For almost 50 years, the Heritage Museum & Gardens has welcomed visitors to the 100-acre cultural and horticultural complex located in historic Sandwich, Massachusetts. By encouraging a multi-generational experience where a love for the outdoors and nostalgia reign supreme, the museum and gardens rank among Cape Cod’s most popular family destinations.
As you explore the grounds and exhibits, you’ll notice grandchildren listening intently to their grandparents as they share their car knowledge at the Automobile Gallery housed in a replica of a Shaker round stone barn. You’ll see parents and siblings holding hands and meandering through magnificent hydrangea, hosta, daylily and rhododendron gardens. And you’ll be caught in a whirlwind of excitement when you catch three generations of the same family gleefully riding an exquisite carousel hand-crafted by Charles Loof in 1908.
This year, art poignantly imitates life at the Special Exhibitions Gallery. From now through September 27, the museum is presenting The Wyeths: America Reflected and showcasing the art of three generations of the acclaimed family of painters – Newell Convers (N.C.) Wyeth; his son, Andrew Wyeth; and his son, Jamie Wyeth.
Quintessential American themes are the focus of the exhibit and include the meaning of America, the significance of place and family, and the role of storytelling in art. The exhibit is set in a replica of a Revolutionary War Building where George Washington first bestowed a Purple Heart to a wounded soldier in Windsor, New York.
Forty-five paintings and drawings comprise the exhibit including rarely seen works on loan from private collectors. The Hill School in Pottstown, Pennsylvania lent the museum 16 oil paintings depicting Revolutionary heroes and American leaders including George Washington, Paul Revere, and Abraham Lincoln. N.C. Wyeth was commissioned to do the series of illustrations for Brander Matthews’ book, Poems of American Patriotism published by Charles Scribner’s Sons in 1922. A painting of a mourner paying respects to Abraham Lincoln as he lies in state accompanied by lines from Walt Whitman’s poem O’Captain, My’ Captain is especially moving and illustrates the magnitude of our nation’s suffering during the Civil War.
From there, landscapes by Andrew Wyeth speak to the importance of place, both on land and at sea, in the formation of American identity including his earliest painting “The Lobsterman,” which reveals the man’s rugged resolve and Andrew’s renowned work “Master Bedroom” which features a dog dozing on a bed as sunlight streams through the window and cast shadows on the white bedspread.
Lastly, evocative and provocative images by Jamie Wyeth examine seminal figures of our times and the allure of mystery and mortality in American culture. Among Jamie’s captivating works are paintings of John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter and John Erhlichman, scenes of the Watergate Trial, NASA’s space explorations, and sea gulls either soaring, feeding, or rising from the surf.
THE WYETH FAMILY LEGACY
The Wyeths are perhaps the most celebrated family in American art. Their artistry captures the essence of the American experience and their paintings are on permanent display in museums around the world. Individually and collectively, the Wyeths have been the subject of numerous exhibits, lectures, books and scholarly articles. Interestingly enough, the gift shop at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. sells t-shirts bearing a quote from Jamie Wyeth, “Everybody in my family paints – excluding possibly the dogs.”
N.C. Wyeth lived from 1882 to 1945 and created illustrations for books and magazines and painted oil portraits of historic Americans. Andrew Wyeth lived from 1917 to 2009 and painted watercolor and tempera landscapes set in rural Pennsylvania and coastal Maine. Jamie Wyeth was born in 1946 and continues to use a variety of mediums to paint portraits, landscapes, livestock and seagulls.
Jamie spends a great deal of time painting in his studio located in Tenants Harbor Light on Southern Island in Maine. The lighthouse has been in the Wyeth family since 1978 and The Wyeths: America Reflected exhibit features a short video of Jamie painting Maine gulls in his studio and describing his work as he sticks the end of his brush in his mouth. In the video Jamie says, “The eye of a seagull is limitless, more like the ocean than any seascape.”
In a recent interview, Jamie revealed, “The filmmaker was allowed in the studio to film me painting, which is very rare. It seems like I use everything to paint with but the brush.” Jamie elaborated on painting seagulls. He explained, “I live on an island. Seagulls are everywhere and they are my models. I’m always fascinated by them. Some people
view them as cute like white doves. But they are scavengers, they can be mean spirited and they are very independent. They are interesting to portray.”
When asked about the exhibit and whether the collection of paintings resonate the heritage theme, Jamie explained, “The collection is remarkable and fits perfectly into the exhibit. Our family’s work is a microcosm of the heritage of this country.” He adds, “I love my grandfather’s work and he is the star of the exhibition. I have loved and emulated his work and this series is a real stand out. The museum was so fortunate to be able to borrow the series of his patriotic poems from the Hill School. My work and my father’s work bring an interesting juxtaposition to the exhibit. We bring a different point of view and round out the experience.”
Growing up in family of artists, Jamie, age 68, instinctively appreciates the multi-generation learning experience where lessons are handed down through the generations. Wyeths: America Reflected reminded Jamie of an exhibit held in Leningrad, Russia in 1987 entitled, Three Generations of Wyeth Art and featured a major exhibition of 117 works by him, his father and grandfather. Jamie said, “I’ve seen the multi-generation experience in Europe and Russia. At the time of the exhibit in the Soviet Union, people seemed more fascinated by three generations of artists more than they were by the paintings. It is unique.”
He added, “Being brought up in a family of artists has a lot of advantages and disadvantages. We got to move around. But the handicap for me was constantly being compared to the other two artists. I admire their work immensely. Over time, the advantages overcome the disadvantages and now I understand that those considerations are made outside the door of my studio.”
The Art of Storytelling
Martha Severens served as the curator for The Wyeths: America Reflected. Martha has served as a curator at several museums around the country including the Portland Museum of Art, in Maine, authored books on Andrew Wyeth and wrote “The Wyeths: America Reflected,” for the June 2015 issue of the American Art Review. In addition to persuading museums and private collectors to loan their Wyeth treasures to the exhibit, Martha also worked closely with Victoria Wyeth, the granddaughter of Andrew and niece of Jamie to gather family’s stories, photographs, and some of Andrew Wyeth’s sketchbooks to complete the exhibit.
Martha says, “The Heritage Museum and Gardens is a natural tie in for this unique collection of paintings. And it was serendipitous that the exhibit appeals to multi-generations.”
When asked to describe what makes each artist unique, Martha says, “NC was a great patriot, a great illustrator and had a knack for knowing how to choose the right moment to capture. Andrew painted the everyday mundane. His art evokes wholesome subjects, something we miss in our daily existence. I find a great deal of solace in his work. He painted places where you’d like to go when life is harried. And Jamie’s seagulls are great, uplifting and show the beauty found in nature.”
The Wyeths: America Reflected Runs Until September 27
Before summer comes to a close, gather your family and loved ones and visit the Heritage Museum & Gardens to experience this extraordinary exhibit firsthand. Perhaps Heritage Museum & Gardens President and CEO Ellen Spear says it best, “Just as one generation of artist is inspired by the next, this exhibit creates opportunities for families to inspire and learn from each other. An important part of the Wyeth family legacy is their representation of America. The works in the show are beautiful visualizations of our country and culture and make for an outstanding and provocative exhibit.”
For more information about the Heritage Museum & Gardens and the Wyeth Exhibit visit Heritagemuseumandgardens.org