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Commentary
7:41 am
Fri August 22, 2014

Wyeth Not?

You ever notice how Susan Stamberg often does stories about arts-related topics on NPR? Well, today, I’m exhibiting my Stamberg-wanna-be side and have chosen to talk about the Wyeths. This is occasioned by what turned out to be a Wyeth binge that was a recent detour in my life.

Previously, I had rather limited experience with Wyeth paintings through a couple of visits to the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, PA. There is that painting of that pig. Frankly though, with the possible exception of the Helga series, and then probably only due to the bit of scandal surrounding them, both times I was more impressed with the surrounding countryside than I was with the art—and I’m generally dubbed an “art chick” and “museum freak” by family members. Maybe it was just an off day.

Anyway, odd things trigger interests, and in a recent issue of Vanity Fair magazine there was a photo of Jamie Wyeth, the youngest of the Wyeth family of artists. In the photo, he looked like a genial older guy, a.k.a. someone in my age group, with a sort of devilish smile. What was the real interest-pique-er though was his attire. He had on knickers-length pants, with mis-matched socks and mis-matched shoes. What’s not to love! Someone with that sense of whimsy about dress is definitely worth a rethink.

That being the case, the current retrospective show of his work at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, became a definite stop on what I thought was my way to Nova Scotia. Great show; you have through December 28 to see it, and you certainly should if that sort of thing even remotely interests you.

The diversity of his work and the art-as-a-family-business heritage combined to make me want to see and learn more Wyeth lore and work while in the neighborhood. A little moment of thought about U.S. geography and you’ll remember that Maine, just a little above Boston, and right-on-the-way to Nova Scotia, indeed is in the neighborhood of Boston. (To me, one of the charms of the Northeast is that, as opposed to out here in the Midwest, many states are so little and you can just get from one to the other without it taking very long.) Well, the Wyeths have a fairly lengthy history of working and living in Maine, so that area now was a required stop on what had morphed into a Wyeth-information-gathering jaunt.

Going to Port Clyde, Maine and taking a ferry is one way to get to Monhegan Island, both places where three generations of Wyeths have lived and painted. While on the outbound ferry, we passed Allen Island, where Betsy Wyeth, Andrew’s widow and Jamie’s mother, lives. And there she was, a little old lady sitting outside her door on a bench with her walker beside her, waving to the ferry as it passed by.  Talk about charm!

Monhegan, permanent population of about 75, is celebrating its quadricentennial this year, Captain John Smith visited there in 1614, so things there were really hopping. Like Mackinac Island there is almost no vehicular traffic, but unlike Mackinac there is no fudge. There’s some art, a few crafts stores, a marginal amount of food, a library, a cemetery and a museum that is a combination natural history, community history and art museum that is housed in the former lighthouse. Interesting, but other than tangentially, not part of the Wyeth art-viewing binge.

For that, the next stop was back on Maine’s mainland, the Farnsworth Museum in Rockland. For the thrifty-among-us, appreciate that they have reciprocity with the Art Institute in Chicago. You just slap down your Art Institute membership card and can view their treasures for no admission fee. And treasures they have: the Farnsworth has a Wyeth mother load. They have an entire Wyeth Center: three generations plus marry-in artists like John McCoy and Peter Hurd. Plan to spend a day there even though it may mean that you don’t get to Nova Scotia—not this trip anyway.

For Michiana Chronicles, this is not Susan Stamberg, even though the topic is arts-related. It’s JST.