The boys were typical boys. When they weren’t in school or helping out on the farm, they liked to hunt and fish together. They probably swam in a creek and wrestled from time to time. But the oldest of the four brothers had another interest in life as well. He enjoyed observing the woods near home. He paid special attention to the people in the nearby town. He was interested in everything. He watched carefully. He then turned his observations into art.
Newell Convers Wyeth, better known simply as N.C. Wyeth, was born in Needham, Massachusetts. His mother was personally acquainted with Henry David Thoreau and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. She passed on to her son a deep love of literature. She also gave her firstborn her artistic talents. N.C. loved sketching and drawing. By the time he was 12 years old, he was creating amazing watercolors paintings.
When he got older, N.C. studied both drafting—a technical form of drawing—and art. At the age of 20, he went to study under Howard Pyle, the “father” of American illustration. N.C. did well—even though Mr. Pyle emphasized historical accuracy and detail, while N.C. leaned toward shadows and moody backgrounds. As he grew in his artistic gifts, he also grew in his love for the whole of culture. N.C. enjoyed literature, music, and drama. He appreciated lively discussions.
Just a few months after he began studying at the Howard Pyle School, N.C. received his first commission as an illustrator. He drew a bucking bronco for the cover of The Saturday Evening Post. This was no small feat for the budding artist. A year later, The Saturday Evening Post hired him again, this time to illustrate a Western story. Mr. Pyle suggested that N.C. should experience life in the West. N.C. took the advice. He spent time in Colorado working as a cowboy on a cattle ranch. Desiring to better understand Native American culture, he also went to Arizona to interact with the Navajo. During his Western experience, he wrote to his family, “The life [here] is wonderful, strange—the fascination of it . . . seems to whisper, ‘Come back, you belong here, this is your real home.’”
He did go back again—not to live, but to visit and to learn more about life in the West. His early trips provided the inspiration for his cowboys and Native Americans collection. After returning home, he began a series of farm scenes for the publisher Scribner’s.
N.C. married Carolyn Bockius in 1908. They moved to an 18-acre home near the Bradywine battlefield. Though N.C. desired to return to what he considered the serious art of painting, he was constantly sought after as an illustrator. Illustration commissions were paying the bills and more. So as a man with a growing family, he stuck with the art that was providing for them.
In 1911, Scribner’s presented N.C. with the opportunity to illustrate classic works of literature. He began with Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. His earnings from this commission alone paid for his house and studio. He went on to illustrate Kidnapped, Robin Hood, The Last of the Mohicans, Robinson Crusoe, Rip Van Winkle, and others. He also worked for several popular magazines of his day. And he did some advertising work as well. Coca-Cola and Cream of Wheat were two of his clients.
N.C.’s success as an illustrator gave his family the freedom to explore and pursue their own artistic and scientific endeavors. His son, Andrew, became one of the best-known American artists of the 20th century. Nathaniel became an engineer for the DuPont Company. His daughters, Henriette, Carolyn, and Ann, were also artists. Ann was a composer as well. He even had artistic grandchildren!
In 1945, N.C. was given an honorary Master of Arts degree from Bowdoin College. A few months later, he and one of his grandsons were killed at a railway crossing near his home. During his 63 years, he produced over 3000 paintings, illustrated 112 books, and left an artistic legacy that continues on to this day.
— by Megan Dunham
Bible 2 Life
Did you know that artists date back to Old Testament times? In Exodus, right after God rescues his people from Egypt, he says to Moses, “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability, and knowledge in all kinds of crafts—to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver, and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of craftmanship.” Exodus 31: 2-5. Just as in everything else we do, art can be an expression of worship to the Lord.
In that Day
1886—Karl Benz patents the first successful gasoline-driven automobile; 1893—The United States Supreme Court legally declares the tomato to be a vegetable; 1921—The first BCG vaccination against tuberculosis is given; 1930—The Mickey Mouse comic strip makes its first appearance; 1941—The Japanese attack Pearl Harbor.
N.C. Wyeth left his legacy not only in enduring artistic creations, but also in developing the love of art in his children and grandchildren. Though N.C. loved painting, his primary strengths were in illustration. His youngest son, Andrew, however, took the art of painting and ran with it. One of Andrew’s most popular works, Christina’s World, was painted in 1948 at an old world-weary farmhouse in Maine. Christina Olson was his neighbor. An unknown illness left her unable to walk. Her life was so inspiring to Andrew that he spent a great deal of time painting her and her house.
The Olson House, as this house is simply known now, overlooks the St. George River and Muscongus Bay. U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, recently gave the distinction of “national landmark” to 14 locations. The Olson House is one of those that received that title. Christopher Brownawell, executive director of the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, has owned the farmhouse for the past 20 years. He said, “It’s now affirmation that it’s an American icon.” The Farnsworth Art Museum is currently hosting a display of 50 watercolors and drawings showcasing the Olson family and their farmhouse.
Andrew Wyeth’s gravestone is located near this property.
Fun to know– N.C. Wyeth used oil paints. Oil paints are made by mixing oil and colored powder. Andrew painted in egg tempera. He mixed egg yolks with colored powder to make his colors. Egg tempera dries very hard. Colors last a long time.
1___ N.C. Wyeth’s initials stand for _________.
a) Nevell Carson, b) Newell Convers, c) Nickolas Cooper
2___ One of the most popular books N.C. Wyeth illustrated was _________.
a) Moby Dick, b) The Bible, c) Treasure Island
3___ N.C. Wyeth’s son, ___________ Wyeth, was one of the best-known American artists of the 20th century.
a) Nathanial, b) Andrew, c) Peter
4 . . . . N. C. Wyeth preferred painting over illustration, yet he is best known for his illustration work. Why didn’t he devote more of his time to painting?