“I happened to look out the third-floor window where I was finishing the picture called Seed Corn, and there she was. I just got to thinking about it that day while I took my dory back to my farm. We had a gathering that afternoon at Betsy’s house. We had a few drinks and then I left the party, went to the barn, picked up a piece of paper, and made the first notation in pencil. The next day I did the second drawing which is squared off for transfer to a panel. Then I drew it a little in my mind and imagination…
I wanted to think about it, and at the same time I needed to get something tangible down, so I’d know that was what I wanted. You have to get something down so you can relax a little and think. But you simply have got to get something tangible.”
Andrew Wyeth – Christina’s World. 1948.
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Yeah. Love A. Wyeth, even when it isn’t “cool” to.
Try this one, Gerard:
I think his appeal to me is that in every painting and drawing one knows someone is missing, tragically. His father, of course. Even in Christina’s World, there is that deeper melancholy. More than just Miss Olson’s infirmity; a cosmic missing-ness. Interestingly, the CW painting that this is the sketch for, is owned by the Museum of Modern Art.
The multi-talented Casey. Very nice to know a bit more about you, sir.
In autumn 2000 I passed through Cushing, Maine and visited the Olson house. Nobody was there. It’s now a state owned museum open only during the summer months. It had closed for the season a few weeks earlier. It is truly a surreal scene to visit. Everything looks just as it does in the painting except Wyeth stretched the distances further for a more devastating effect of loneliness. The real scene is more compact. There’s a dirt road traveling up the hill that passes just to the right of the barn. The barn was unlocked and I stepped in and checked out an old wagon and a fair amount of farming implements hanging within. Christina and her brother Alvaro are buried in a spot at the bottom of the hill. Reading the Wiki entry below I just discovered that Wyeth is buried down that hill, too. Fascinating… to me at least. I left nose prints against every window I could raise myself up to. I don’t know what the exterior of these old houses in New England are built of. There’s no paint on them. They are dry, cracked and gray. But they look amazing.
A correction. Just read the Wiki article more closely and the house was only temporarily in the hands of the state of Maine. It is now owned and maintained by the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland. I visited that place and it’s a must-see if you get the chance. It was a really great trip to New England that October. I met Jamie Wyeth at the Brandywine Museum in Chadds Ford when he just finished hanging a painting on the wall. I’ve met his relatives in New Mexico so it was a great opportunity to drop some names. I visited the old Wyeth compound and N.C.’s studio. A week later I was doing a bowl of soup at Chappy’s Chowder House in Camden, Maine and sitting there at the bar was Jamie’s brother Nick… who doesn’t paint but has made a career of selling Wyeth/Hurd paintings.
I grew up near Chadds Ford, and I used to see AW around and about quite a lot. I was told by my mother not to “bother” him, and in spite of this edict we once had an interesting conversation when he sat next to my then 15 year old, blonde self at the counter at Hank’s, a greasy spoon now all spiffed up and proper. AW was a bit of a flirt. Didn’t tell my mother any part of this!
Thank you for linking to Casey’s blog.
Hello to Monty and Snakepit Kansas. Thanks for your comments.
Tom, I have a friend/ mentor who paints in the mood of Wyeth and he makes a pilgrimage to the Wyeth studios and museums. I do the same for those master artists who float my boat. It is like rocket fuel if your eyes can see what the artist has been doing, which takes practice. Not a hidden knowledge, but call it visual learning and “muscle memory.”
Missy, unfortunately there are rumors of old Andrew’s family and indiscretions. I won’t traffic them, but whatever his personality he was certainly a power player.
There was another journey to Chadds Ford I recall. It was autumn 1989 and I was standing beside my truck at the intersection of Ring Road where the railroad line used to go through. You can see Kuerner’s farmhouse from this point, a place that Andrew painted countless times. The old railroad line is buried under asphalt but back in October 1945 it was in full operation. N.C. Wyeth’s car stalled exactly there… and he raised his hand out the window but the train plowed right on through killing him and his passenger, grandson Newell, aged just a few years. I was standing there one morning in 1989 when a big Town & Country station wagon driven by a black woman wearing what looked like a nurse’s uniform drove slowly over the hump. Sitting in the passenger seat was Nat Wyeth, whose father and son perished at that spot. I recognized Nat from the PBS documentary David McCullough produced a few years earlier… a really beautiful piece of work that described N.C.’s five children and the remarkable childhood they experienced in the Wyeth house. Nat and the nurse turned and looked at me at the very same moment when a train horn began blowing from some other railroad line maybe a mile away. A shiver went up my spine that caused me to physically shake. All three of us maintained a blank expression but I’m sure Nat knew what I was doing there standing at that spot. He died a year later in 1990.
You know your Wyeth history well, Tom. If you think about it, there is almost always an unseen presence in every painting Andrew did. The father…
An astute observation, Casey, regarding the “unseen presence.” I think it is appropriate to say that almost all of Andrew’s paintings are ghostly. Like it’s always Halloween and spirits are lurking. Everything is brown and black with the touch of light defining the scene. Andrew was joined at the hip with his old man. He never really attended school. Maybe for a couple of years, long enough to learn how to read, then he was at N.C.’s side… until he met Betsy. The David McCullough documentary was brilliant. The way all the children described N.C. was heartbreaking. The old man never wanted them to grow up and leave him. So he made their childhood like a fairytale. He was such a powerful presence. Andrew said it best… “it took a freight train to kill N.C. Wyeth.”