The Glory You Got
Earlier this month, in the first part of October, Mimi and I took a vacation to Maine. Maine is a place I have longed to go to since I was 16 years old. We had a really wonderful time there. One of the reasons I was excited to go was the opportunity it gave me to see the Wyeth Center at the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland. Andrew Wyeth is one of my favorite painter. Prior to this trip, I have only read one biography of Wyeth (which is by necessity also a biography of the whole extraordinary Wyeth clan). In the Farnsworth Museum store, I picked up another and am now about halfway through Richard Meryman's Andrew Wyeth: A Secret Life.
Wyeth was a fascinating man. He just died this year actually. His ability to see deeply into a place and into people and then capture the essence of either or both in paint is literally breathtaking. His technical skill is likewise overwhelming, and yet his technique doesn't overwhelm the painting itself - it serves it. He paints in a way that feels mythic. The intriguing thing is that unlike his father, he did not paint mythic or elevated subject matter. Rather he plumbed the depths of the ordinary - what most people would pass by and mark with sentimentality, if they marked it at all. Wyeth saw the places and people surrounding him with dignity, pregnant with emotion and a narrative that demanded deep presence and attention.
I was just reading about a particular relationship he had with a local farmer, Adam Johnson, the very type of ordinary, mythic person that populated Wyeth's imaginative universe. Wyeth was forever walking the length and breadth of the land, connecting to it and the people that lived off of it. Meryman relates the following story regarding Wyeth and Johnson.
"One day when Andrew passed by on a walk, Adam called out, 'You out sighting, are ya?' Gesturing to an upstairs room, he said, 'I've been up there sighting the Bible. You want to come sight me?' On the windowsill of that little room Adam kept a stone tablet inscribed with a verse from the Bible. On a table was his own huge Bible, festooned with colored paper markers, indicating passages that illuminated issues in each day's news. Adam was a student of the nobility and the limitations of God's children. He once said, 'Andy got one power and he won't get nothin' else. Andy got a glory of painting. I got a glory of cuttin' grass and I won't get nothin' else'" (190).
Perhaps this is the kind of wisdom - a wisdom of contentedness - that comes from sighting the Bible over a lifetime, of attending to a place, of becoming a student of the nobility and limitations of God's children.