ANDREW WYETH searching for the road less traveled
In 1976, the year I graduated from high school, my artistic hunger
and energy changed dramatically. While visiting a friend, I came
across the publication KUERNERS FARM, a collection of drawings,
watercolors, and egg tempera paintings executed by the American
painter, Andrew Wyeth. The artist had roamed his German neighbors
farm since childhood blending in like one of the Brown Swiss cattle
on the place. Those works affected me like no other art I had seen.
Though I was immediately drawn to the spare but captivating nature
of his technique, I was more consumed by this mysterious story that
was his. What kind of personal world must this and other artists
occupy to create such works of genius? Do our lives, our exposure,
our relationships and the troubles show up in our creative expression?
How could they not? Through this revelation I began to see things
for the first time.
My first human contact with Andrew Wyeth came two decades later.
In November, 1995, I received a thank you note from him regarding
a pencil portrait I had sent the previous month. Then in March,
1997, I received a phone call from Betsy Wyeth, the woman Thomas
Hoving (former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art) once
described as having unique and precious insights into every
phase of the artists life and creativity. She was contacting
me regarding a portrait bust of her husband that I had been working
on. It seems that although Mr. Wyeth doesnt lend himself to
that sort of thing, something about the photographs of this clay
head had captured his imagination and they were inquiring about
the possibilities of my coming to Chadds Ford for an official
sitting with the artist. He felt there were some subtle changes
I might want to make if we spent some time together.
If I hadnt heard her with my own ears, I wouldnt have
believed it. These seven years later, the experience remains somewhat
dreamlike. This man whose life work had stimulated me onto a path
of my own had invited me for a visit.
I arrived in the Brandywine Valley later that month and met Andrew
Wyeth on a Saturday morning. Although he initially seemed quite
uncomfortable, once we found ourselves in a spontaneous discourse
on the creative process, this bust in particular, he relaxed and
asked if I would please call him Andy. And so it was and so we visited
and so we worked there for two days.
You know, ears can be a portrait in themselves, revealing
as much intimacy as the eyes or the mouth as far as Im concerned,
I told Andy Wyeth that day. It really was something I had long believed
to be true.
You know, I feel the same way. Edward Hopper and I once had
this conversation, and he told me Eakins didnt feel that way.
His ears were all the same, sort of put in only to finish the head,
I was struck by the moment. Eakins? Thomas Eakins? There we sat
in that makeshift studio, a country boy from Pennsylvania and one
from Mississippi, discussing Edward Hopper and Thomas Eakins; a
glimpse into the history of American art. No big deal, I suppose,
except that one of us was Andrew Wyeth, himself an integral part
of that same history.
Each of us has dreams and memories that might be considered possessions
in a way. We certainly own them and they can be quite personal.
And though we can share them, they ultimately remain ours, more
likely than not, important only in our own minds. I had dreamed
for two decades of making contact with Andrew Wyeth. After all,
his work had made contact with me. For the rest of my life I will
treasure the memory that I spent a short time with the man, even
though we have corresponded occasionally since that meeting. However,
as time has passed, I have come to realize it was my work that had
really made the contact and that has made all the difference. It