Asked how he would like to be remembered, American painter Jamie Wyeth replied, "That he was a really honest recorder of his life and the people and animals around him. He was clear-eyed, just bored right in and recorded it." And, indeed, Wyeth has done just that. His 1987 portrait of his wife, Phyllis, driving her team of Connemara ponies through the wooded countryside near their farm in Pennsylvania is just one example of the artist's attention to detail. Note the gold straw braid of the open carriage, the sleek ivory horses with their brass fittings, the soft maroon flowers on Phyllis's velvet hat.
But Wyeth offers more than an honest record. The power of his art also lies in how he draws the viewer into the scene. The viewer's perspective is that of a passenger in the carriage. From our back-seat view, we see that we are approaching an opening, a recurring Wyeth theme. The horses and vehicle are unified by a theatrical spotlight effect from above and behind. The dimly lit woodland path crossed by tree shadows in bold, saturated color and agitated brushwork is an imposing and mysterious backdrop to the close-up of the luminous entourage approaching. In a seamless blend of objects both near and far, the artist offers us the beginning of what could be a journey into Brandywine country and all that it commands - towering oaks and walnut trees, sinuous trails, lush undergrowth.
"You become one with the animal," Wyeth recalls of his horseback rides through the rolling countryside, "seeing things through the horse's eyes, hearing sounds through the horse's ears. And I like looking down and seeing my feet, hooved."
To bring the viewer even further into the scene, the Wyeth Center at the Farnsworth Museum of Art in Rockland, Maine, is exhibiting 25 objects and props with 17 of Wyeth's paintings in an exhibition called "Paintings, Props, and Costumes: Objects of Inspiration."
Wyeth is an ardent collector of antiques and artifacts, and often uses them in his work, from white wicker chairs to high-collared, brass-buttoned uniforms.
"These are things he makes a connection with," says curator Lauren Smith, "and then at some point, lo and behold, they appear in his work."
Right beside "Connemara" is one of Phyllis's full-size carriages (harnessed to a full-size model of a horse), as well as her signature velvet hat. This painting and others from Jamie Wyeth's collection will be on display along with artifacts through May 7, 2000.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society