The Jester Artspace will be in a Grubb Road farmhouse that dates back to at least 1849. (Ken Mammarella photo)

Big plans: Creating Jester Artspace in Brandywine Hundred

Ken MammarellaCulture, Headlines

The Jester Artspace will be in a Grubb Road farmhouse that dates back to at least 1849. (Ken Mammarella photo)

The Jester Artspace will be in a Grubb Road farmhouse that dates back to at least 1849. (Ken Mammarella photo)

The people creating the Jester Artspace have big plans for a small(ish), long-abandoned building.

“It’s slow going,” said board president Alan Baseden, who grew up across Grubb Road from the old farmstead that they are renovating, with the help of New Castle County. “A lot longer than I expected.”

When the building gets its certificate of occupancy, Baseden hopes that it will provide “art for all. A place to make and see art, sophisticated but not lofty art.”

The group was founded in 2015, and since then they have received enough grant funding to open the building. Right now, their greatest need is in getting volunteers to work on their punch list.

In 2016, they signed a 20-year lease with the county that covers the 1,373-square-foot building and 1.4 acres that will include a sculpture garden and an outdoor gathering area.

The county is spending $1.3 million on the project, with also includes walking trails on 26 acres, Delaware Public Media reported in 2021.

The lease doesn’t include cash rent, since the county is satisfied by their plans as public service.

“The county agreed that they would restore the house envelope and that we would fit out the interior,” a handout posted on the building says. “Their restoration work is now complete, and the house has been handed off to us.”

“One of the sticking points is energy efficiency,” Baseden said. “Those historic stone walls have been left exposed, so it automatically fails. Everyone is involved in a good-faith effort to resolve this.”

Jester Artspace

The property is “a rare intact farmstead in Brandywine Hundred,” the Artspace quotes the New Castle County Historic Review Board. “An example of the early development of the hundred, before the suburbanization that occurred in the 20th century.”

RELATED: New group wants to preserve Brandywine Hundred history

They’ve found the building on an 1849 map, belonging then to Robert Johnson. Baseden theorizes that it could date to as early as 1799, when Grubb Road was rerouted, jogging toward the then-new Naamans Road, instead of running straight into Concord Pike. He theorizes that stones from a wall that used to line Grubb Road could have been used for the building. Parts of the wall can still be seen on Grubb, and more stones can be seen on the 26-acre Jester property.

The land was owned by the Day family from roughly the Civil War to World War II. Francis and Eleanor Jester owned it from 1953 until 1974, when it was sold to the county.

The land was later used by Hy-Point Dairy.

Farmhouses like the Jester place “tell a story of Brandywine Hundred that doesn’t get told,” Baseden said. “Everyone wasn’t a du Pont. They scratched out a living on rocky soil.”

The Jester Artspace has received about $200,000 in funding, primarily from four Wilmington-based foundations: the Welfare Foundation, the Longwood Foundation, the Crystal Trust Foundation and the Crestlea Foundation. He expects that funding to cover the costs of the work needed to open.

Architect Ed Rahme drew these plans for the Jester Artspace.

Architect Ed Rahme drew these plans for the Jester Artspace.

Looking forward

“When restoration is complete, we plan for the house to be open to the public during regular weekend hours for gallery viewing and arts project consultation,” the group writes. “The house would be available at other times for Artspace members. Paid membership is expected to be open to the public, in accordance with our bylaws. Fundraising activities for ongoing operations costs could also include art auctions, short-film viewing nights, annual dinners, social hours and modest, community-friendly performances.” That membership structure has not yet been set up, he said.

Drawings by architect Ed Rahme show the first floor with a gallery (open to the second floor for all that big art), two restrooms, a kitchenette and “additional gallery and instruction” space. The second floor has instruction space and cabinet storage.

Baseden also hopes for interactions from pedestrians enjoying the walking paths that have recently been constructed, linking the property to the Chalfonte subdivision to the west. Maybe artists will get feedback from passersby, he said.

Right now, the board is looking for two people to volunteer as project managers to coordinate work on things like signage. They’re also looking for marketing help. Another page announces the call for paid gigs as sketch models and art instructors.

“We have ongoing needs for folks with professional skills such as finance, law, teaching, etc.,” the site says. “We also need folks who are willing to just show up and help with an event.”

Baseden for 23 years worked as a news artist and interactive editor and now works for “a major financial company creating educational websites, animated videos, and illustrations that help regular working folks understand their money,” he writes. “Outside of his day job, Alan is an active artist specializing in urban sketching and printmaking.”

Board officers include secretary Melissa Zoladkiewicz and treasurer Reneett Su. Zoladkiewicz lives on Grubb Road. Su has had various roles in accounting and enjoys restoring furniture finds and home décor items.

Also on the board: Suzanne Wight Murphy, who is using her skills as a civil engineer and Wohlsen Construction estimator to help with renovations; Susan Benarcik, a sculptor and urban garden designer in Arden; and Jamie Liberatore, a casual fiber artist working in string art and macramé.

Baseden, who lives in Paoli, Pennsylvania, said the Jester Artspace will be the only such arts center in Brandywine Hundred. He compared it to the Center for the Creative Arts in Yorklyn and the Darlington Arts Center in Garnet Valley, Pennsylvania.

Share this Post