Andrew Wyeth was not a painter I knew by name, though I had seen prints of his painting Christina’s World numerous times.
A year ago, while perusing a used book store, I found a book in the art section, The Art of Andrew Wyeth. Leafing through the pages, I not only decided to purchase the book, but the realist painter has since become one of my favorite artists.
Wyeth is from a part of the United States that I’ve always been fascinated with but never visited—New England. He had crows feet and graying hair in the late 1960’s. The creativity in his family brimmed over. His paintings were like novels, or stills in a film.
I’ve a love of documentary films and photography and many of the works by Wyeth speak to me in a similar way. They speak to me of the beauty in ordinary moments and ordinary people, the beauty in telling a story that might otherwise be left untold.
One of the paintings featured in the book draws me back to it again and again because of the quietness of the content, the lighting and texture.
Wind From The Sea, 1947 is like a scene from a film. We see outside through a window in a very dim interior. Perhaps it is high noon or mid-day. On the horizon is a bending stretch of darkened spruces, a patch of sea, a wheat colored field of grass with well worn tracks leading to the house. The wind has blown the frayed white lace curtains into the room. Light peers through scratches in the paper shade drawn halfway.
I start to wonder about the house where this window is half open, letting in a cool breeze and the smell of salt water. I start to wonder about the lonely screech of some bird off in the distance that I cannot see and about who drives up and down those tracks. I start to wonder whose in the house, or in the room. I start to wonder myself into ten different short stories from this one painting about wind blowing in from the sea.
Author Wanda M. Corn includes an excerpt from a letter written by N.C. Wyeth, also a famous painter and the father of Andrew Wyeth, in the book beside the painting:
to all outward appearances, an extremely modest and commonplace vista, confined as it is by the four sides of the window frame and cut into eight exact panels by the window sashes; it is a scene that might be almost anywhere on earth. It is stripped of any glamour whatsoever; not a detail is outstanding or sensational; in fact, it is a glomeration steeped in utter commonplaceness and seems doomed to eternal oblivion in its own estimation, or in the memories of anyone or anything else. But a resurgent gust of wind sweeps across the tiny area! The lilac leaves shudder and fold themselves back into broken heart shapes of new-wet luster, then frantically restoring themselves into position to be swept again and again into bright-varnished and twisted shapes. The tawny patch of long grass bends and leans into agitated motion, and the gray thin limbs of the spruce trees sway up and down in a ghostly dance. The deep gloom of the forest beyond remains still, like darkenss.
My imagination is suddenly whipped into an almost exalted appreciation of the magnificence of the little isolated and unrelated scene before me, and I am astounded at its vast beauty and sublime importance, and am made to realize, in one poignant spasm, that before my eyes exists the profoundest beauty, the greatest glamour and magnificence possible for human sight and spiritual pleasure. The limitless ocean itself, the mountains and valleys of the world are of no greater importance in appearance or significance.
The letter was written years before the painting and not likely read by Andrew Wyeth, yet it captures the painting well. Most telling his how greatly Wyeth was influenced by the passion his father expressed for the ordinary and sublime.
I find it interesting and beautiful that this painting was completed two years after the tragic death of his father and two year-old nephew.
Again, I look to the print of this painting and wonder what precious memories stirred in the heart of Andrew Wyeth as he painted. I wonder if he sat as a he painted, or if he stood, shoulders hunched like Brian O’Doherty described him in his contribution to the book. I wonder what thoughts first came to mind when he walked into the quiet stillness of the room.
Was the quiet of the room filled with remembrance of his father’s laugh? Did Wyeth laugh like his father? Did his nephew bear the features of the Wyeth family? Did his nephew laugh like his grand-father? And when the wind from the sea blew in through the open window, did Wyeth gasp and realize that he was holding his breath?
In the splendour of God’s creation, I find so often that the sublime, commonplace, and ordinary moments are the most memorable. They last through hardships and nights of sorrowing, they are there with the joy that comes in the morning. I gasp at the beauty of sublime moments like I do with Wyeth’s paintings, realizing that I sometimes hold my breath. As I exhale, I thank God.
I thank God for every good thing.