Inspired by Andrew Wyeth
One of my favorite artists is Andrew Wyeth. One of my favorite books about him is Andrew Wyeth – A Secret Life by Richard Meryman. In the watercolor above, Meryman’s book is draped over the arm of a chair as an ode to both the author, and the artist. I was amazed at Meryman’s ability to open a door, and pull you over the threshold to sit at a table of Wyeth children on a wintery night – with words. I was in those rooms, watching eager kids draw, and then pause to listen, startled, as their father N.C. Wyeth stomped across the roof on a snowy Christmas night to mimic Santa’s arrival. Have you read the book? I’m convinced that you’d love it as much as I did.
Documentarists of Life: Artists and Writers
I wrote to the author Richard Meryman (1926-2015) ten years ago to say how much I enjoyed his writing and insights about the Wyeths. He wrote back.
Wow! You are a writer’s dream. It’s hard to convince oneself that your past books are not marooned in bookshelves, trophe decorations never to be disturbed. So your enthusiasm is a tonic. Of course, your reaction is what I – and I suspect Wyeth – fantasized the book might do for a new generation of artists. Thank you for taking the trouble to write such a lovely email. ~Richard Meryman
Isn’t it something that authors have similar wonderings as us artists; that over time, the stuff we create – the very sweat of our earnest tryings – might be shelved, stuffed into an attic, given away or forgotten? You and I know which fears pester us as painters, but did we ever consider authors to ponder the same fates for their creations?
A Storyteller’s Profile of a Man
Meryman started interviewing the Wyeth family in the 60’s. As a seasoned journalist, he skillfully harvested decades of recordings, notes, and observations, and simmered them all into one incredibly deep and personal book. You won’t find particulars about Andrew Wyeth’s favorite pigments, or his dry brush methods, but the pages are filled with his idiosyncratic character, his philosophies about art, and thought-provoking background on individual paintings. You’ll also meet many of the people in Andrew’s life. To me, that’s a painting lesson too.
Painting Your Own Symbolism
The black capped chickadee in the watercolor at the top of this post might seem an odd addition to the painting. I grew up in New England, feeding those tiny, nimble warblers from my hand around my grandfather’s bird feeder prototypes. Andrew Wyeth’s wife Betsy – especially in her youth – reminds me of a chickadee; small, quick, smart & observant, with short dark hair and a sparkle in her eyes. So, the chickadee in the watercolor is both a nod towards Betsy and her influence on her husband, and a remembrance of the makers and keen observers of nature in my family.
If you’re an Andrew Wyeth fan, there is a brand new documentary about him coming out tomorrow!! It’s titled WYETH, directed by Glenn Holsten and produced by Chayne Gregg. The documentary runs 82 minutes, and will air on PBS’ American Masters Friday – September 7th (check your local PBS listings)
Tomorrow night, when the documentary airs, I’ll make tea and popcorn, and I’ll save you a seat on the couch for us. Let’s bring sketch pads and take notes too. 🙂
If you watch Wyeth: The Life of Andrew Wyeth in Bold Strokes, come back and leave a comment to share your thoughts on it. I can hardly wait to watch it!
Thanks for visiting, and I’ll see you in the next post,
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P.P.S. Another reader alerted me to a BBC production about Wyeth, and I found it on youtube. Check it out here.
P.P.P.S. The amazing James Gurney must have seen an advanced copy of the film, since he posted his review today – before the broadcast on PBS tonight. You can read his thoughts on the film here.
When you know something, and you feel it and you have a love for it… my God, do it!
Don’t let it go by!