In early July of 2017 I went to the Farnsworth Museum to see the Andrew Wyeth exhibit of watercolors and drawings. I have loved Wyeth’s work since I was a young woman. The Farnsworth was a museum I visited every time I stayed in Rockland overnight on my way to Monhegan.
I moved to Monhegan Island year round after graduating from college, having married a local fisherman to get there. I walked through every patch of woods and on the cliff trails every single day sometimes coming upon Andrew as he was painting, tucked away in some craggy nook. We exchanged few words, but like so many other people, I had fallen in love with his work and when I moved into my house on Southport a portrait of Christina’s World found purchase in the center of the mantelpiece over the fireplace, where it hung for 27 years, the entire time I lived there.
I added a Wyeth painting of mayflowers next, and later when the kitchen was added on, a third painting, Blue Door, graced its piney walls. My children grew up with those paintings…
When Andrew’s first book was published, my grandmother gave it to me for my birthday. I kept the book open upstairs in my bedroom, changing pictures with the passing of the seasons or by what seemed like whim at the time.
As a daughter of an artist and a naturalist by nature and temperament I was drawn to Andrew’s work because he took the simplest subject and made it into something that I wanted to look at for the rest of my young life. A broom, a bucket, a door, a basket of blueberries took on an air of depth and mystery. I loved too, that Andrew painted realistically because I had fallen in love with Nature as a child. I had trouble relating to abstract art even though I had been extensively exposed to it living in the metropolitan New York area for much of my early life. I absorbed art like a canvas does, unconsciously.
Because there was no room in my house for two artists, I never pursued art in school becoming instead a watcher or seer, someone who saw beauty not just in museums but everywhere, in natural surroundings, but I rarely attempted to draw anything besides stylized pictures in my journals.
After I moved to the mountains I put away those paintings, although I didn’t understand just why except that this coastal part of my life was over. The last time I looked at Christina’s World I felt so uncomfortable that I turned the painting towards the wall even though it was in my upstairs closet.
Another artist, Georgia O’Keeffe, became my muse, first with her depiction of the flowers I loved so much, and later with her stunning and more abstract art of “her” desert, a place I longed to visit … I loved the way Georgia was able to paint the essence of a flower or place…
Imagine my astonishment when I re- discovered Andrew’s work through old eyes some 50 years after I had first been exposed to it. When I first entered the museum (which I no longer recognized, so much had changed) I was pulled back into the past in a most poignant way; the power of those paintings to move me almost overwhelmed me with tears.
In a sense I felt that I had come full circle and had returned to a place in the beginning…We spent many hours viewing both the watercolors and the drawings, some of which I had never seen before.
Blue Door, I was stunned to discover, still drew me in much the same way it had when I was young. What, I wondered was behind that light filled wooden door that so mesmerized me? I dearly wanted a print of that same painting, not knowing what had happened to the other during moving, and my very generous companion graciously bought one for me.
When I first saw Christina’s World the room spun around me crazily with revelation. For the first time I understood that the reason I had been so drawn to that painting as a young woman was because I had been crippled emotionally, just as Christina had been crippled physically. I had been longing for “home” for most of my life and had no way of reaching this place except by crawling on the ground like a snake or a vine might, to make its way towards a distant house, staying close to the Earth, the only mother I had ever known.
We spent that night in Tenants Harbor, a small seaside town where I once took the Laura B, the mailboat to Monhegan, sixteen nautical miles away. The quaint little harbor was still filled with working lobster boats I was happy to note, and I could see Burnt Island in the distance. Later, I suddenly became very ill, and in retrospect believe that the emotional shock of re-entering the past in such a powerful way had triggered this attack. The next morning we returned to the museum to finish seeing the exhibit.
An “extra –ordinary” experience.
2 thoughts on “Christina’s World: Longing for Home”
Do you have to live with intensity for many years before you can write a piece like this? Whatever the reason, this narrative is glorious!
What a question Harriet…but there is something about intensity – isn’t there that moves us to write
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