World of Wyeths expands in new directions

For years, a member of the Wyeth dynasty believed that the artistic gene had eluded her -- despite substantial evidence to the contrary.

Now, with a growing list of accolades, Victoria Browning Wyeth, the granddaughter of Andrew Wyeth, great-granddaughter of N.C. Wyeth, and niece of Jamie Wyeth, will make her gallery debut on Sept. 7 in Philadelphia with an exhibit of her photographs. She will share space at the Stanek Gallery with contemporary painter Francis Di Fronzo -- a pairing that boasts a serendipitous path.

Gallery director Katherine Stanek explained that the dual show began to take shape after she met the 39-year-old Wyeth at the Michener Museum in Doylestown. Stanek said their lively conversation led to an invitation for Wyeth to visit the gallery, which she did. As Wyeth described her artistic journey, Stanek was reminded of a compelling gallery presentation that Di Fronzo had done.

“The similarities were striking; I knew I had to get the two of them together,” said Stanek, describing her elation when the two met and applauded the idea.

For Wyeth, the show represents a culmination as well as a celebration.

“Yes, I’m finally able to consider myself an artist,” she said. “I don’t paint like the rest of my family, but I do see the world as a black-and-white photograph.”

'Easter at the Mill' by Victoria Wyeth

She said she realized that she possesses “an almost irresistible urge to take photographs,” especially when she’s walking down the street. “For example, I was stuck in the pouring rain the other day,” she said. “I looked down and saw my reflection in a puddle and couldn’t stop myself from taking a photograph.”

Wyeth started working recently as a research assistant in the department of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, a job to which she aspired for more than a decade. Balancing that position with lectures and photography will be a welcome challenge.

“Having so many things to look forward to is such a change from the past two years, which have been filled with nothing but sickness and surgeries,” said Wyeth, referencing her well-publicized battle with breast cancer. “I’m so thankful for my good health that has allowed me to do all these activities.”

Wyeth grew up immersed in art. In addition to a host of famous painting relatives, her father, Nicholas Wyeth, was the primary art dealer for her grandfather's work, and her mother, Jane, worked as an art consultant. As a teenager, Victoria Wyeth began sharing the insight she gained. Her talks about her grandfather’s art at the Farnsworth Art Museum, near her parents’ summer home in Maine, paved the way for her stint as a docent in Chadds Ford.

From 2004 until 2011, she led tours at the Brandywine River Museum of Art, regularly consulting with her grandfather about visitors’ questions until his death in 2009. Her insightful, crowd-pleasing presentations once prompted her grandmother to quip: “Well, you can’t paint, but you sure can talk.”

Even earlier, photographs that she had taken of her grandfather, whom she credits with teaching her about composition, attracted attention

'The Things I never Told You (Part 2)" by Francis Di Fronzo

. The Mississippi Museum of Art in Jackson, Miss., and the Bates College Museum of Art in Lewiston, Maine, displayed her images in conjunction with shows of her grandfather’s work in 2000 and 2001.

In addition, one of her photos served as a focal point of an Andrew Wyeth Retrospective at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta in 2005 as well as a 2006 exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  In 2017, two museums -- the Greenville County Museum of Art in Greenville, S.C., and the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y., hosted shows of Victoria Wyeth photographs.

While Victoria Wyeth enjoyed an influential, front-row view of her grandfather’s artistry, Di Fronzo benefitted from a vicarious one across the country. A few days after his 9th birthday, Di Fronzo, a California native, suffered a severe head injury that required months of recuperation.

During that time, he found a copy of “The Two Worlds of Andrew Wyeth” on his father’s bookshelf. He began reading and immediately found solace in his ability to transport himself to Andrew Wyeth’s favorite haunts, such as the Kuerner Farm in Chadds Ford.

'The Golden Hour' by Francis Di Fronzo

“As I grew up and dedicated myself to being an artist, I always looked to Wyeth’s work for inspiration – not so much in the imagery, but for Wyeth’s uncanny ability to draw viewers into his world,” Di Fronzo explained.

Di Fronzo, 48, who moved to Philadelphia to earn a master’s degree from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, has been featured in more than a dozen shows dating back to 2005; however, he considers the opportunity to exhibit with Victoria Wyeth quite special.

“It felt - and feels - very much as though the meandering path I set out on 40 years ago has reached a destination,” he said.

Stanek said she was struck by the fact that both artists identified Andrew Wyeth as an inspiration, but both used that influence to create their own distinctive style, infused with personal experiences and imagination. Rather than mimic their shared muse, Stanek said, they each found a creative voice that reflects the title of the gallery’s show: “Storytellers.”

The exhibit, which runs through Oct. 27, will open on Sept. 7 with a First Friday reception from 6 to 9 p.m. The Stanek Gallery is located at 242 N. 3rd St., Philadelphia, Pa., 19106.

Wyeth, an accomplished speaker whose ebullient style has captivated audiences for years, will give a special lecture at the gallery on Saturday, Oct. 13, from 1 to 3 p.m. Entitled “My Andy,” it will feature an intimate look into her grandfather’s world and its impact on her artistic evolution.

“I want people to see my family as I see them,” she said. “They are affectionate, charismatic, and I find them absolutely fascinating to photograph. I hope people will forget that they are looking at Andrew Wyeth and try and think of him as my grandfather.”

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