “The board felt they don’t have anything to add to the information we’ve already shared with you.”
….“What I’d like to do is get through this assessment project and figure out what we have at Ker-Feal,” said Collins. “There’s no art there. It’s very different from the program that we offer here. So the question is … what pieces of that do we want to present? How do we present them? What kind of resources are there, and what can we do with them in terms of public access?”
But there IS art at Ker-Feal, isn’t there? It is filled with Pennsylvania German/Pennsylvania Dutch folk art and such, isn’t it? Ker-Feal houses an American Collection, yes? I guess the Barnes people today do not consider folk art/American art, art? What about the property? At one time did people not say you could have an arboretum to rival Longwood?
Ker-Feal has been on the National Register of Historic Places since November 7, 2003.
It (as I have said and as I have read) houses an amazing art collection on its own. It’s 137 pristine acres. You do the math with greedy developers in Chester County as to what that could become, right?
This is something else the people who care about Chester County, folk art, architectural heritage, and open space need to be aware of and NOW. If I had not read that Inquirer article (and been led to said aforementioned article by Vista Today) I would not have thought of Ker-Feal again. Not unusual, most people forget it exists. Because The Barnes does nothing with it.
This was Dr. Barnes’ weekend and I presume guest retreat. It had been mentioned in his will and was supposed to be conserved and preserved but can you trust The Barnes Foundation ? Do we not remember all of the coverage of the breaking of the will and fighting with all of the neighbors? (CueThe Art of the Steal.)
What happened, in the film’s telling, is a plot hatched in the mid-’90s by local politicians and power brokers to break Barnes’ trust and move his collection to downtown Philadelphia, where they hope it will be a major tourist draw. In the film, Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell calls the move a “no-brainer.”
“There isn’t a couple in the U.S., or Europe, or Asia who’s interested in arts and culture, who wouldn’t come to Philadelphia for at least a long weekend” — if only the Barnes collection came to the city, Rendell says.
“It’s fair to say there was a vast conspiracy to move the Barnes,” says author John Anderson.
Los Angeles Times art critic Christopher Knight describes the move as a takeover:
“Foundations are nonprofit corporations,” Knight says. “We’re used to hearing about corporate takeovers with for-profit corporations. But this was a nonprofit corporate takeover.”
Another interesting story about this property, is in 2017, someone I know ended up going down the driveway of Ker-Feal. I do not know how she ended up going down the driveway, it is easy to get lost where Ker-Feal is located.
As they were trying to get out of there, they were chased by a scary man who apparently is not a caretaker yet who sees the property as his own. This person I knew has a small child with her. No one has any idea who the man was. The woman told me and I told her to call the Barnes Foundation so they knew, and she did.
Except for those who know the property is there it is mostly forgotten. And my biggest fear is The Barnes Foundation is going to sell this parcel off and break up Dr. Barnes’ OTHER art collection. This land parcel could end up with a developer, couldn’t it?
I would love to photograph this property before anything else happens, but who the heck knows how you get permission to do that or if it safe given the woman I know’s experience in 2017.
On Wikemedia Commons, I found another image with a caption:
Gatepost of “Ker-Feal” a house on the NRHP since November 7, 2003, at 1081 Bodine Road, Chester Springs, in West Pikeland Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania. Ker-Feal was a home of Albert Barnes, medical-pharma businessman, and founder of the Barnes Foundation. This rotten picture is all I could get because of no-trespassing restrictions. Photo credit Smallbones 2011 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ker_Feal_Chesco_PA.JPG
To listen to Kimberly Camp tell the story, it’s all too reminiscent of the opening scene in the movie Titanic. A refined, elderly lady is holding a treasure, a model she once constructed of Ker-Feal, the rural Chester County estate of Dr. Albert C. Barnes. Found in a closet there, it sparks million-dollar memories as she offers a priceless oral history in exchange for the right to celebrate her 90th birthday inside the 18th-century farmhouse….Yet Ker-Feal may be the real—if remote—gem that gets lost in the bitter dispute. Built in 1775, it sits on 137 prime open acres along Bodine Road off Yellow Springs Road in Chester Springs.
….Barnes filled Ker-Feal with rare American decorative arts….The botanical garden was developed by his wife, Laura Barnes, who died in 1967.
“The Impressionist collection is so seductive, it’s very easy to ignore his American collection,” says Camp…in November 1998, its board of trustees was unaware Barnes had specifically addressed Ker-Feal in his will. In fact, in the 1 1/2-page document that’s separate from the foundation’s charter or trust, Barnes made Ker-Feal and its contents part of his more heralded collection, and stipulated that the estate be turned into “a living museum of art and a botanical garden,” says Camp.
That uncovered, Camp converted four convergent grants in 2001, including $200,000 from West Pikeland Township, to stabilize and safeguard Ker-Feal. …. By late 2003, Ker-Feal was added to the National Register of Historic Places….In 2006, another Camp-initiated grant arrived from the state totaling $40,000, for grounds and green stock assessment. …The value of the 9,000 catalogued and databased pieces—which includes those at the gallery and Ker-Feal—is incalculable. Some estimates place it between $25 and $70 billion……At Ker-Feal, based upon a comparison of inventories over time, Camp says some—a number “less than 100”—of the 2,000 decorative items have already been stolen. Worse yet, they were actually strategically replaced with reproductions….
…..“It’s such a wonderful place,” Camp says. “In a way, it has more aesthetic and cultural integrity than the gallery, but it’s such a small snapshot compared to what’s at Merion.”….But Camp says that when she arrived, she was point-blank instructed to prepare Ker-Feal, the estate and its contents, for liquidation to help fund operations at Merion. “When I went out there, I said, ‘You can’t sell this. You’ve got to be kidding me!’ Camp remembers…..
In my humble opinion, this latest article in The Philadelphia Inquirer signals that Ker-Feal could really be at risk, and can’t you agree? They have never really dealt with the property, and if it had not been for that Kimberly Camp, it would not have had anything done and mold and whatnot would have taken over.
I picture Ker-Feal like a beautiful time capsule. I am certain the Barnes Foundation could save it and preserve it and open it up for tours or what not if the want to. But do they want to?
So Chester County, how do you feel about Ker-Feal? I think it is worth saving, don’t you?
Life is never dull at the Barnes Foundation: Financial problems, battles with Lower Merion Township, board in-fighting, territorial neighbors.
In short, in three years as executive director of the world-famous-yet-notoriously private Barnes, Kimberly Camp has seen it all. With a $7 billion collection featuring work of Cezanne, Picasso, Renior, Van Gogh and Matisse, there’s a lot to fight over.
Camp, who has been tireless in invigorating the Barnes as an educational center for students and scholars, is now devoting energy to another campaign: turning the country estate of Dr. Albert Barnes in Chester County into a learning center.
Though it’s been strapped for cash, the Barnes Foundation has invested $7 million in the historic home, which Dr. Barnes bought in 1941…
Built in 1775, Ker-Feal, which sits on 137 acres, was always a country getaway for Barnes, never a primary residence. Yet Barnes filled it with goods nonetheless — Pennsylvania Dutch blanket chests, elaborate metal work, paintings and pottery.
The mildew was ruining the items, and the building needed a climate-control system, security, updated electric and costly mold remediation on the building and individual pieces — all 2,000 of them.
The West Pikeland Land Trust is holding the fund-raiser, said Chairwoman Eileen Juico, because the estate, which belonged to the late Albert Barnes, is one of the largest remaining pieces of open space in West Pikeland and houses a collection of 18th- and early 19th-century American decorative arts.
The Barnes Foundation, which owns the estate, has had financial difficulties in recent years and has proposed moving its gallery and art education program from Lower Merion to Philadelphia. But the foundation has received criticism for the proposal because the move would violate Barnes’ will.
Judge Stanley Ott has instructed Barnes officials to find out how much money could be raised through the sale of the estate instead of moving to Center City. The case will resume this summer.
Kimberly Camp, executive director of the Barnes Foundation, has said it often receives offers for the property, some as high as $12 million….
Ker-Feal is Breton Gaelic for “Fidel’s house,” in honor of Dr. Barnes’ dog, Fidel. Barnes died in 1951.
The artwork collected at Ker-Feal consists of antique furniture from many regions of colonial America, Pennsylvania Dutch painted blanket chests, pewter, glass, wrought iron hinges and ceramics — redware, spongeware and English “Gaudy Dutch.” Ker-Feal is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
by Virginia A. Smith, Inquirer Staff Writer firstname.lastname@example.org
A walk in the woods with Ernie Schuyler is like no other…
Schuyler, curator emeritus of botany at the Academy of Natural Sciences, prefers “Ernie” to his given name, Alfred…..Which is where you’ll find him these days: down to earth, literally, walking the grounds at Ker-Feal, the 138-acre retreat in Chester Springs that belonged to the late Albert and Laura Barnes….At the behest of the Barnes Foundation, Schuyler is doing a plant inventory at this once showy estate, which has lain fallow since Albert Barnes’ death on July 24, 1951…..
Four overgrown terraces barely hint of their magazine-quality gardens back in the day. Once-smooth lawns are tufted with dandelions. And the surrounding forest is so choked with invasive plants that much of the native flora is being squeezed out.
A caretaker lives atop the garage, in view of the 1775 fieldstone farmhouse, which is shuttered tight. The house still holds Albert Barnes’ collection of more than 2,000 pieces of early American decorative art and furniture, a fascination he once suggested derived from his Pennsylvania Dutch grandmother…..Imagine Albert on the porch, Fidèle at his feet, chatting with British actor Charles Laughton or philosopher John Dewey. Both were such frequent guests at Ker-Feal, they had their own bedrooms.
Imagine Laura’s summer terraces ablaze with roses, the botanical garden she fashioned from a quartz quarry and her unusual hand-picked trees and shrubs. She also had an orchard, a bamboo grove, a heath garden and a blueberry patch, of which little survives.
Today, in a place that once hosted classes in horticulture, botany and plant geography, Schuyler has cataloged 400 plant species and identified about 80 percent of them.
In the book Lost in the Museum: Buried Treasures and the Stories They Tell By Nancy Moses (preview on Google HERE) there is an entire chapter on Ker-Feal
The above is but a tiny excerpt of the very in depth chapter on Ker-Feal in Lost in the Museum: Buried Treasures and the Stories They Tell By Nancy Moses. You can pick up a used copy of the book inexpensively on Amazon . I actually found a copy that was hardbound for $5.50 on al libris. (And if you are a person with a lot of books and need to sell some, you can sell them easily on al libris too.) Halfprice Books is also a good place to search for books, but I digress.
So, that is all I have got. It’s one of the great mysteries unless you have been there. But wouldn’t it be great if it could survive and the gardens get restored and be able to see the folk art collections publicly?