Sunday, January 18, 2009

Wind From the Sea

Wind From the Sea
Andrew Wyeth, 1948

Many years ago, I encountered Andrew Wyeth's "Wind From the Sea" and sat rapt with the magazine in my lap for some time, entranced by the tattered lace curtains blowing in the unseen wind from the sea, by the old window and the rather bleak (in conventional terms anyway) landscape beyond the window.

At the time of my encounter with the painting, I was not old enough to read, and I had no idea what the painting was called or who had painted it, but I knew that here was something special, and that the image before me would be with me all the days of my life. A child has not the vocabulary to describe such things, but the painting was simply magnificent and it called me out of my child self, into it and somewhere else, over the hills and far away. It was compelling; it was stark and somber and poignant beyond words - it was liminal and absolutely magical. I have never forgotten, and I have indeed carried the image around with me ever since, all the days of my life.

Snow Hill
Andrew Wyeth, 1989

The subjects of Wyeth's much later and dreamlike "Snow Hill" are dancing merrily around a beribboned pole, not a May pole as one might think at first glance, but a winter pole crowned by an evergreen and surrounded by snow. We cannot see the faces of the six dancers, but they were all known to Wyeth as models, and they were friends at various times in his life: Karl and Anna Kuerner, Allan Lynch, Helga Testorf (model for the legendary Helga paintings), Bill Loper and Adam Johnson. On the hillside below is the Kuerner farm near Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, a place known and loved by Wyeth in his childhood. In the distance we glimpse the railway tracks on which Wyeth's father (noted illustrator N.C. Wyeth) was killed with his young grandson in 1945. Wyeth once said jocularly that the subjects of this rather surreal painting were dancing around the pole in anticipation of his death because he had been so difficult to work with. The dancers certainly appear to be in a festive frame of mind, but if they are celebrating anything at all, it is Andrew's long and fruitful life and his art, not his demise.

To Andrew Wyeth, I owe my early engagement with the grandeur of life and the natural world, with the luminous, the magical, the wild and the fey which has sustained me for almost sixty years. Every trip I have ever taken into the woods with camera (or notebook and pen) had its genesis in my meeting with Andrew Wyeth's 1948 painting - every moment of wonder, every exposure, every entranced moment spent tracing shadows and shapes and textures in the wild.

Andrew Wyeth died two days ago in his sleep at the ripe old age of ninety-one, and I never had a chance to thank him. How I wish it had been otherwise. He gave me the world, and the eyes with which to truly see it. What child could ask for more?


Tabor said...

I have visited the museum about a decade ago and loved the work there. Much of it haunting in a nice way.

Quiet said...

Thank you for introducing the beautiful Wyeth painting, 'Wind from the Sea'.

I don't know Wyeth at all but will now explore his work. It is the second time you have introduced something quite new and beautiful to me on this site.

Wyeth's painting brings back childhood memories for me. Although I grew up in hot, dry and scrubby country, we had open windows with lace curtains a little like this one and my memories are tinted with the sepia of time.

Suzanne said...

Thank you for this loving tribute and the beautiful energy of appreciation you send out with every word. I feel it goes to him now in a much more direct way than he could have experienced in his physical form.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this tribute to Wyeth. I grew up and studied art in an era that valued Expressionism, Minimalism Conceptualism and not Realism. It was considered almost a dirty word.
When I met Andrew Wyeth through reproductions, I was in love forever with his astounding ability to capture not only the object but the deep mood and mystery of things.
I have two books of his works, one of them being the Helga paintings. They are such a pleasure to see. What a master!
Your tribute was so beautifully written.

Sky said...

oh, how i love his work, too. i have a beautiful print of "around the corner" matted and framed in our guest room and an intriguing photograph of the house and meadow in "christina's world" framed and placed on our mantel in the living room. it was taken by a photographer in maine; i recognized the house at once, the house which later became a museum housing his work. i remember when i first saw his work, how compelling it was, how appealing it was. he lived a long and productive life; we have lost an extraordinary artist.

Deborah Carr said...

Such an exquisite expression of gratitude. Oh, but that each one of us could earn such an epitaph.

I do so enjoy your thoughtful expressions.