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Andrew Wyeth, Homebody

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You know those guys who like to say that there are two kinds of people in the world? I’m one of them. So here goes: There are two kinds of American artists—artists who like to get out and see the world, and artists who like to stay at home. Not surprisingly, it’s the artists who like to get out and see the world who get the most press, like Mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway.

But what about the homebodies? Two of America’s greatest artists had no interest in travelling; their mindscape was more important to them than any landscape anywhere. The first of these was Emily Dickinson, who spent her whole life in Amherst, Massachusetts.

As far as biography is concerned, Dickinson resembles no one else in American art so much as Andrew Wyeth. He never went to school (he was homeschooled before it was trendy); he didn’t serve in the military; and he never had a job. He knew from about the age of nine or ten what he was supposed to do in life—draw and paint—and he did nothing else for the duration of his long life.

Dickinson and Wyeth were like William Blake in that both of them saw “the world in a grain of sand.” Dickinson’s grain of sand was Amherst, Massachusetts; Wyeth’s was Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania.

Although the rolling hills of bucolic Chadds Ford are familiar to all those who love Wyeth’s painting, he was not a plein air painter. Mostly, he painted inside, in his studio. It’s now part of the Brandywine River Museum, which offers regular tours of it. However, it is not permitted to take photographs of the interior, so I have only external shots to offer here.

Like Emily Dickinson’s house, the Wyeth studio looks like an ordinary residence. (In fact Wyeth and his wife Betsy lived there for a number of years and raised their two sons there before they moved to a larger property—also in Chadds Ford, of course.) It stands in a natural setting, which has changed very little since N. C. Wyeth brought his family to Chadds Ford over 100 years ago.

The original house was enlarged when the Wyeth boys were growing up, and the portion of the house on the western side (on the right in the photograph) housed the kitchen.

But the portion of the house that interests us most, of course, is the studio. It is on the left in the photograph. It is recognizable by the large windows that Wyeth had installed to catch the pure northern light. It was in this room that Wyeth created many of his masterpieces, including portraits of Helga Testorf.

Tours of the Wyeth Studio can be arranged by contacting The Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford (http://www.brandywinemuseum.org/).

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