Art Wrapped Up in Wyeth Family's DNA

ByABC News via via logo

July 31, 2002 -- Nearly 100 years ago, readers of Treasure Island and Robinson Crusoe enjoyed grand visions of a world of pirates and adventurers brought alive by vivid paintings.

The paintings were the work of Newell Convers, better known as N.C. Wyeth. They were also the beginning of an amazing family of great American artists.

Andrew Wyeth didn't fall far from the tree. Now, at the age of 85, he is considered a living national treasure.

His most famous, most evocative image is the haunting Christina's World, a painting that depicts a crippled young woman sitting in a field looking at her home in the distance, Wyeth captures not just natural beauty, but also strong human emotion.

An Adventurous Influence

Andrew's youngest son, Jamie, lives in a lighthouse in Maine filled with paints, canvases and the creations of the latest generations of Wyeths. He's proud that art is simply in the Wyeth DNA.

"Oddly enough, my grandfather probably had more of an influence on me than my father," Jamie Wyeth said. "I never knew my grandfather. He died the year before I was born. But as a child, he did, of course, those wonderful illustrations, Treasure Island, and whatnot."

It was those adventure-laden illustrations that captured his imagination more than the pastoral images his father preferred.

"My father, whose work I adore … was down working on little things of grass and dead birds," Jamie Wyeth said. "Well, that didn't interest me. As an 8-year-old kid, I wanted knights in armor and so forth."

Decades into a successful career as an artist, Jamie Wyeth could live and paint anywhere. The place he chose was Southern Island, a 23-acre island off the coast of Maine.

‘Everybody’s Dream of the Sea’

N.C. Wyeth always summered in Maine with his children. Jamie's parents first purchased the island in 1978 — complete with lighthouse, keeper's cottage, and a spectacular view of Penobscot Bay. Andrew Wyeth and his wife, Betsy, moved back to the family's original home in Pennsylvania 10 years ago, but Maine has crept into Jamie Wyeth's soul.

"Here I live in a lighthouse, which somebody said it's like running away with the circus or something," he said. "It's sort of everybody's dream of the sea."

At the Farnsworth Museum in Rockland, Maine, visitors can see works by all three Wyeths, including Jamie's collection of portraits of the legendary ballet dancer Rudolph Nureyev, painted in the years just before the dancer's death in 1993.

Jamie Wyeth has no children of his own. But in a sense, he has thousands — the ones he's taught and encouraged, and the ones who come to see his art.

"If I had children today or something, I'd move them to Maine so fast that their heads would spin," he said. "I mean there's a quality of life in Maine which is this singular and unique. I think. It's absolutely a world onto itself."

Three generations of an American art dynasty have made the state of Maine their muse.

"As people we're bombarded by so much information and I need to focus," Jamie Wyeth said. "An island off the coast of Maine gives you focus, that's for sure."

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