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A sense of Wyeth’s place in Maine

They say that Andrew Wyeth’s “Christina’s World” is one of the most-recognized paintings in America. It’s a vision of a woman in a summer-dry field; a grey farmhouse in the distance. The story of the woman, Christina Olson and the family farm in Cushing, Maine is one of Andrew Wyeth’s enduring, some say “wondrous strange” fascinations with the people and places of Maine. Andrew was not alone in his love affair with Maine – his father NC and his son Jamie have also put paint to the romance, history and landscape of our sea and sky.

This year seems a perfect storm of things and places Wyeth – there are shows at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Ogunquit Museum of American Art and, of course, the Wyeth Center at the Farnsworth Museum just up the road in Rockland has a new exhibit, “The Wyeths, Maine and the Sea.”

You’d be forgiven if you wondered how there was enough Wyeth material to ‘go around.’  Fortunately the authentic spaces of the Maine coast provide the evocative sense of place on the canvases: a window curtain blowing in a ‘wind from the sea,’ high-ceilinged antique houses catching the sunlight of a ‘chambered nautilus.’ And visitors can experience the real sense of Wyeth place. 

The Olson farmhouse of “Christina’s World” in Cushing, Maine is now owned by the Farnsworth Museum and is open to   pilgrimages there.  Along the way to Cushing, the evocative landscapes – the tall spruce in “Far from Needham” come to life. The windfall apples of his paintings lie in the orchard at the side of the house; the scarlet geraniums bloom in the kitchen window. After visiting the Wyeth exhibit at the Ogunquit Museum of Art this summer, you can follow the landscape of the rocky coast here in Boothbay, finding the lighthouse in “Easterly” (Tenants Harbor, around the point), beached dories like “Spindrift” and the Wyeth inspiration of Port Clyde.

The point is there is something about Maine that draws all of us here. The art colonies of Ogunquit and Monhegan Island are the formal impulse of our collective sense that this is a place to remember, on canvas, in photography, or in our hearts. Perhaps the draw is a magnetic compulsion to follow the sea. Perhaps it is the light or clear color of the view.  Or perhaps, like Christina, the Wyeth visions of Maine are a worldview that, wondrously, encompasses our own.