Andy on Andy,  Bell on Wyeth

Andy Bell at home with his print of "Stop." Bell was the model in the Andy Wyeth painting.

Andy Bell tells a story about the time he posed for Andy Wyeth for the painting “Stop.” The painting shows Bell on his motorcycle at an intersection — near the A. I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington — waiting for a traffic light to change from red to green:

“A woman walked by talking on her cell phone and I heard her say ‘You won’t believe this. There’s some old guy sitting in a chair painting another old guy sitting on a motorcycle. And the painting is awesome.’”

He said a crowd usually formed while they worked on location, but he doubted anyone realized the painter was Wyeth. “One guy offered him $25 for the painting.”

Wyeth got the idea for the painting in 2004, four years before it was finished, according to Bell. He said it happened when he passed Wyeth on Route 1. Wyeth was in a car with Helga Testorf and Bell was on his motorcycle.

“I pulled alongside and cranked it wide open and it just echoed. We reached a stop sign and I was in front of the car. I was in the same position [as in the painting], in front of him. I looked in the mirror and I could see him. I knew something had triggered.”

Bell said Wyeth invited him and his wife Diane to see the painting at Wyeth’s home after it was finished. It was May 10, 2008.

“He said, ‘I want you to know you’re a part of my life now and this is just the beginning,’” Bell said.

But posing for the painting was just one of the moments Bell shared with Wyeth. His relationship with the famous Chadds Ford artist ran deep and he reflected on that history recently as the 10thanniversary of Wyeth’s death approaches. Wyeth died Jan. 16. 2009 at age 91.

According to Bell, the pair met in 1964 when Bell was 13. His mother ran a restaurant — Bell’s Luncheonette on Route 1 in Chadds Ford Township — that Wyeth often frequented. The pair hit it off. He said Wyeth got a kick out of watching a youngster riding a mini bike and motorcycles, jumping the hill behind the restaurant.

The younger Bell was always on the Wyeth property. Wyeth’s celebrity status didn’t register to him.

Andy Bell goes through his personal scrapbook and photo album with letters and photos of his friendship with Andy Wyeth.

“He was always just Andy to me. I never realized how famous he was,” Bell said. “He would invite me to his place and we’d go fishing.”

The relationship grew as Bell got older. Bell would sometimes do work for Wyeth. He’s especially fond of the fact that Wyeth trusted him enough to take care of two of his cars, two Stutz Bearcats. It was Bell’s job to take them out on the weekends and run them so they’d stay in good running order, he said.

“He wanted those cars exercised, so I’d pick one up on the weekend. I always kept it gassed up for him, kept it clean. He’d say, ‘I want you to run that car, keep it exercised.’”

The pair also rode snowmobiles together, Bell said. He recalled the time he broke one of the snowmobiles and had to phone Wyeth to let him know. Wyeth’s response, he said, was to tell Bell to buy two new ones. He brought them to Wyeth in the middle of a snowstorm. Wyeth then sprang for the Bells to have whatever they wanted for dinner at the old Chadds Ford Inn.

He did a number of odd jobs and favors for Wyeth and the Wyeth family over the years. Bell remembers working at Wyeth’s studio and one of his tasks was to get rid of the snakes in the basement.

“I was deathly afraid of snakes but I’d do anything for Andy,” he said. “He was so down to earth and he would do anything for you.”

Bell has kept two brief notes he received from Wyeth. One came shortly after Bell’s father died in 1983:

“I want you to know I’m thinking of you and your fine father. I lost my father at about the same age as you. It’s hard to take but just know he is in your mind every day and will always be alive in your mind. With warmest feelings for you, Andy,” read the letter.

The other was a note saying that Bell would like the items enclosed in the envelope. It contained postage stamps featuring the painting “Stop.”

Bell still gets emotional when talking about his relationship with Wyeth and he welled up several times during the interviews. He said he learned of the artist’s death sitting at home that Friday morning in 2009 when he saw it on the news.

“I choked up,” Bell said. “I broke down and balled.”

Wyeth was already ill when he returned to Chadds Ford from his summer in Maine in 2008. Bell knew Wyeth was sick but didn’t realize how serious things were until months later. He had asked Wyeth to sign his print of “Stop” and the artist agreed. That was the last time he saw his old friend. “When I left, I told him I loved him.” Wyeth died about two weeks later.

“I didn’t think it was that bad. One of the last things Andy said to me was, ‘When I get over this, we’re gonna [sic] have some fun.’…There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think of him.”

Bell knew Wyeth to be a generous man and that he would be supportive if necessary. “I never asked him for anything but I always knew if I ever needed anything that he would be there.”

Yet, he also knew Wyeth’s sense of humor and his laugh. “I loved to hear him laugh. It was a good belly laugh.”

Of having Wyeth as a friend, Bell said simply, “It was a blast.”

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About Rich Schwartzman

Rich Schwartzman has been reporting on events in the greater Chadds Ford area since September 2001 when he became the founding editor of The Chadds Ford Post. In April 2009 he became managing editor of ChaddsFordLive. He is also an award-winning photographer.

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