As a writer and as someone who has long been an admirer of the art of Andrew Wyeth, I immediately clicked a link to an article titled was “A Writer Learns From Wyeth.”
Andrew Wyeth worked in pencil, charcoal, watercolor and tempera, and not much in words. Yes, I believe his paintings do tell stories, but words were not his medium of choice.
Wyeth would have turned one hundred this year. That may account somewhat for the fact that Andrew was not entirely literate. Peter Hurd, who was Wyeth’s brother-in-law, asked 12-year-old Andrew to look up something in the encyclopedia and discovered he could not do it.
Andrew was home-tutored because of his frail health and his father, the artist N.C. Wyeth, was his only teacher. He learned art and he appreciated hearing stories and poetry read aloud, but reading and writing were not a regular part of his “studies.”
The article’s author, Beth Kephart, the author of 22 books, feels that “there is much to be learned about the literary arts from Andrew Wyeth.” Like Kephart, I have made a pilgrimage to “Wyeth Country” in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania and to the Brandywine River Museum where much of his artwork is displayed. I went out with my camera to find some of the actual locations of his paintings near there.
Wyeth found inspiration at the Kuerner Farm. The early 19th-century farmhouse, the red barn and the family were subjects for hundreds of paintings and drawings over seven decades.
Besides the stories in his painting, Kephart does find advice is some of Wyeth’s words about his work. “I feel that the simpler the thing, the more complex it is bound to be,” is something any poet will identify with about poetry and probably their writing.
As a writer, I spend a lot of time writing without pen and paper or computer. As Wyeth said, ” I dream a lot. I do more painting when I’m not painting. It’s in the subconscious.”
I look at some of his sketches and prep for a painting and I immediately think of writing drafts. Wyeth’s advice on revision to writers might be the same as he said about his art “I obtain great excitement in the changes. Because with them, the painting begins to discover itself. It begins to roll. It’s like a snowball rolling down the hill.”
I like looking at his watercolors (like Drydock above) done on the same kinds of spiral bound pads that I use for my own watercolors. He has his own favorite tools, as do most writers. His medium rough watercolor paper (not stretched and 22 x 30 inches) and only three sable brushes (Nos. 5, 10 & 15) and no flat brushes for the background washes.
I particularly like Wyeth’s use of titles. The painting at the top of this post might have simply been called “Apples on a Windowsill” but it’s called Frostbitten which suggests a lot more. What would the title Faraway suggest to you? Take a look at his painting with that title – Were you close? If not, what story is suggested in that painting?
The paintings do have stories, though the stories behind them are mostly not known to viewers. For example, his painting Winter.
There is only a small patch of snow in the painting, where we might expect a white, wintery canvas. The painting was inspired by a day when Andrew was walking near the railroad tracks where his father was killed. He saw a local boy running down the hill facing the Kuerner farm and joined him. They found an old baby carriage and used it to ride wildly down the hill. The painting shows the boy and a shadow stand-in for Wyeth. Wyeth said of the painting, “The boy was me at a loss, really. His hand, drifting in the air, was my hand, groping, my free soul.”
That hill is the same one Wyeth would use two years later for probably his most famous painting, Christina’s World