20 Jan Andrew Wyeth’s Passing and N.C. Wyeth’s Demijohn

I was profoundly impacted when I learned of Andrew Wyeth’s passing at the end of last week. He was a major influence on my artistic interests, especially as a young boy. I suppose this was because I grew up in similar landscapes as his. He celebrated the antiquity and authenticity of a vanishing farmscape that I, too, loved. In fact, in the fall of 1979, when I was attending the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA) in Philadelphia, I rented the third-floor of an apartment belonging to Andrew Wyeth’s cousin, who gave me the artist’s phone number. After first writing him a rather endearing letter, in which I shared what I presumed to be mutual sensibilities, I invited him to go gathering crayfish in the small streams that are so characteristic of the Brandywine River area.

When I didn’t hear from him, I telephoned him; he answered the phone. He had a high-pitched, Anglo-American voice and said that he had appreciated my letter, but unfortunately, he had just had a hip replacement and would be sadly unable to accept my invitation to pull crustaceans out of a stream.

This was not my first encounter with the Wyeth family; for example, his son Jamie and I attended the same debutante party at the Brandywine River Museum* in my nineteenth year. The thing that most distinguishes this party for me, however, is the escapade I had with another party attendee on the banks of the Brandywine during the festivities – a guy who subsequently sent mooning French-language telegrams to my parents’ house – so I’ve merely mentioned this Wyeth encounter here for completeness.

For me, much more significant than Andrew Wyeth’s exceptional/phenomenal artistic abilities is the fact that he represented and recorded in his art an epoch of Chester County, Pennsylvania, when the small-farming heritage and culture of that region was still totally intact. Now, such mysteries are only sentimentalized by artists, at best.

I think that Andrew Wyeth is an excellent drafter, and I most love his quickly executed drawings/watercolors done directly from life. His work always evokes, for me, the month of March, during which the mid-Atlantic region experiences the beginning of Spring. The earth smells rich, and is a deep muddy green. Flocks of grackles and blackbirds usher in the season’s new prospects. There’s this lingering twilight when one feels as if anything is possible.

* The museum, housed in an eighteenth-century brick gristmill, is a favorite place to go, and also contains a robust collection of N.C. Wyeth’s work, including a 1924 painting titled The Dusty Bottle that features a large olive-green glass demijohn. I’ve always admired the heavily impastoed painting of the reflective light, suggesting a window, on the bottle’s surface. As a young lad of twelve, I babysat for a family that owned a stunning demijohn encircled in wickerwork that was in a ruined part of their rambling farmhouse; because of my love for Wyeth’s painting, I asked the family if I could have the green glass bottle in lieu of babysitting money. I still have that glorious demijohn to this day.