Wyeth on Wyeth: wealth of warmth, wisdom

When Victoria Browning Wyeth takes the microphone at Westtown School next month, fans of the Wyeth art dynasty will likely be sorry if they’re not in the audience.

Victoria Wyeth is shown during her stint as a bar wench during a spring fundraiser for the Chadds Ford Historical Society.

Victoria Wyeth is shown during her stint as a bar wench during a spring fundraiser for the Chadds Ford Historical Society.

For more than a decade, the 36-year-old granddaughter of Andrew and Betsy, great-granddaughter of N.C., and niece of Jamie has enthralled crowds at a variety of venues, including the Brandywine River Museum of Art, area schools, and senior centers. Many of the sites boast ties to the Wyeth family.

A talk at the Chadds Ford Historical Society some years back proved so popular that Wyeth participated in a fundraiser this past spring as a guest bartender at the Brandywine Brewing Company in Greenville, De. Her stint as a bar wench required her to get a crash course in mixology – instruction that increased her legion of admirers.

The Nov. 21 lecture at 7:30 p.m. Westtown School is also a fundraiser for the Chadds Ford Historical Society, an organization that she said her late grandfather greatly valued. Those who reserve a limited number of VIP tickets will be able to attend a preview reception from 6 to 7:30 p.m., offering an opportunity to chat with Wyeth prior to the formal presentation.

Although she grew up in Manhattan, where her father Nicholas was the primary art dealer for her grandfather's work and her mother Jane worked as an art consultant, Victoria Wyeth spent considerable time in the Chadds Ford area. In the process, she amassed a wealth of Wyeth memories.

In preparing for the lecture, Wyeth had difficulty containing her enthusiasm for the topic: an intimate look at her grandfather’s paintings. Initially, she said she planned to share one or two of his “never-before-seen studies.” She then proceeded to up the ante – more than once.

Andrew Wyeth, shown in a 1997 photo, will be the subject of his granddaughter Victoria's presentation on Nov. 21 at Westtown School.

Andrew Wyeth, shown in a 1997 photo, will be the subject of his granddaughter Victoria's presentation on Nov. 21 at Westtown School. Copyright by Victoria Wyeth

The end result: The audience will see four never publicly viewed studies that center on one of the historical society’s buildings and another uncirculated watercolor of Helga Testorf, one of her grandfather’s most famous models. Helga became a household name in the mid-1980s after Andrew Wyeth revealed a cache of more than 200 works, many of them nudes, which he had done over nearly 15 years.

Entitled “I Paint My Life,” the Nov. 21 program will also feature Andrew Wyeth's last in-person interview from 2008. He died in January 2009 at the age of 91. His last instructions to his granddaughter referenced her lectures: “Make ‘em look, Vic.”

It was a directive she had already taken to heart during her numerous appearances. “I suppose his death has brought clarity to my presentations,” she said recently. “It has also allowed me to feel a much deeper connection to his work.”

The foundation for that connection goes back several decades, but intensified after Victoria Wyeth received a graduate degree in psychology in 2005 from Wesleyan University in Connecticut. Putting plans for a doctorate on hold, she began conducting tours at the Brandywine River Museum of Art.

During her tenure as a docent, she kept logs of questions and met with her grandfather daily to discuss them, amassing knowledge ranging from his techniques to his inspiration. The arrangement grew out of his desire to watch a tour, a request that would have made her much too nervous, she said. As her popularity surged, he joked that someday he would be “known as Victoria Wyeth's grandfather."

Victoria Wyeth, who now works as a therapist at Norristown State Hospital, has said that her childhood memories involved no real understanding of her relatives’ prominence. She fondly recalled activities such as lining up Barbie dolls in her grandfather’s studio or watching horror films with her uncle.

An epiphany of sorts occurred in 2005, she said, when her grandfather had a major exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

“I was driving down I-95 in Philadelphia and saw a bus zip by me with his painting on the side [an advertisement for the show],” she said. “This really caused me to take a step back and say, “wow.”

Since then, audiences have been wowed by her lectures, and many attendees have become repeat visitors, seeking out her appearances. They know that they will be entertained while receiving heartfelt insight into the Wyeth world, observations punctuated with candor and humor.


Victoria Wyeth says she loves sharing insight into her grandfather's artwork.

A primer on Andrew Wyeth’s signature fashions can seamlessly morph into a discussion of his favorite Chadds Ford cuisine. In addition to being a regular at Hank’s Restaurant, Andrew Wyeth was also a fan of Jimmy John’s. If the right person is working, one can still order an “Andy burger,” but be prepared for a sandwich resembling “steak tartar,” Victoria Wyeth warned with a smile.

She said she owes a debt to her grandfather for a host of life lessons, especially myriad examples of his compassion and refusal to judge others. “You’re no better than anyone else,” he told her.

“I modeled who I am very much after my grandfather,” Victoria Wyeth said. In serving as the family’s art ambassador, she said she hopes people will come to love her grandfather and his work as much as she does.

Every one of his paintings has a story, she says, and when she approaches the lectern, she’s eager to share them all.

VIP tickets, which include the preview reception, autumn-themed refreshments reminiscent of Wyeth's iconic art, and the lecture, are $50 per person. Lecture-only tickets are $30 apiece.

Tickets are available online by clicking here, in person at the society's headquarters, located at 1736 Creek Rd.. in Chadds Ford, or by check payable to the Chadds Ford Historical Society and mailed to P.O. Box 27, Chadds Ford, Pa., 19317.

To learn more about the Nov. 21 event, call the society at 610-388-7376, or go to http://www.chaddsfordhistory.org. For more information about Victoria Wyeth and the Wyeth art legacy, visit www.victoriawyeth.com.

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