It is fascinating to discover how the younger generation interacts with its elders. We asked Victoria Wyeth, the granddaughter of iconic painter Andrew Wyeth, to answer some questions about her experiences while living with her famous grandfather. What follows is her response:
How often did you visit your grandfather?
I was with my grandfather and extended family regularly. I grew up in Manhattan and spent summers in Maine with my parents and grandparents. When I finished graduate school I moved to Pennsylvania. My grandparents and I spent many memorable, fun times together. I loved spending time with them. “Hoagie Sundays” was one of our favorite celebrations. We’d order subs from a sub shop in Delaware and have a feast. They made giant roast beef subs—the best hoagies ever.
What was your most memorable discussion?
My most memorable discussions with my grandfather were about boys. I was able to be totally open and honest with him and he was always there for me. When we spoke about my relationships, he never judged me and was always straight and honest with his advice. “You don’t want to be with someone that treats you like this”, he’d say. He was never cranky but freely gave guidance to me –especially about love, sex and money.
We did many things together. For example, on my 16th birthday I wanted a pair of white Gap jeans – he took me to the King of Prussia Mall and we searched all over for them.
Did people ever recognize you?
No one ever recognized me, but they did recognize my grandfather. When that happened, I usually got pushed to the side. He never enjoyed it when people recognized him. Neither of us enjoyed the attention.
It has been said that your grandfather disliked having someone watch him paint –If that is true, was it an issue when you visited?
Here is a quote from my grandfather: “I would never let anybody watch me paint… it would be like somebody watching you have sex – painting is that personal to me.”
Painting was so very personal to him that he didn’t want anyone to watch. As a 10 year old I sat and played with my dolls while he painted and he didn’t seem to mind. As I grew up, I always respected my grandfather’s wishes. We could be in the same room while he painted but I never stared or made a big deal of watching him paint.
Did you have an influence on your grandfather’s artwork? — a specific painting or subject matter?
“On The Edge”– painting by Andrew Wyeth. He painted a woman from the back and it’s a nice painting. But, when I saw his incredible sketches where he painted a variety of expressions – happy, cranky, thoughtful etc. –on the face of the woman, I told him how much I liked those other versions. I suggested he should include the face and expressions – So he painted various other versions of that painting. Those are in private collections today.
What painting or series of paintings do you most enjoy talking about? Why?
My grandfather loved his tree and leaf paintings. He was always pointing out to me how leaves are different in different seasons. Seasons of the year have a great impact on leaves and trees– they look, sound and feel different with each season. I’ll always look further and notice more because of how and what my grandfather taught me.
It is interesting how different people see such varied things from the same painting. With his Helga Paintings – I experienced my grandfather’s view, Helga’s impressions and finally what the public believed them to be about. My grandfather and Helga had natural simple impressions and remembrances of the time the paintings were done. While some in the public viewed these paintings as scandalous.
My grandfather told me, “be yourself honey”. He always taught me to be confident and bold in who you are and be proud of it.
What did your grandfather want you to say about his art?
My grandfather wanted everyone to be able to understand his paintings and be comfortable in formulating their own impressions. He helped me write the lectures that I give at the Brandywine Museum. He wanted everyone, those with only a high school diploma to a Harvard Ph.D., to have just as easy a time understanding his artwork.
At the museum, I keep my tours fresh by talking off the top of my head about whatever paintings I feel like talking about. My grandfather wanted it that way. He didn’t want me reading a prepared paper about each painting. My tours always vary because of this. I’ll talk about the paintings that speak to me that day – sometimes depending on what I dreamt the night before.
A friend of mine who teaches engineering shared this story with me. He scheduled an art day with his class. During this class he presented my grandfather’s painting – “Christina’s world” and asked them to create an essay around what they saw. Could the woman in the painting walk? Was she married? What was her story? One student thought the painting was from the 19th century. Another wondered about her husband. I find it fascinating. It is always so amazing to hear what people think—no two have the same impression of a painting.
How did your grandfather influence your view of senior citizens?
I love being around the elderly for some reason. I think I love their stories the most. Everyone has one and they are all so varied. They’ve lived life and have a story to tell about it. I enjoy speaking to retirement groups and seeing the sea of wrinkles. I’m really an 80 year old trapped in a 33 year old body.
Quotes by Andrew Wyeth:
“With watercolour, you can pick up the atmosphere, the temperature, the sound of snow shifting through the trees or over the ice of a small pond or against a windowpane. Watercolour perfectly expresses the free side of my nature.” - Andrew Wyeth
” I get letters from people about my work. The thing that pleases me most is that my work touches their feelings. In fact, they don’t talk about the paintings. They end up telling me the story of their life or how their father died.” — Andrew Wyeth
-on painting Christina’s World…
“The challenge to me was to do justice to her extraordinary conquest of a life which most people would consider hopeless… limited physically but by no means spiritually.” –Andrew Wyeth
One’s art goes as far and as deep as one’s love goes. –Andrew Wyeth
:I search for the realness, the real feeling of a subject, all the texture around it… I always want to see the third dimension of something… I want to come alive with the object.” –Andrew Wyeth
“I do an awful lot of thinking and dreaming about things in the past and the future — the timelessness of the rocks and the hills — all the people who have existed there,” he once said. “I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure in the landscape — the loneliness of it — the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it; the whole story doesn’t show. –Andrew Wyeth
“I think anything like that — which is contemplative, silent, shows a person alone — people always feel is sad. Is it because we’ve lost the art of being alone?” — Andrew Wyeth
Artist Andrew Wyeth remained active into his 90s, but his granddaughter, Victoria Wyeth, told The Associated Press in 2008 that he no longer gave interviews. “He says, ‘Vic, everything I have to say is on the walls,’”
WIN a copy of the ”Autobiography of Andrew Wyeth” signed by his granddaughter Victoria. To be entered in the book giveaway contest simply leave a comment with your thoughts about this article in the comment section below. Three winners will be chosen at random and contacted through email on Monday, July 23, 2012. See the official rules here.
CONGRATULATIONS TO OUR THREE WINNERS! Gil Lyons, Joanne Gregory and Brenda McCleaf. We’re glad you stopped by for a visit and thank you to everyone who left a comment.
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Victoria Browning Wyeth, the only grandchild of iconic artist Andrew Wyeth, is the daughter of Nicholas and Jane Wyeth. Ms. Wyeth is the great-granddaughter of illustrator N.C. Wyeth and the niece of contemporary realist Jamie Wyeth.
The subject of numerous articles in the press, Ms. Wyeth continues to lecture extensively throughout the United States and abroad. Her early morning gallery talks during the Andrew Wyeth retrospective at the Philadelphia Museum of Art were consistently sold-out, and her PowerPoint lectures to private organizations, college alumni groups, and museums are frequently standing room only. She often gives private tours and has done so for Smithsonian Journeys and for former President of Poland Lech Walesa, among others.
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