Friday, January 16, 2009


Andrew Wyeth

As most of you know, Andrew Wyeth passed on in his sleep, on January 16, 2009. If I had been able to do my series of Heroes as I had intended, Andy would have been done as he was high on my list. On my “list” of the most famous people I have met, Andy came right under His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and just above Katharine Hepburn. It is a very short list limited to those who have impressed me. It is part of a much longer list if you consider I used to work at the Pocono Playhouse in the summers back when they had REAL stars on the stage. Some of them were wonderful people, some were hateful. But I digress… as usual. Maybe I should have said – impressed me in a positive way.

I met Andy years ago – I am not even sure just when it was now, but he was visiting at the home of a friend in the Brandywine area. He was “real” and not a pompous ass, stuck on himself or full of LOOK AT ME. In fact, if I had not known the name and had not been an art major, I might not have paid him any attention. One of his favorite things was to sit at Hank’s Diner and listen to and sometimes talk with the tourists who wanted to know if he had ever seen Andrew Wyeth or knew where he lived. He usually said, “No.” Or that Wyeth was a real recluse or was in Maine this time of year. And, that recluse part is kind of true as he was not the flashy celebrity type, if you know what I mean. And those who knew him frequently lied to people who came looking for him. “Nope, ain’t seen him in a while… think he went to Boston (or Portland, or Philadelphia…)” when he might be right across the street or sitting at a table across the diner! If you did not know his voice, you probably would never have known he was around. He looked like your neighbor, or a local who just stopped in for a cup of coffee and a piece of home made pie. He probably drove that old Suburban in the parking lot – definitely not the Beemer type!

I first “discovered” his work in art school where a couple of profs thought he was OK and a couple others looked down on him as an illustrator, which did not make sense to me – but what did I know? I was just a kid. Personally, I found it difficult to appreciate Jackson Pollock and the splash and dribble crowd and found things in Wyeth’s work that touched me and spoke to my way of looking at life. Do not think I am saying I saw life the same way he did – its just that most of his things made me feel something that sometimes I could name, and sometimes I could not, but his art “held” me – if that makes any sense. It was much more than, “Oh, that is nice – or – well done” – it held me, made me respond inside, and isn’t that what every artist wants? To get a response? To communicate a feeling? I related to the places, to his people. They were my neighbors, my friends, the people down the road a piece.
As time went on, I “taught” the Wyeth’s as an art history unit actually using them as local artists since it is possible to drive to the family home, visit the museum, have lunch, visit a number of his “locations” (the Kuerner farm, for example) and be back home in time for supper. I call that local. Several of my friends have studied with Carolyn Wyeth, Andy’s sister, who lived in the family home at Chadd’s Ford until her death. The house is now open to the public thru the Brandywine Museum tours as is the studio.
One of my favorite Wyeth stories was told to me by my old friend and neighbor, Sabra Kimball,* who passed away about 10 years ago. Many years ago, Sabra was the art editor for a very well known publishing company. She wrote to NC Wyeth, Andrew's father, and asked him if he would do the illustrations for – um, I don’t remember the book right this minute. NC did a lot of famous children’s classics… Anyway, NC wrote back that he was much too busy – BUT – he would do the cover if they would let his son Andy do the illustrations. He was but a boy, but, he said, he was pretty good. Sabra (do ya love this?) Sabra said she decided to take a chance on the boy – and the rest is, as they say, history! Andy was 16.

Andy was the same age as my father, just a couple of months younger. My kids used to be so impressed that I could remember all the dates for the Wyeth’s – but they all correlated with dates in my own family. I loved to use Andy's work for creative writing, too. Knowing the histories of the places and people who lived there, most often the kids sensed the dynamics of the people whose personalities came thru the paintings - even when the people were not shown. The Kuerner farm made most of the kids a bit uncomfortable yet the Olson home seemed friendlier.

If you don’t know much about Wyeth’s work, do look him up. In my humble opinion, I think that time will prove him to be the greatest – or at least in the top 3 – artists of his time. He is definitely at the top of my list, followed closely by Georgia O’Keeffe, but his work, as my grandma used to say, has more meat on it! It keeps you there chewing on it, not just because of his mastery of technique, but because he “takes you there.” Does that make sense? Or it takes you someplace you can relate to. On the other hand, I suppose if you lived your life in a city and never got out in the country – it might seem a foreign place – likewise if you grew up in the desert. But I lived much of my life in the eastern part of Pennsylvania and on the coast of Maine.
I find myself wishing I could talk to the people in his paintings. I am sure I know some of them, or I knew someone in their family… see if you don’t feel the same way, too. Though I must confess, I cannot relate to the Helga series and in reality I may have met her! But that is one body of his work (pardon the pun) that does nothing for me. I have a large collection of his prints (I taught a class about him, remember) and I do not have one Helga print. My favorite painting is which ever one I am looking at at the time. has a good collection of some of his most famous works. Or just google Wyeth prints and find a lot of good stuff.

For more information on Wyeth please go to: Or visit the home and studio at They used to have a virtual tour of the studio, but I don’t see a link to that anymore and my saved link goes to the page but it will not load, so I guess that page is down for some reason. I know my kids LOVED that page and the folks at the museum allowed me to take my video camera in there and do my own video for my class. That was totally cool. I also have shots from the Kuerner Farm.
Again, I feel I have been so fortunate to have had the chance to be associated with these people and to have seen so much of his work. If you are anywhere near Wilmington, Delaware, you are only minutes from a wonderful gallery and some of the best art work in the world. Be sure to stop in!

*Sabra, for those of you who follow my blog, was the one who gave me several of my camellias seen on this blog, most notably Yule Tide and Debutante.


The humble Farmer said...

January 16, 2009

Oh oh oh. Bradley Hendershot just called from Pennsylvania to tell me that Andy Wyeth died this morning.

You know these things are going to happen but you don't want them to happen.

I was thinking about Andy Wyeth seconds before I got the news. I dreamed about his son Jamie last night and was thinking about that dream.

Uncle Andy was a great man. I'm talking about the way he treated people. He made you feel special.

I, and a few others, always referred to Andy Wyeth (among ourselves) as Uncle Andy, because 50 plus years ago we heard his nieces calling him Uncle Andy.

I can't say I knew Andy Wyeth, but I met him several times. The first time was in 1951 when I posed for him in the belfry of the St. George Baptist church. --- When a friend and I were playing in a boat down on the river he came alongside and asked me to pick him up on the shore and give him a ride up to the church the next day. To get up to the belfry we climbed the ladder, which was just boards nailed to the outside wall, and I stood on the top steps while he sat back in the dark and made drawings. I always remembered that that was 1951 because that's when I had a 32 Ford I bought from Stanley Stone. I asked Andy if he'd draw the car and give me the picture but he never did. I remember, too, that at the time I didn't think the pictures looked like me.

The finished painting was The Bell Rope. You’ve seen it and you know that he left me out of the final draft. Even so, I have a print on my office wall.

Over 50 years later Uncle Andy said to my wife, Marsha, "I hear your husband has a print he'd like me to sign." Word gets around in a small community. He told Marsha to have me bring it down.

I knew where down was because back in the 1970’s, when I was mowing fields with my tractor, Andy had called and asked if I'd mow the field in front of his house. (It was just yesterday that Marsha cut a picture of that house out of the newspaper. You should remember that, besides being a cottage industry in St. George, Maine, the Wyeths get a lot of local press, so it is inevitable that one even dreams about them.) I told Andy I'd mow his field, but he'd have to pay me with cash money. I explained that no one had ever cashed one of his checks. His signature was worth more than any amount he'd have to write on it.

Helga was helping Andy across the field, heading down towards the studio, when I got there with the print. He'd just had an operation on his hip and was having trouble getting around. But he came back to the porch and signed my picture. It was in the frame but I ripped it out. The print had been heroically cropped, but there was one little scrap of white on the left side and Andy signed that, saying that it didn't matter where he signed it. He also signed the same picture which I have in a big book of Wyeth prints. --- The book was given to me 50 years ago by Dr. Patience Haggard, my English professor at Potsdam State Teachers College, because she said, “You need that book, honey. There are so many pictures in there of your neighborhood and the people you know.” That book of Andrew Wyeth prints cost around $50 back then, which was a month's pay for a college student. --- Anyway, Andy wrote a whole essay in my book, right there beside the picture, about how I had posed for him but that he had left me out of the final draft.

It really didn't bother me to not be in that picture, because, as those of us who are Wyeth Cultists know, the most important thing in a Wyeth painting is that which he leaves out.

Any of the neighbors will tell you; over the past 60 years it was always exciting to see a picture of your grandfather's gravestone or one of your neighbors in some national magazine. As I recall, that picture Andy did of Ralph Cline called The Patriot got a full page in Life. And didn’t Helga get the covers on both Time and Newsweek? Of course, seeing Andy in your very own dooryard, sitting on the hood of his car while he sketched, was another matter. All your neighbors would laugh, knowing that if your house didn’t fall down within a year, it would be labeled an eyesore and burned up by the fire department.

I do want you to know that I learned a bit about manners just by watching Andy walk into a room. You might think that not much rubbed off when I meet you, but please know that I am trying. Andy knew that manners matter, even when you are visiting your closest friends and neighbors.

So I can't tell you enough times that Andy Wyeth was a great man. Over the years I have told funny stories about Andy Wyeth on the stage hundreds of times and I've written about him for newspapers. So just on that account alone I owe him a lot. And --- Andy made me feel good about myself, and if you can make just one of your neighbors feel good about himself or herself, you are a great person. Pay attention to this. One day I loaded Andy down with 8 or so cassette tapes of funny stories I'd made. I figured he'd throw them away or give them to someone because everybody must have sent him tons of junk. Years later Billy Stewart, who worked for Andy, told me he'd been listening to my stories. I asked him where he ever heard them and he said that Andy kept a collection of my tapes in his studio.

I'm sorry, but I can't stop until I tell you something else Andy did for me. One day he was talking with Carol in the post office. He had a magazine called Art and Antiques in his hand and right there on the cover was a picture he had painted of one of our neighbors. Of course by then I knew who Andy was. When I was 15 and first ran into him down on the river he was quite surprised that I had never heard of him. Anyway, he gave me the magazine and when I got home I saw a picture in there of Bruce Stanley, another neighbor who lived down the road. Back then you always saw Bruce Stanly dressed in the most wretched clothes imaginable. He had long, stringy hair and mutton chops, and of course you couldn't walk around town like that for too long before Andy'd ask if he could paint you.

That was back when we were trying to enact a seatbelt law in Maine and I had been asked to make a television commercial promoting the use of seat belts. So I hired Smith and Atwood, who were the top camera guys in Portland, and got Bruce to sit on a lobster crate down on that dock Sonny used to own in Tenant’s Harbor. Bruce just sat on that lobster crate, looking just like he did in that painting of Andy's and didn't move --- while I said, "This is Bruce Stanley who lives here in Tenant's Harbor. Last year a terrible thing happened to Bruce. Andy Wyeth painted a picture of him. Of course that means that Bruce is famous. Everyone in the United States recognizes him. But it also means that for the rest of his life Bruce is going to have to wear that skuzzy hat with the fish scales on it. He's going to have to wear the same shirt and the same pants. If he gets a haircut or changes anything, the tourists won't recognize him. Which is why Bruce always wears his seatbelt. If his car should stop suddenly, he wants this face to stay just the way it was when Andy painted it." And then Bruce moves for the first time and looks toward the camera with a forced grin. That commercial beat 650 entries in 42 categories of advertising to take Best of Show at the 1988 Brodison Awards in Portland. Years later that sixty second video turned up at an art exhibition at a Maine college.

Since making that commercial I've been able to call myself an award-winning humorist and, of course, I owe it all to Uncle Andy.

You don’t need to be rich or famous to be liked by your neighbors. And anyone who just wanted to be a good neighbor could have learned a lot just by watching Andy Wyeth.

I’m Robert Skoglund in St. George, Maine and I’m crying.

ancient one said...

WOW... what wonderful tributes to Andrew Wyeth...who I'm ashamed to say...I did not know... and wondered who he was when I saw the headlines on the internet... Now, I know I have to check out these links and find out all I can about this famous painter... I love the pictures you have posted...

dean said...

Robert and Possum...just came back from Chadds Ford...thanks so much for making Hank's and the Farm so much more to me with the kind words. So nice to have had Victoria Wyeth take us around with some of her incredible time for the Roosevelt's from Toronto