A home for artDec 03, 2018 10:44AM ● By J. Chambless
Michael Brock and his wife Lynn have owned the Hardcastle Gallery since 2005.
For 130 years, the Hardcastle Gallery has been supporting and promoting artists in our region.
At first, the gallery simply sold art supplies and offered a picture framing service. But at one point, it made inexpensive coffins for soldiers who had fought in the Civil War. That did not last very long, though. The framing business suffered because customers were put off by the fact that their frames were being made by a business that also produced coffins.
When the coffin business ceased, the framing business picked up again, and Hardcastle went on to frame for several well-known artists, including members of the Wyeth family. Originally based in Wilmington, the Hardcastle Gallery is now in Centreville on Kennett Pike, and the business is as active as ever.
Michael Brock, 72, bought the business in 2005 with his wife, Lynn. At the time, there were two galleries, one of which was in Newark. When they bought the business, they consolidated the galleries into one.
The couple, who live in Newark, have been running Hardcastle ever since. Brock said the gallery is focused on showcasing artists from Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maryland.
“We don’t go outside of those states because we don’t feel that we need to,” Brock said. “There are enough good artists without going to New York or Colorado for art, which the gallery used to do. I wanted to bring things back to the way they were in 1946, when regional artists were represented.”
Continuing through Jan. 6 is the gallery's annual miniature show. Sixty artists have created hundreds of small artworks appropriate for holiday gifts. “The biggest piece is 12 by 14 inches on the outside frame dimensions, so when I say miniature, I don’t mean the size of a postage stamp. It is gift giving price size,” Brock said. “The deal is that it is sort of an introduction to original artwork. Some people can’t afford big pieces of artwork, but they will buy a small piece and give that out as a Christmas gift.
“We had one woman who was in here, and she had been buying for a couple of years,” Brock added. “She had bought six pieces, and I finally asked her why. She was buying them for her grandson, who I figured was 20 years old or even older. She was really talking about her great-grandson.”
“This kid was 7 years old, and she was giving him these little art pieces. She figured by the time he was 18 he would have a nice little collection of original artwork.”
Framing remains the biggest part of the gallery’s business.
One of the employees is David Berndt, 75, the son of the former owner, Bayard Taylor Berndt. He works one day a week, putting the artwork together and doing some touch-up work. Because he is the son of the former business owner, he's familiar with all aspects of what the business does.
“He’s almost completely retired, and I’m not retired, but I like what I’m doing,” Brock said.
Brock explained that the gallery can frame almost anything. For example, he was able to frame a piece from a crashed World War II fighter plane. Much of the framing material they have available can’t be found in other galleries and stores in the region. Berndt gets his supply from New York.
In addition to framing and selling artwork, the gallery is known for art renovation and installation. It's also in the business of appraising original artwork. Brock pointed out that a lot of people think they have original artwork, but that isn’t always the case. Even if the artwork is original, an appraisal may be necessary.
“Some of these works have appreciated over the years, so they need to be appraised,” Brock said. “The reason for that is to protect them against insurance companies who only give them ten cents on the dollar. Let’s say there is a fire, or someone steals something. It needs to be appraised by a third party that is not the owner of the artwork.”
Brock said that insurance companies want to see someone else putting their reputation on the line and saying the art is worth a certain amount.
“The insurance companies are going to give you as little as possible,” Brock said. “When you’re in a car accident and take your car in for repair, the insurance companies will give you as little as possible. It’s the same thing with art. That’s why the appraisals are valuable. You actually have a legitimate evaluation of the value of your art. Hardcastle has been around since 1888. The insurance company goes ahead and honors that.
“There have been horror stories of people who have come in here, and they’ve had a fire or something like that, and they had no appraisals or anything,” he said. “The insurance companies pretty much only give them what the canvas and frame is worth. They don’t give what the art is actually worth.”
Brock is proud that his gallery is a veteran-owned business. He was in the military for 10 years and served in Vietnam when he was in his 20s. After he left the service, he ended up working for Wilmington Savings Fund, and at one point he decided he would enter a competition at the Delaware Art Museum. Even though he had been painting since 1964, he didn’t really expect anything to come from it.
“It is always your relatives that tell you that you are good,” Brock said. “Pieces were selected for the exhibit, and then I just started picking up on art after that.”
Despite being mostly self-taught, Brock had one of his works placed in the White House. The only art lessons he took were in 1980 with Terry Newitt, who teaches at Archmere Academy. Newitt was one of the only students of Andrew Wyeth, as was Andrew Wyeth’s son, Jamie.
It was in 1985 when Brock’s work ended up in the White House. He had painted Lower Brandywine Presbyterian Church, which is on Kennett Pike, and his artwork was purchased at a show. He recently learned that it is in a corridor off of the West Wing.
Despite his age, Brock said he has no interest in retiring, and he is still winning awards for his art.
“At a certain point, you realize you have to be doing something right,” he said. “There are some jobs you want to retire from, but not this. I have an affinity for artists. I like to get artists and have shows. I’ve got about 100 paintings hanging up in the gallery right now, but only six of them are mine. It is fun for me when you see other people’s artwork sell. All I’m doing is carrying on the tradition of Hardcastle.”
Olga Nielsen, who is 67 and lives in North Wilmington, has been showing her art at Hardcastle since 2008. In addition to being an instructor at the Community Arts Center in Wallingford, she teaches at the Delaware College of Art and Design in Wilmington. “Hardcastle Gallery is wonderful, and it is also one of the oldest galleries in Wilmington,” Nielsen said.
Lillian Rippa, who is from Smyrna, has also been involved with Hardcastle for decades, and she knew Brock before he owned Hardcastle. She describes him as a special man who cares for and counsels the artists at his gallery. She also admires his art.
“I am, and others are, fans of Michael’s artwork. His bird paintings are extraordinary in their feeling and technique,” she said. “He and his loving family stand out indeed, and my family is blessed to have their friendship.”
Carolyn Blish, who currently lives in Lancaster, is another one of Hardcastle’s many featured artists. She has been associated with the gallery for more than 60 years, which is long before Brock got involved with Hardcastle. She nonetheless admires his leadership and considers Hardcastle her principal gallery in Delaware. “His creative ideas for exhibitions are outstanding, and he excels as an artist himself,” Blish said. “He always brings a smile while sharing his stories from the past.”
Another artist featured at the gallery is Charles Allmond, who is 87 and lives in Wilmington. He studied at the University of Delaware and Temple University. In addition to serving in the U.S. Coast Guard, he worked as an agronomist. He also practiced law for 30 years.
Allmond eventually found yet another career in art. His sculptures have been exhibited in more than 75 museums in the United States, Canada, and Sweden. He has won several awards, including the Delaware Governor's Award for the Arts. “I’ve always been interested in art,” Allmond said. “Even in grade school, it was my favorite class.”
James McGlynn, 74, is another Vietnam veteran who is an artist and has his work displayed at Hardcastle Gallery. He was born in Wilmington, and he lives in Hockessin. Most of his work is done with watercolors. He became a full-time artist around 1974. He was working at an advertising agency and got laid off. He applied for a job at Hardcastle and became a sales clerk. Shortly thereafter, he had a show. While working in that capacity, he also got to know members of the Wyeth family.
McGlynn has been successful as an artist, but he also admits that it can be a very difficult path to travel, and that people’s tastes are changing.
“You have to be true to yourself, but you also have to make a living,” McGlynn said. “That’s the bottom line. There’s a lot of promotion involved. You have to have brochures, and you have to have events. You can’t just hang a picture and expect someone to buy it.”
McGlynn said that he encourages young artists to be practical and do things like start a retirement plan. Most artists, he pointed out, have another job. “If you don’t sell paintings, you better start pumping gas or do something else,” he said. “Even if your art is good, a lot of it is just fate and luck.”
For more information, visit www.hardcastlegallery.com.