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Happy to Be Here: The painters came home


Nothing beats the real thing – not copies, not photographs, not images on the internet.

That’s why the Freeman’s Auctions display at Phillips’ Mill, the birthplace of the original Pennsylvania Impressionists was so satisfying.

“They’ve come home,” someone said at the opening on May 22. The exhibition was whisked away two days later, but for a short time, for anyone who could get to the gallery along the Delaware in Solebury Township it was a significant experience, possibly the only time a local viewer could get close enough to an Edward Redfield painting to touch the brush strokes he was famous for.

Redfield’s “Spring Veil” was the show’s centerpiece, hung on the small gallery-theater’s stage, between an unusual scene by Daniel Garber and a landscape by Robert Spencer.

The Phillips’ Mill exhibition was an event running up to American Week, June 4-8, and Freeman’s June 6 auction, “Collect: American Art Featuring Works from the Estate of Sydney F. Martin,” which includes oils, sculpture, prints and drawings, early and contemporary artists.

Freeman’s described the auction in a press release: “... fine opportunities for buyers at all stages to expand their collections, with a particular focus on 19th- and 20th-century painting and sculpture.” Artists including Walter Emerson Baum, George Gardner Symons, Morgan Colt, John Fulton Folinsbee, Charles Hargens, Joseph Crilley, Ranulph Bye, Alan Fetterman, Dot Bunn and Robert Seufert were represented.

The small local exhibition, just a few paintings out of 143 works in the Martin collection, was remarkable not just for the art presented but also for the first collaboration of the Phillips’ Mill Community Association, owner of the mill with the New Hope Colony Foundation for the Arts, which is working on revival of Morgan Colt’s replica English village across River Road as a place for artists to work and study.

The Community Association was organized in 1929, the New Hope Colony Foundation just five years ago. Phillips’ Mill President Laura Womack and New Hope Colony President Brent Webber worked together to plan the event with Freeman’s, which has a strong association with Bucks County.

Webber, an architect, had an earlier connection with the auction house as a designer of Freeman’s former location on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia. Webber said he has known Thomas McCabe, Freeman’s chief client officer, for years. McCabe has attended Friends of the Delaware Canal events – Webber is president of the Friends board.

“Tom reached out to me and reached out to Laura to suggest the show,” Webber said. “It was a happy collaboration.”

Webber added that the Phillips” Mill show came at a good time, as the New Hope Colony Foundation prepares to launch its physical residency at the Armitage Estate on Sugan Road.

Sydney Martin and his wife, Sharon, founded The Sytex Group Inc., a company supporting Army, Air Force, Navy and National Intelligence clients. Collector Sydney Martin specialized in coins and art and the Martins have been well-known for local philanthropy.

Sydney Martin died at his Amelia Island, Fla., home Jan. 19, 2021. According to the obituary printed in the Washington Post, “He lived for more than 30 years in Doylestown, Pa., and became involved in a number of local and national boards. He became the president of the American Numismatic Society, and the chair of the Michener Museum of Art, the executive vice president of the Doylestown Historical Society, and a vice president of the Central Bucks Chamber of Commerce. He also served on the board of the Heritage Conservancy, the Washington Crossing Council of the Boy Scouts of America (he was proud to earn his own Eagle Scout distinction), and the National Bibliographic Society.” He was the editor of the Colonial Coin Collectors Society Newsletter and author of articles and books on American numismatics.”

Looking at Sydney Martin’s collection of American Art and looking back at his life has been a profound experience for someone who has chronicled local news for a long time. By preserving so much and supporting so many local institutions, he truly left his mark on Bucks County.