Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Rea Redifer, noted artist, filmmaker

REA REDIFER might have been a member of the famed "Wyeth school" of artists in Chadds Ford, but he always had a mind of his own.

REA REDIFER might have been a member of the famed "Wyeth school" of artists in Chadds Ford, but he always had a mind of his own.

"To merely paint pretty pictures has never held much appeal for me," he once said. "I am seeking some elusive thing beneath the surface . . . "

Redifer, who exhibited his paintings widely in the Philadelphia area, a filmmaker who once worked with Joe Namath on a film in Rome, a writer and occasional actor, died May 12 of heart and lung complications. He would have been 75 tomorrow. He lived in Kennett Square, Chester County.

His work ranged widely from a series of portraits of Abraham Lincoln, showing the many conflicting sides of the president's personality, to World War I aircraft, Revolutionary and Civil War soldiers, James Dean and other subjects and styles not usually associated with the Brandywine School.

One of his most successful projects was an 87-page book, "Once Upon A Canvas Sky," depicting World War I fighter planes and the colorful characters who flew them.

In a preface, Andrew Wyeth wrote, "I feel that these paintings are among the finest of their genre that I have seen. They go beyond mere illustration and live on their own."

Although coming upon Wyeth's paintings in a Tokyo museum inspired his own artistic efforts, he felt it necessary to break away from that influence.

"You can get seduced when you see Andy's paintings at the Brandywine River Museum," he once said. "But you can't lose yourself in the process. There can't be another Wyeth, just as there will never be another Faulkner. It's much easier to step to the same drummer, but it takes years to create an individual point of view."

Redifer worked with Denys McCoy, a nephew of Andrew Wyeth, in making documentary films. They wrote and produced four feature-length films, including "The Last Escape of Billy the Kid," and "Wounds of Hunger."

Many of their films were made for the Public Broadcasting System, among them "The Island Funeral," filmed in Maine, and "1864," a Civil War documentary, which won the San Francisco and Los Angeles Film Festival Awards and an Academy Award nomination in 1965.

Possibly the most fun he had was working on the script for "The Last Rebel," starring Joe Namath. It also featured the character actors, Jack Elam and Woody Strode.

He described the film as a "terrible, terrible" Western, but said, "Oh, God, was it fun! It was a riot!"

"I learned a long time ago that the hardest work in the world is knowing how to play well," he once told an interviewer. "I had a case of arrested development when I read 'Walden' when I was 17."

He never forgot Henry David Thoreau's admonition that one should never lead any sort of life that prevented a person from taking a walk in the afternoon.

"That's guided my life," he said.

Redifer was born in South Bend, Ind. After high school there, he attended the McCrady Art School in New Orleans. He served as an airborne radio operator in the Air Force during the Korean War.

One day, visiting an art museum in Tokyo, he came upon an exhibit of watercolors, including some by Andrew Wyeth. He wrote Wyeth a letter of admiration.

In 1957, on his way to Brown University, where he had been offered a scholarship, he stopped off at Chadds Ford. He never got to Brown. He started studying with Wyeth's sister, Carolyn, and began exhibiting his own work.

He also taught art, including classes at the Community Art Center in Wallingford, Delaware County.

He married the former Patricia Patterson and they raised three daughters in Chadds Ford before moving to Kennett Square in the early '80s.

Besides his wife, he is survived by his daughters, Wendy Neel, Heather Ramsey and Andrea Hunt, and eight grandchildren.

Services: Were held on May 31. *