Reenactors create authentic tableaus, using Marshallton and Newlin as backdrops
By Kathleen Brady Shea, Managing Editor, The Times
The process proved painstaking: A Downingtown artist shaved his head and mustache, donned handcrafted American Indian garb, and then attempted to reattach some hair – a far more daunting procedure.
A lock of raven strands, embellished with a black and white feather, refused to stay put. But Adrian Martinez, doubling as a red-and black-faced Iroquois Warrior, was not about to let the tuft defeat him – not after months of preparation to recreate pivotal moments in Chester County history.
“I have a knife,” Martinez told the crew attempting to force the hair into submission. “Oh dear, are you going to start the scalping already?” asked Sarah Papenhausen, one of a bevy of costuming assistants working at the restored Blacksmith Shop in Marshallton.
Ultimately, the knife wasn’t needed, and Martinez led a band of late 18th-century dwellers about a block from the shop to the preserved ruins of Martin’s Tavern, a Revolutionary War-era watering hole. The Saturday spectacle delighted passing motorists, whose historic view typically involves Marshallton’s quaint streetscape, not people. In fact, the brief odyssey achieved a traffic-calming effect that has long eluded the town’s residents.
Martinez, whose acclaimed art career spans 25 years, said he got the idea to focus a series of oil paintings on some of Chester County’s influential but lesser-known 18th-century heroes about three years ago. However, after a couple years of ruminating, he concluded he lacked the accoutrements to set up the photographs that would serve as inspiration.
He said the dream got resuscitated about six months ago during a West Chester University-sponsored concert trip to Manhattan. Seated behind him on the tour bus were Bob and Alma Lyng, officers of the Friends of Martin’s Tavern, a nonprofit group devoted to preserving Marshallton’s storied heritage.
“By the end of the second, two-hour bus trip, we were fast friends,” said Martinez. He said he and his wife, Leah Martinez, were invited to dinner at the Lyngs and were introduced to Linda Kaat, another Martin’s Tavern principal and a preservationist known for her work to save the Brandywine Battlefield and the Embreeville grave of Indian Hannah, the last known Lenni-Lenape to live in Chester County.
Martinez, whose devotees include former President George Bush and his wife, Laura, said preparations for Saturday’s reenactment extravaganza began in earnest three months ago. And absent the water bottles and cellphones, period authenticity ruled. Most of the attire came from the Downingtown Meeting, which periodically stages Colonial Quaker weddings. Costume gurus Betsy Barr and Sally McQuail also participated in the tableaus.
With a plethora of history buffs involved in the project, Martinez was even able to do some type-casting. For example, renowned horticulturist David L. Culp of Downingtown played Humphry Marshall, a botanist who created the nation’s second botanical gardens in Marshallton. (The first was established in Philadelphia by his higher-profile cousin, John Bartrum.) And Todd Babcock, a surveyor as well as the president of the Mason-Dixon Line Preservation Partnership, took the role of Charles Mason.
“This has just taken on a life of its own,” Martinez said as the reenactors assumed their places.
The activity also took on political overtones when Rep. Chris Ross stopped by the tavern to observe the drama. He thanked the participants for calling attention to highlights of Chester County’s past. “The more we can talk about it, the more likely we can get funding for long-term projects to protect these areas,” he said.
After the first photo shoot, orchestrated by Leah Martinez, the troupe took a break before heading to Harlan House, where Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon worked to establish the border between Pennsylvania and Maryland, a line that would later become the demarcation between free and slave states.
Although the Newlin Township home at the corner of Embreeville and Stargazers Road is now private, owner Tolly Roby graciously permitted the group to set up photos in the room where the legendary surveyors once did astronomical and cartographic calculations, surrounded by members of the Harlan family.
Janie Baird, who chairs the Newlin Township Board of Supervisors, showed up to offer encouragement. Baird worked with Kaat and others to preserve the nearby Stargazers Stone, one of the Mason-Dixon landmarks.
“This is way off the charts for me,” said Martinez in response to the reception his initiative received. “It’s exhilarating to see this come together.”
Martinez, a Philadelphia native who grew up in Washington, D.C., said the paintings he will create from the day’s efforts will be featured in a show at the Chester County Historical Society in 2015. He said he was excited about the prospect of making the public more aware of the impact of some Chester County cognoscenti.
” I now realize that I’m part of something far bigger than I could have
imagined just a few months ago,” he told the participants. “Everyone’s generosity and enthusiasm has
taken this project to the next level, and I am truly grateful.”
The 63-year-old artist has studied painting as well as printmaking, earning degrees from the Maryland Institute of Art in Baltimore, St. Martins School of Art in London, and Purdue University in Indiana. His work appears in many public and private collections. In 2000, he was commissioned by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia to commemorate St. John Neumann and St. Katharine Drexel with an etching, and the following year, he designed the White House Holiday Card for President and Mrs. Bush.
A major retrospective of his work at the Chester County Art Association in 2002 was attended by First Lady Laura Bush, and in 2007 he completed two large landscape paintings commemorating the National Parks theme for the White House holiday season. President and Mrs. Bush also commissioned him to paint an eight- by eighteen-foot mural, which was installed in the White House in early 2003, and he completed a series of drawings for Camp David in 2005.