A winsome Wyeth convergence at CCAA

Explaining the 1931 genesis of the Chester County Art Association (CCAA), Christian Brinton, one of its founders, wrote: "The association merely wishes to acknowledge a sense of sincere obligation upon assuming the task of making Chester County more actively, and courageously, art conscious…”

David Linton (from left) and his wife, Barbara Linton, of West Chester, chat with Victoria Wyeth before her presentation at the Chester County Art Association, which is running an exhibit of her great-grandfather's work through Sunday, Oct. 18.

David Linton (from left) and his wife, Barbara Linton, of West Chester, chat with Victoria Wyeth before her presentation at the Chester County Art Association, which is running an exhibit of her great-grandfather's work through Sunday, Oct. 18.

Eighty-four years later, the great-granddaughter of another founder, Newell Convers Wyeth, is energetically perpetuating that mission. On Monday, Oct. 12, Victoria Browning Wyeth addressed an enthusiastic crowd of nearly 100 at the Chester County Art Association, which is featuring 17 rarely viewed paintings by N.C. Wyeth during its Founders Exhibition, which runs through Sunday, Oct. 18.

The 36-year-old, who has become a sought-after art ambassador for the prodigious Wyeth art clan, is the daughter of Nicholas and Jane Wyeth, the granddaughter of Andrew and Betsy, great-granddaughter of N.C., and niece of Jamie. She grew up in Manhattan, where her father was the primary art dealer for her grandfather's work, and her mother was an art consultant.

For the CCAA exhibit, 16 works by N.C. Wyeth, an acclaimed early 20th century artist who helped to establish the "Brandywine tradition" of painting, were loaned to CCAA by the Hill School in Pottstown. Each painting in the “Poems of American Patriotism” series illustrates a literary work by an American poet, such as Walt Whitman and Henry Longfellow, and depicts a momentous event in U.S. history.

The imposing, well-known 17th work – N.C. Wyeth’s “The Giant” – normally hangs in the cafeteria of the Westtown School. It is on loan from the school, where Victoria Wyeth will do a presentation that focuses on her grandfather on Nov. 21, a fundraiser for the Chadds Ford Historical Society.

During a question-and-answer session on Monday night, Victoria Wyeth responded to questions about her childhood and relationships with her famous relatives for more than an hour, enthralling the audience with her insight and humor.

As a child, Wyeth said she had no inkling of her ancestors' pedigree and grew up hanging out in now-hallowed spaces, such as her grandfather’s studio. “What’s weird now is that it’s a museum,” she said.

Wyeth insisted that the art gene eluded her. “I had to take art in college,” she said, suggesting that her instructors’ high hopes for her were quickly dashed. “It ruined my GPA.”

But she acknowledged that she has garnered acclaim for her photographs, and she credited her grandfather for encouraging and pushing her. “He would drag me around to all of the places he painted,” she said, explaining that they weren’t necessarily subjects she would have chosen.

The results ultimately demonstrated her grandfather’s wisdom and foresight. “Just take it; years later, you’ll be happy,” he reportedly told her. After amassing a priceless collection of photos, Victoria Wyeth said she’s now grateful for what she termed “Andy’s insistence.”

Victoria Wyeth (left) poses with Karen Delaney, executive director of the Chester County Art Association, which is exhibiting rarely seen works by N.C. Wyeth as part of its Founders Exhibition.

Victoria Wyeth (left) poses with Karen Delaney, executive director of the Chester County Art Association, which is exhibiting rarely seen works by N.C. Wyeth as part of its Founders Exhibition.

Victoria Wyeth said most of her knowledge of her great-grandfather comes second-hand. He was Andrew Wyeth’s primary teacher, and by all accounts, a strict taskmaster who may not have lived long enough to appreciate his son’s talents. N.C. Wyeth’s death in a 1945 train accident in Chadds Ford was not a topic of discussion, she said.

However, Victoria Wyeth recalled that her grandfather once said: “Pa’s death allowed me to see the world with a clearer vision.” Now that she has experienced the intense pain of losing her grandfather, she said she can identify with that sentiment, and she credited her uncle, Jamie Wyeth, with helping her deal with the enormous loss.

Asked if members of the Wyeth family got nervous when they learned that some works, such as those in the CCAA exhibit, hang in schools, where they could be damaged, Victoria Wyeth said no. In fact, she would like to see the art as accessible as possible. “Wouldn’t it be nice if people starting donating [art] to schools?” she asked.

In response to a question about which country she would like to see exhibit Wyeth work, she said she would choose a place where it isn’t known, such as South Korea or Africa. “If the art’s powerful,” it will transcend geography, she said.

After the presentation, Karen Delaney, CCAA’s executive director, expressed thanks for Wyeth’s candid and insightful commentary. “We were all touched by her willingness to share the details of the intimate, emotion-charged moments the Wyeth family shared, especially those related to Andrew's passing,” Delaney said.

Many in the audience attended Monday night’s session because they had heard Victoria Wyeth speak before and knew the experience would be enlightening as well as entertaining.

David and Barbara Linton of West Chester said they first saw her in action about a decade ago at the Brandywine River Museum of Art, where David Linton had worked as a volunteer. Barbara Linton said at one of Wyeth’s first presentations, she didn’t know the answers to a couple of questions but promised to get them.

“A few weeks later, we heard her again and she was ready with those answers,” Barbara Linton said. “She does a great job, and she is so funny.”

Nadia Barakat, executive director of the Chadds Ford Historical Society, is also a longtime fan, and Wyeth made a point of identifying Barakat so that people in the audience could get information about the Nov. 21 fundraiser. “I’m really excited about it,” Barakat said, adding that details appear on the society’s website: http://www.chaddsfordhistory.org.

In the meantime, those who need a Wyeth fix should head to the Chester County Art Association. In addition to the rarely seen, commanding N.C. Wyeth work, the CCAA exhibit includes publications by Brinton, its co-founder as well as an art critic; early letters from the third co-founder, William Palmer Lear, who also served as CCAA’s first art director; and paintings by CCAA charter-member George Gillett Whitney, also on loan from Westtown School.

Admission to the exhibit is $15 per person a day. On Wednesday, Oct. 14, it will include a 6 p.m. lecture by Christine Podmaniczky, curator of the N.C. Wyeth Collection at the Brandywine River Museum of Art; reservations are recommended. Podmaniczky will discuss the “Poems of American Patriotism” paintings and share a comparison of those paintings with works Wyeth sent to the annual CCAA exhibitions.

For tickets to the exhibition and more information, visit www.chestercountyarts.org or call 610-696-5600.

 

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