Wyeth on Wyeth in West Chester

Victoria Wyeth painted a unique picture of her famous grandfather and uncle Monday night, using paintings, photographs, and stories to illustrate another side to Andrew and Jamie Wyeth.

“I want you to stop thinking of them as just artists,” Wyeth, Andrew Newell Wyeth’s only granddaughter and Jamie Browning Wyeth’s niece, said at the Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center in West Chester. “Think of them as people.”

Wyeth spoke as part of the center’s speaker series, interspersing humor and memories of growing up with a look at her grandfather’s and uncle’s self-portraits. Her presentation, which she titled “Capturing Himself: AW & JW Self-Portraits,” showed a more personal side to the iconic artists than what one can learn about them from museums around the country.

“He was a wonderful person with an incredible ability,” Victoria said.

One of the first photographs she showed was one she had taken of Andrew through the window of the house, when she was home from college. Others showed various family members, including her grandmother Betsy, 96.

Growing up as the only grandchild wasn’t as much fun as one might think, she said impishly. “You show up with blue fingernails and my grandmother says, ‘What’s that monstrosity?’”

Betsy Wyeth is the one who kept her husband’s various sketches as he worked on his paintings, some of which were shown during Monday’s presentation. One sketch for “Trodden Weed,” for example, was done in #2 pencil – Victoria made the crowd chuckle as she expressed her amazement at what her grandfather could do with something the rest of us took our SATs with – and showed amazing detail. In another sketch for “Trodden Weed,” there was little detail on the boots, but the ground began to take shape.

The sketches were a way for Andrew to decide what to eliminate from his paintings, Victoria said.

Andrew always told his granddaughter to “make people look up” in his paintings, so she highlighted areas that people might miss if they were not looking closely. In “Trodden Weed,” there is amazing detail in the grass that Andrew is walking on.

One of Victoria’s favorite pieces by her grandfather is “Dr. Syn,” a tempera on panel completed in 1981. It features a skeleton in a naval jacket, perched on a seat and looking out a window.

Andrew, Victoria said, “just lived in this whole fantasy world. He had the most wild imagination.”

The inspiration for “Dr. Syn” came when he was getting his hips replaced, Victoria said. Her grandfather wondered what he’d look like as a skeleton.

The sketches that Andrew did for the painting are fascinating, showing the cannon – which ends up pointing out a window – being drawn in different directions; and the detail-work on the walls as they take shape, among other things. Victoria pointed out the use of gold and white in the woodwork of the window in the painting, adding that it “captured the feeling of sunlight.”

In her look at her uncle’s work, Victoria showcased self-portraits that included some of his early works, the 1972 “Pumpkinhead – Self-Portrait” oil painting, and his most recent self-portrait, which she said was about a year old and had him sitting barefoot on the beach of Monhegan Island in Maine.

Much of the work that Victoria included in her presentation were portraits that Jamie had painted of his wife Phyllis.

“He does all these wonderful pictures of her,” Victoria said, showing the audience pieces such as the 1994 “Southern Light” – “She’s the light of his life,” she said.

Victoria Wyeth is an artist in her own right, not with pencil or brush, but with a camera. She, too, will be having an exhibit of her photography in September at the Stanek Gallery in Philadelphia.

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About Monica Fragale

Monica Thompson Fragale is a freelance reporter who spent her life dreaming of being in the newspaper business. That dream came true after college when she started working at The Kennett Paper and, years later The Reporter newspaper in Lansdale and other dailies. She turned to non-profit work after her first daughter was born and spent the next 13 years in that field. But while you can take the girl out of journalism, you can’t take journalism out of the girl. Offers to freelance sparked the writing bug again started her fingers happily tapping away on the keyboard. Monica lives with her husband and two children in Kennett Square.

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