The woman crawling through the tawny grass was the artist’s neighbor in Maine, who, crippled by polio, “was limited physically but by no means spiritually.” Wyeth further explained, “The challenge to me was to do justice to her extraordinary conquest of a life which most people would consider hopeless.” He recorded the arid landscape, rural house, and shacks with great detail, painting minute blades of grass, individual strands of hair, and nuances of light and shadow. In this style of painting, known as magic realism, everyday scenes are imbued with poetic mystery.
This painting is quite beautiful, and among the most recognizable of Wyeth’s work. In May 2016, the U.K.’s Daily Mail wrote an article about the painting and painting subject:
By Madlen Davies for MailOnline
PUBLISHED: 09:00 EDT, 6 May 2016 | UPDATED: 14:22 EDT, 6 May 2016
On a bright day, in a field of long, yellow grass, a young woman is lying on the ground.
Staring longingly at a farmhouse in the distance, her legs are bent at an odd angle underneath her and she appears disabled.
This is Andrew Wyeth’s 1948 painting Christina’s World – one of the most famous American works of the 20th century – which has captivated critics for decades.
After years of discussion about which affliction the woman is suffering, neurologists believe they have finally diagnosed her mysterious illness.
Now, Professor Marc Patterson, of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, believes he has pinpointed the diseases that afflicted her.
He said Christina is likely to have suffered from an early-onset form of Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, a group of inherited disorders that affect the peripheral nerves and can lead to significant problems with movement.
Ok I guess to medical detectives, this is a mystery worth solving. The information is interesting, but it doesn’t affect how I feel about the painting one way of the other.
A few weeks ago now, another article appeared in a publication called Artsy.
This latest article is an editorial, so it’s steeped in personal opinions of the author whose name is, Zachary Small.
When I first read it, I wasn’t sure how to take it, because my opinion was somewhat visceral. I was offended for the artist and offended as someone who appreciates the work of Wyeth.
Because a first read, and then a second read left me with the opinion of someone who is an art writer/critic trying to make his bones over one of our most beloved Pennsylvania artists. Is it because Wyeth is a Pennsylvania artist and therefore not worthy of the many decades of accolades?
Or is the author merely an angry man with an ax to grind at Andrew Wyeth‘s expense?
Who is he to impugn Wyeth’s character and ethics? I am sorry, I just struggle how he can speak so truly ill of the dead?
In his article, Mr. Small didn’t even feature the actual painting of the artist, he used a photo by a photographer named Alex Thompson who paid homage to the famous painting in 2005.
BY ZACHARY SMALL
AUG 31ST, 2017 5:08 PM
…..Why is it that Christina’s World evokes such strong feelings of nostalgia and disdain? Admittedly, the painting is somewhat kitschy. It presumes the viewer has a connection with the American pastoral…Unfortunately, a closer look at the historical and ethical contexts of Christina’s World betrays the painting’s initial delights. Wyeth was an idiosyncratic artist whose seven decades of work focus mainly on two families in two locations: the Kuerners in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, and the Olsons in South Cushing, Maine.
He used his wife as a model for the figure’s head and torso.
The subtext of this switcheroo is malignant. Did Wyeth replace parts of Olson with Betsy for beauty’s sake? And can we assume the artist never asked Olson for consent to paint her disability? Is that okay?
Today, I would argue that Wyeth skirted his self-professed goal for Christina’s World by compromising the striking realism of his painting in favor of a younger model…..but it’s difficult to understand an artist whose grasp on a rapidly changing world was so willfully small, and whose ethics so hazy.
Again, I just do not understand the purpose of this editorial. It’s the author’s opinion, of course, but why? Why does he feel the need to write this?
Zachary Small from his LinkedIn page appears to be fairly young…with a lot of life to live yet. I went searching for information on him to see if he was himself a handicapped person — to me that would make me be able to better understand his tone in his editorial.
Sadly, I quite simply do not. Maybe us simple country folk here in Pennsylvania are beyond comprehension for an urban city dweller such as Mr. Small.
But I think it would behoove him to come check out where Wyeth called home more comprehensively…and take his time going through the Brandywine River Museum of Art.
I would wonder what he would have to say about one of my favorite Andrew Wyeth paintings, Indian Summer? Would he say that the subject was fat? Or had an imperfect human form? That the painting was pornographic? To me, it is the very simplicity in the beauty of that painting that makes it so magical.
I am but a blogger, mere mortal, and middle aged female. I am sure Mr. Small would not appreciate my opinion…however, turnabout is fair play and I don’t appreciate his piece on Andrew Wyeth.
I will close with some comments from my readers in the blog’s Facebook page that they wrote when I posted a link to this article:
I think it’s way over the top to fault Wyeth for becoming a a wealthy artist. Isn’t success a worthy goal in any profession? Then to continue the criticism by saying he profited from the struggles of a disabled person is beyond ridiculous. He apparently offered some kind of compensation but was rebuffed. Can you say that da Vinci profited from the mysterious smile of Mona Lisa?
I presume Christina was okay with Andy making her longing and other emotions the subject of the painting instead of her physical deformities (although you can still tell they’re there). A painting is an artist’s interpretation, it’s not a photograph. This article is trying to stir up controversy where none exists.
It sounds like the author has an agenda he is pushing. Would Christina actually want to be a model for hours? I doubt it. Those who I know who suffer from CMT don’t have a deformity per se, it’s more that through the disease that there is foot drop and other problems that develop because of inability of the muscles and nerves to work together. If Christina or her family had a problem with Wyeth “painting her disability” they never said anything. Far from it they seemed to enjoy the painting.
Small art is anything but. They are a little jewel boxes of works of art that you can tuck into small corners in your home. You can even tuck them into bookcases.
My friend Sherry Tillman, who is an artist and owns a store in Ardmore, PA called Past*Present*Future used to have an artist show hang in her store occasionally during First Friday Main Line events called a "Square Deal".
This "Square Deal" was a show that always intrigued me – it was a show of literally small art as in inches big that was affordable to everyone, and helped spread the principle of art in unexpected places and didn't intimidate people. Because that is the thing about art – it shouldn't intimidate people but it often does.
A lot of people when it comes to the art in their homes are hung up with names and value. To me it is more important to have something hanging that you love to look at, versus an actual monetary value.
Nothing is worth anything if it does not bring you pleasure when it comes to art. And beautiful art can be sourced from all sorts of places and doesn't have to cost a lot.
For example, one of my favorite pieces in my home has no real value and I found it quite literally on a trash pile before a home in Haverford, PA was demolished years ago near the Haverford School. It had meant something to the occupants of the home at one time, but it wasn't anything that would ever have resale value so after the property was sold the house with everything that was left inside of it was demolished. This one piece was left propped up with bags and bags and boxes of trash and I happened to see it walking my dogs. So I took it off the trash pile, and had it reframed.
Again, nothing valuable, I just like it.
And that is how I have chosen my art. Do I like it when I see it? Does it evoke emotion in me? Do I think it's pretty?
I have never forgotten those "Square Deal" art shows. They have made me mindful of the beauty of small pieces, so when I see ones that I love I don't pass them by.
Recently I found three very small pieces. Not expensive, in fact so inexpensive you might term them "cheap" yet there's nothing "cheap" about them.
These pieces are Chester County scenes and they are literally inches big. None of them are signed that I can determine, but I think they're beautiful.
I just tucked them into little spots around my house. And there they will hang, bringing me pleasure.
I have written before about how you can find art all over the place. You can find artists hanging art at local fairs and festivals. You can find art at garage and yard sales and even estate sales. You can pick art out of barns, and find it in thrift shops and consignment stores. The piece just above this paragraph is a little winter scene oil painting. I paid six dollars for it. It is about 3" x 5". Tiny and I love it.
You can also find reasonably priced art of lesser known artists at local galleries. It doesn't have to be expensive – the most basic of rules (again) is you just have to like it.
The only person you need to impress with your art choices is yourself. Art is a very personal thing – just ask any artist who creates. And don't forget as we grow as human beings, often or tastes will change or evolve. So you don't have to be wed to pieces. You can swap things out.
Twenty years ago I would've looked at people like they were crazy if someone mentioned to me how cool small art was. Today, I totally get it and appreciate it.
Experiment with small art. And always remember you can source local art probably more inexpensively wherever you live then the fake art canvases you will find at stores like Home Goods or TJ Maxx.
When you find yourself a piece of local art it ties you to where you are from no matter where you move in the course of your life. Small art is portable. And to me the other thing that is important to me is someone actually took the time to create it, it just wasn't an image transferred in a factory onto a canvas.
One of the great things about living in Chester County is the fact that there is a thriving arts scene. You can find beautiful quality pieces hanging in local galleries and shops, festivals, fairs, and so on. And one of the things I love is the abundance of small pieces out there that you can buy to experiment with.
Small art. It's a good thing 😊
Thanks for stopping by.
My friend Janet just broke the news and I had to share. Clover Market is coming to Kennett Square in the Spring of 2017! I think I may actually know something coming to Kennett before my dear friend and fellow blogtress Tilda Tally-Ho.
So you might not have ever heard of Clover Market, but trust me those who seek vintage, antiques, local art and high end curated crafts and handmade jewelry….Clover is a gem.
I have been a Clover Market fan since it started in the spring of 2010. As a matter of fact I was one of the many people who went to meeting after meeting in Lower Merion Township until Janet got approved.
Opening day for the very first Clover Market in April 2010 was a smash! (And yes that is Miss Patti La Belle with Janet – my photo)
So Clover has been a hit ever since. 2017 will be Bryn Mawr, Kennett, Collingswood NJ, and Chestnut Hill. Chester County save the date!
I have been busy, so I am behind in my photos. And I thought I would take a moment to share something really special: Wharton Esherick’s Sunekrest. Thanks to my dear friend Pattye Benson who is President of the Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust, Esherick’s Sunekrest was on their historic house tour in Septmenber – every year I think Pattye can’t possibly do better, and every year she knocks it out of the park. The house tour is a fundraiser for the trust and it is so lovely and one of my favorite things.
Many of the American Impressionists of the time were taking their canvasses out into the fields to paint from nature, and Esherick was longing to get away from the city as well. With a small inheritance he received from his grandmother, he and his wife, Letty, purchased an 1839 stone farmhouse that they nicknamed Sunekrest (pronounced “Sunny Crest”), situated on a five-acre plot in rural Chester County, west of Philadelphia. Esherick focused on his painting and farmed the land to feed his family. His work from this formative period was primarily oil-on-canvas and featured sites and scenes from the bucolic life that surrounded him.
If you are a Wharton Esherick fan, seeing Sunekrest is so amazing. His work, his furniture, a setting so beautiful it takes your breath away. You can read about Sunekrest and other things in the Esherick family papers (partially online thanks to the University of Pennsylvania.)
A great summary of what goes on with the Wharton Esherick Museum which bough Sunekrest to preserve it in 2014 can be found in a grant proposal they completed for the Chester County Community Foundation I think this year.
I love woodcuts, the art of woodblock and Wharton Esherick’s are beautiful. I wish I had one of his prints. You can order restrikes of some of his works and amazing note cards through the museum.
Anyway, seeing Sunekrest was so very cool, and the people from the Wharton Esherick Museum are so nice.
Enjoy the photos!!