New Life for the Wyeth Legacy Five Miles Out to Sea

Feb 02, 2022 · 48 comments
Pam (Maine)
There is no better steward of the Wyeth islands than this Colby College relationship. Colby only does things the right way, as evidenced by their brilliant restoration of downtown Waterville (check it out) and their world class art museum. Thank you to all that made this happen.
HapinOregon (Southwest Corner of Oregon)
When reading an article about the Wyeths, one can always count on some sort(s) of controversy, differences of opinion, polite name calling, etc. This is what "Art" is supposed to do/inspire.
mrsg (MA)
The two drawings included here of Mr. Wyeth's funeral are beautiful and a testament to his imagination and consummate artistry.
michael sullivan (Massachusetts)
Andrew Wyeth, to us, is the most authentically spiritual American artist that we know. And it is a spirituality borne in the natural beauty of Maine and its people.
annabelle (real world)
I would call the Peales the "first family of American art."
Joe (Tampa, Florida)
"Islands, you say?" "Maine, is that what we are talking about?" To paraphrase the late great Marshall Dodge, "You can't there from here." Not in your car anyway. But that is the whole point.
Roberta (Greenfield MA)
Actually the ignorant ones are those who deride a master like Andrew Wyeth because he wasn't throwing cans of paint to drip on a drop cloth on the floor.
ellen (connecticut)
I hope the islands will be opened to the public at some time in the future, limited to visits by small numbers of people each day and not overrun by tourists. I am a lover of all art created by the Wyeth family, Jamie being my favorite, and I'm happy to read that he's continuing the family tradition of summering and painting in Maine.
Planetary Occupant (Earth)
I've always enjoyed the paintings - perhaps not classical masterpieces, but more than "illustrations". Thanks for this article, on many counts.
unezstreet (ny)
all this talk of places, but no map.
spb (richmond, va)
@unezstreet That wasn't unintended.
James (Cambridge)
@unezstreet Good point. An hour’s boat ride from my brother’s place. (No map.) Off Port Clyde, as you’ve probably figured out by now.
H. (Maine)
@unezstreet Check your charts. They are there.
David (New Jersey)
I don't care what anyone says -- there will always be self-anointed critics and official arbiters of taste, and the PC Police -- I love Andrew Wyeth art and always will. Anyone who calls it illustration doesn't know art.
Mary Elizabeth (New Paltz)
Wonderful story. A number of years ago, I had the good fortune to meet Jamie Wyeth at the Kemper Museum in KC - it was a reception for his published book Capturing Nureyev and the exhibition associated with it. He was lovely and easy to talk to about his friendship with Nureyev who I saw dance in Romeo and Juliet many years ago at the Metropolitan Opera. Even though he was not there for marketing the book but rather the opening of the exhibit, he was extremely gracious and autographed my book. Thanks for this story NYT!
Horseshoe Crab (South Orleans, MA)
Beautiful story about a special place, thank you to Colby College for this at a time when sacred historical places like this are fodder for developers.
Vernon Rail (Mid- Coast Maine)
I am a little surprised to learn that the Wyeth’s made this deal with Colby College, and not the Farnsworth Museum located in nearby in Rockland. By far, the Farnsworth holds the largest collection of Wyeth family artwork (N.C., Andy and Jamie) in the State of Maine. the Farnsworth also manages the old Olson House in Cushing that was made famous by Andy Wyeth’s painting titled “ Christina’s World. “
Tom (Augusta)
@Vernon Rail Perhaps it was the potential of Colby College to do scientific research related to climate change? Or perhaps the Farnsworth was financially hit by covid and did not want to extend itself further? Colby is certainly flush with cash, as evidenced by its significant development projects in downtown Waterville. I wonder how accessible the islands will be to the general public. Overall, I think this is a pretty good outcome for the islands.
C Smith (Mid-Atlantic)
@Vernon Rail The college may be able to use the islands more fully than the museum could.
James (Cambridge)
@Vernon Rail Stay tuned. The people associated with these institutions are not strangers to one another. Trust me.
Marcus (Lisboa, Istanbul, Charleston)
I had the distinct pleasure of visiting Allen & Benner Island on several occasions in the early aughts and met Betsy, Andrew & Jamie. There was no doubt that the layout and design of the structures on Allen were very evocative, it was is if you had stepped into a Wyeth painting. There was a two part article in Architectural Digest at the time called Betsy's World (online I see it is titled Enchanted Isle) that did a splendid job of documenting the island, the content was written by Paul Theroux, well worth looking for if one has a deeper interest. I sat with Andrew one afternoon on Brenner Island and we watched the fog roll in and out through the narrow cut between the two islands for a short spell, I could feel myself becoming the landscape. I'm sure Colby will do a terrific job conserving the islands and giving future generations of artists an opportunity to be inspired.
Scott (Talent, OR)
I graduated Colby in 1986. They call me endlessly, begging for money. The fact that they’re buying up islands will make me even less inclined to give them a dime. Maybe use the money for more scholarships?
c (thomaston maine)
@Scott Hello and Congratulations on being a Colby College graduate. Colby College has an extensive and important and impressive Ocean Sciences program and studies which has been in place for years . Colby College had been looking for some time to find coastal property needed for the Ocean science and marine research departments. In addition Colby College has one of the finest small museums in this country. It is almost impossible to imagine a better arrangement for both the Wyeth family and the area and Colby College and "everyone".
Planetary Occupant (Earth)
@Scott - Really, is there a college or university that doesn't call its alumni asking for contributions? Unless they are Harvard, they need the money to survive. Once we had state schools that were available to students for little cost, but that's not the fashion any more. It should be.
Kate (DC)
@Scott Colby has done a wonderful job revitalizing downtown Waterville and has done much to improve the town-gown relationship. Take a look. They have been extensively written up in both The New York Times and The Boston Globe. In addition Colby meets 100% of student financial needs without loans. Things have changed since you graduated from Colby in '86.
Tim (PA)
I'm very thankful for the artists who were able to commit and stay true to there work. The ability to know that the whole word is in your grasp without traveling far is a gift and it is portrayed in the depth of his works . Big money doing a good thing at least I hope.
James (Cambridge)
@Tim Big money? Not exactly. Harvard’s endowment is now over 50 billion. (I almost choked...)
Susan (PA)
Very spare and austere...which seems nice in this age of exuberant electronic driven excess.
Vernon Rail (Mid- Coast Maine)
I live about 20 m west of these islands, and have viewed them many times from my boat. The Wyeth’s improvements showed tremendous restraint and respect for these two islands. I’m hopeful that Colby will be responsible stewards, too.
laurie (In the West)
@Vernon Rail I have full confidence that Colby people will do the correct things to manage this brilliant new opportunity. They've actually had a long relationship to the Wyeth family and extended family going back to the 60's when I was in Waterville.
LaPine (Pacific Northwest)
A few years back on a return trip to Vermont (where I was born in the 1950's and raised) we ventured along the Maine coastline and caught a Weyth exhibition at the Farnsworth Art museum in Rockland ME. Our next stop was the Farmhouse in Cushing, ME, used as a background for "Christiana's world" , and many other works by Andrew. Next stop (unknowingly, just following our noses) was Port Clyde, where we took the boat to Monhegan island where supposedly Jamie Weyth lived part of the year, and where Andrew painted his first exhibition works from scenes along the shore. We spent the day walking around the island, returning to Port Clyde for dinner. It was a great trip as we also drove all over NH and VT, dipping into Stockbridge, MA to the Norman Rockwell museum, returning to Burlington, via the Shelburne museum and Shelburne farm. It was a wonderful ad hoc trip.
J Peterman (New England)
@LaPine Cushing, Maine! That's right. Seems I've forgotten more than I remember. Say, would that user name be for central Oregon? I lived around Bend for 25 years. Great climate, but housing density in the city is crazy now...
James (Cambridge)
@LaPine Not “supposedly...” Jamie did have a place there. No big secret.
J Peterman (New England)
My mom's distant cousins managed the Olson house art display of Andrew Wyeth's works in the early 1970s. I believe that was in or near Owls Head, on the central Maine coast, before the larger Farnsworth Art Museum collection in Rockland was established. It was a neat little curation, in a homey, rural setting. And then my folks brought home a copy of The Helga Pictures. Yowza was my first, and enduring, reaction to those images.
Beantownah (Boston)
Colby always seems to be thinking ahead, whether with this lovely project, partnering with and investing in its host community, Waterville, or taking the lead in getting students safely back to its campus in the unvaccinated throes of the pandemic during 2020.
Represent (Boston)
The formidable Colby Museum of Art along with Colby’s tremendous resources make the school the best choice to preserve and adapt the legacies left by the Wyeth family. So insightful of the Wyeth foundations to look toward an educational institution to further the dreams and preservations of Betsy Wyeth.
Bruce (Lehnert)
Colby will be a great trustee of the Wyeth collection and landholdings. And likely the most well suited for the future given their investment in the college and its facilities. Great outcome!
Hootin Annie (Planet Earth)
My younger, less educated and more cynical self thought Wyeth's work to be cliche and boring. Now, with the advantage of years and appreciation for mastery, I feel much otherwise. All the Wyeths have contributed greatly to American art and touched the souls of millions with the stark beauty of their work. Especially capturing the remote beauty of the wild Maine coast and New England.
Lee Rentz (Stanwood, MI)
Despite the views of critics and many other Americans, Andrew Wyeth's work was not nostalgic. It was a hard-edged look at the characters and their possessions who are an integral part of the landscape. He could have made similar paintings of sharecroppers in the South, coal miners in West Virginia, and Mexican farm workers in the Central Valley of California. None of these would have been thought to be romantic or nostalgic in the least, but might have been viewed instead as social commentary. But because he portrayed rural people from romanticized farms and seaside towns that many view as their ancestors' legacy to them, he was falsely branded as nostalgic. I am so glad to see these lovely islands kept as an active part of the Maine landscape, and not just a museum.
James (Cambridge)
@Lee Rentz His work emanates ethereal emotion - a certain ineffable spiritual feeling. Not much art does that quite so well, it seems to me.
Ann (CT)
Critics may have scoffed at Wyeth’s spectacular work but I’ve been going to MOMA since the 60’s and there was always a group in front of Christina’s World. Sometimes the audience knows better than the experts.
K Yates (The Nation's File Cabinet)
@Ann: Last I knew, "Christina's World" was hanging in some drab hallway, as if MOMA hoped it would just disappear. Such is the reward for a painter who knows who he is, and doesn't need to be loved by any art institution.
Ann (CT)
@K Yates unfortunately I saw that too. The arrogance of contemporary art enthusiasts. In art school in the 70’s realism was not appreciated. In art class and in art criticism. There are just artists who stand alone and are not part of any movement. We should be more open to them.
James (Cambridge)
@K Yates Yep. At the top of an escalator, as I remember it, behind some guard’s desk. To whom I could not help but blurt out, “His nephew was one of my best friends in high school!” (Wilmington, Delaware.)
Cousy (New England)
This is probably a good outcome, though Bowdoin would have been a better institutional partner given that it has more resources and a more coastal orientation.
Jennifer Anderson (Shorewood, WI)
However, Colby’s art museum has an incredible collection of American art and has grown dramatically over the last two decades. The college also has some very generous donors who’ve helped the school invest in improving the community and state.
RMH (Wyoming)
Colby is well-endowed and perfectly capable of being a good steward. Do you support a winner take-all society?
Cole (Portland)
@Cousy Agreed wholeheartedly.
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