Artist Mark Reeve’s new exhibit celebrates Delaware agricultural history

Mark Reeve
Mark Reeve spent more than eight months interviewing farm families and taking photos to use for his 10 portraits which are on display through June 30th at the Delaware Agricultural Museum & Village.

By Christi Milligan

Delaware artist Mark S. Reeve had an idea: pay homage to the state’s agricultural history through an art show sponsored by businesses committed to its future.

The result, “Delaware Century Farm Portraits,” is a collection of 10 paintings by Reeve that celebrate sustained agriculture. The exhibit is on display at the Delaware Agricultural Museum and Village.

A graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art, Reeve has spent more than 18 years documenting the state’s agricultural landscapes through his oil paintings. But he said he longed to engage the business community in what he calls an intersection of art and education, business and agriculture.

It’s a concept that is gaining tread with the artistic community, according to Reeve.

“How do you make art an integral piece of people’s lives and help legislative constituencies understand its importance,” said Reeve, who works as the communications director for Kent Sussex Industries. “I was looking to connect my art with the greater social and economic concerns of the state to meet people where they are.”

The Deputy Farm by Mark Reeve
The Deputy Farm—Lesley and Grier Stayton portrayed

Reeve met with Department of Agriculture Secretary Ed Kee last year to explore the possibility of chronicling some of Delaware’s century farms through paintings and videos. One of his goals was to share the histories of the farms and families who maintain them, and the historical figures who shaped the political and social landscape.

Reeve said he spent months interviewing his subjects, researching the histories and taking photographs.

“These are the folks that built the state,” said Reeve. “It’s more than just corn and soybeans.”

One painting shows Beatrice Whitehead on the front lawn of the stately Fairview Farm in Lincoln. The farm was once owned by Robert Houston, who was instrumental in the start of Georgetown.

Joseph and Kathryn Mitchell pose in front of the barn at Woodside Farm in Hockessin. The land was purchased by Thomas Mitchell in 1796 and is now home to the successful Woodside Creamery.

Hickory Hill Farm in Cheswold retreats behind a portrait of Dr. Ulysses S. Washington, former Delaware State University Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources chair. While the farm is not certified as an official “century farm,” Reeve said Washington was instrumental in developing legislation toward funding that propelled African Americans and students into agricultural careers, according to Reeve.

Hickory Hill farm
Hickory Hill Farm—Ulysses S. Washington portrayed.

“We’re not only stewards of history,” said Reeve, who interviewed subjects and took photos of them and their farms. “This is a blueprint for how people have to look at their farms.”

The Delaware Century Farm program officially recognizes farm families that have held the same farm for at least 100 years. There are 129 farms that have been certified, some dating back to the late 1600s.

Rob Bunting, vice president at M&T Bank and team leader for Sussex County agribusiness, said the bank was thrilled to support Reeve’s exhibit. Three years ago M&T acquired Wilmington Trust, including the bank’s book of agricultural business.

“The bank’s overall well-being will be determined by the well-being of the businesses we serve,” said Bunting. “We loan into the strongest business lines like farming because farming is our community’s strength.”

The Exchange Tract by Mark Reeve
The Exchange Tract—G. Wallace Caulk, Jr., former director of the Delaware Farm Bureau, portrayed

The exhibit also highlights the Young Farmers Loan Program, which provides start-up funding for individuals between 18 and 40 to purchase a farm.

“Agriculture is such a big part of Delaware’s economic impact and our history and it’s part of our culture and traditions since colonial times,” said Kee. “To celebrate all that through art is very significant — significant and welcome.”

Kee added that the catalogs are an integral piece of the exhibit as well, offering intriguing backstory details to the farms and the generations of families who called them home.

The “Delaware Century Farm Portraits” exhibit continues through June 30. Additional sponsors include Growmark FS, Farm Family, Delaware Farm Bureau, and Wilson’s Auction.

Reeve said he’s not sure about future paintings of Delaware century farms but he’d consider it. In the meantime, he said he’s pleased with the project and support from the agricultural and business industries.

“It was fun — doing a portrait on the property,” said Reeve. “But it has to hold up as a piece of work in its own right.” 

Cooch's Bridge by Mark Reeve
Cooch’s Bridge—Hon. Richard R. Cooch portrayed

Farms depicted in the exhibition include:

Miller Farm
Mary Emily Miller
and mother Lillian Postles Miller

16-Acre Farm
Clifford and Todd Lawson

The Deputy Farm
Lesley and Grier Stayton

Cooch’s Bridge
Honorable Richard R. Cooch

Fairview Farm
Beatrice Whitehead

Warrington’s Death Bid Farm
Robert and Diana Lawson

Woodside Farm, Hockessin
Joseph and Kathryn Mitchell

The Exchange Tract
G. Wallace Caulk Jr.

Swan Creek Farm
Todd and Marvin Davis

Hickory Hill Farm
Ulysses S. Washington

Miller Farm
Miller Farm—Mary Emily Miller and mother Lillian Lewis Postles Miller portrayed

M&T pours efforts into agribusiness

Rob Bunting
Rob Bunting, vice president at M&T Bank and team leader for Sussex County agribusiness, said the bank was thrilled to support Reeve’s exhibit

Rob Bunting, vice president and team leader for Sussex County Agribusiness said the Delaware Century Farm Portrait exhibit came at the perfect time. M&T was ready to make agribusiness a focus and to create a collaborative effort with the agricultural community.

The bank has already featured Woodside Creamery in a local commercial, and Bunting said his team is looking forwarded to the synergy and exposure from the art show reception and exhibition.

“This was a great opportunity for us and Mark Reeve made it all happen,” he said.

Proceeds from the auction of two Century Farm paintings were donated to the Agricultural Museum and the Young Farmers Loan Program.  The program was enacted by the Delaware General Assembly to help mitigate the hefty startup costs of purchasing land and equipment.

According to Department of Agriculture Secretary Ed Kee, there are 25 farmers between the ages of 18 and 40 years old participating in the program, which includes 2,200 acres preserved as agricultural properties.

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