Saturday, January 17, 2009

Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009)

He popped his head in through the open window and laughed heartily toward us, and shouted his greeting!
by Charlie Leck

About 15 years ago, in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, my wife and I were sitting in one of the most charming little inns in America, having lunch with a dear artist-friend. It was a perfect spring time day. The little window by our table was open and some sweet floral aromas were carried in and to us by a delightful little, wispy breeze. We were sipping a very good wine that the barman had recommended. All in all, things were about perfect and I couldn’t imagine them being any better, when suddenly a diminutive fellow with white hair and a craggly face stuck his head through the window and softly shouted a greeting to our friend.
My wife was startled by the sudden manifestation of the slight fellow and I, recognizing who it was, felt my nerves tingle with excitement. I was utterly star-struck.

“Andrew,” our friend called out, stretching out to offer his hand, “come in and join us and have a sip of wine.”

“I suppose I have time,” the head-in-the-window said. He withdrew and began his little walk along the porch toward the front door.

My wife could see that I had identified the face in the window, and her eyes quizzed me as to who it was.

“Wyeth,” I said to her, “it’s Andrew Wyeth.”

“Yes, yes,” our friend confirmed, “and no nicer man will you ever meet!”

And for the next half-hour, Andrew Wyeth sat with us and charmed us with brightness and cheerfulness. We sat mostly in silence, content to listen to the two artists sharing jibes and tales.

Eventually he turned cordially to us and asked curious questions about our reasons for being in his hometown and then pursued those questions with others, sounding all the while genuinely interested. Of course, I couldn’t be so simple as to tell him he was, by far, my favorite artist and that we had just spent a few hours in the Brandywine River Museum going through its private vaults, looking at the dozens and dozens and dozens of his works that are held there.

He laughed heartily at almost everything.

“So, Frolic, they’re into this craziness of yours, also?” he asked our friend. “They look far too normal to be doing these wild things you do.”

Our friend, you see, had gotten more than one DUI ticket as a result of driving his horses down the road after having had a touch too much alcohol. He also was known for the time he hired a naked lady to sit on a branch that hung over a trail upon which his visiting friends would be driving their carriages on that particular day.

“No, no,” he replied to Wyeth, “they’re not so eccentric as I.”

Today, as I write this, I find myself so wishing I had recorded more about the encounter in my journal, but that’s all I wrote down.

Now, mind you, I find it totally boring when folks begin telling me about their encounters with famous people. I really don’t care much for that line of conversation. I’ve had enough of those encounters myself, and I generally prefer not to bother people with recollections about them.

But, sitting with Andrew Wyeth in such a casual, comfortable manner, really did blow me away. Here was this man whose paintings tear into my inner soul, and tantalize all the nerves of my body, and stimulate my imagination to incredible heights – and he was merely an arm’s length away, talking about all sorts of normal, everyday kind of things and never once mentioning what he did or hinted that he was any more important or distinguished than we. He departed, it seemed, as swiftly as he had stuck his head in through the window. He rose from his chair with a little jump and laughed pleasantly as he shook our hands and took his leave.

From that day on, I paid even closer attention to his creative work. I think I have looked at all his paintings and drawings – the entire breadth of it, at least in photographs. How entrancing and enchanting they are!

A few moments ago, I heard that he died today (16 January 2009). Of course, he will live on and on through the immense body of his work. He’ll live on in my mind, too. I will go again to the Chadds Ford Inn and remember my few moments with him there. And then, I will go over to the museum and see everything of his at which they’ll let me look. Never will I forget his bright, lively eyes and the feeling of having his hand – that talented, remarkable, creative hand – in mine, if only for a moment.

The Andrew Wyeth Web Page

New York Time Obituary (Andrew Wyeth)

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