Events have conspired to bring my little corner of
this world into a larger frame this weekend. The poster that opens this Blog hangs over the
entertainment center of our living room. It is of Little Caldwell's Island off the coast of Maine. Although the original painting hangs in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, my wife purchased this reproduction at the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, Maine.
My wife walks between buildings of the Farnsworth in 2006 prior to making her
purchase of the poster.
This painting called "Ides of March" hangs above our fireplace. The artist must have owned a Yellow Lab, as do we, for one appears in several of his paintings.
Like most of his paintings, there is something
both comforting and disturbing present in the image. The dog lies near the fireplace as a seeker of warmth would, but there is no fire. There are some smoldering embers in the logs. The dog stares directly at you with questioning eyes. Is it wondering if the artist will put down his brush and stoke the fire? The day is March 15, nearly
the end of winter, almost the beginning of Spring in the most uncertain of months. Will there be a final burst of snow and chill or will the air begin to fill with teasingly warm ribbons of air promising renewal in a new season?
This painting above was purchased at the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. Chadds Ford isn't far from me. I have visited itmany times, both the area and the River Museum. This photo on the right I took of the
Brandywine River Museum in 2004. I chose to use it here because my photo has some similarities to the paintings of this artist. It has a feeling of isolation, of being outside something, yet the open doors seems to invite me inside the courtyard.
Indeed, I have been inside that courtyard and
inside that museum and inside the world this artist expressed many times. Like the painting on the left called "Big Room", which hangs above our entryway stairs, his paintings have been of the big room in which I grew and live. The images the man created were scenes I knew, places I passed and the inner-moods of my existence.
"The Academy" hangs in a corner of our living room. Despite the horses, I doubt it is a riding academy. Where are the riders? Presumably inside the house learning.
I've seen this house or ones like it. They dot the countryside between my birth and old age, an area as much of an academy of my own creativity, a line weaving my tales and poems together.
I have inhabited its banks for sixty years.
Photographed its waters while balanced upon its rocks.
Waded through its shallows and swum its deep still pools
Where those same rocks dammed the flow and calmed the rapids.
Seen its torrents in torment from terrible rains, furious at the thunder.
Seen its floods, fat and full, tolerantly awaiting the tempest to be through.
Seen it dried by summer deficiency to a ditch, stripped of its drift and undressed to it sediment.
A furrow burbling throughout my environs,
Who are you?
I have heard its entitlement for sixty years.
Heard its intoxicating reiterations echoed through the Valley,
Memorialized at a Battle, displayed in a riverside art museum,
Flattered by a hundred parks and roads, housing developments
And disparate other places.
An identifying location of my living,
Who are you?
I have spoken the Brandywine for sixty years.
Are you namesake of Andrew Braindwine, settled on your banks before Francis Chadley’s son John famously contravened your width?
Are you the unexplained corruption of Brandwyn, who dwelled alongside your stream?
Are you of Dutch descent, christened by the wreckage of the good ship Brandewijn that dumped its Brandy cargo in your mouth three hundred odd years ago?
A lifeline across the palm of my land,
Who are you?
I’ve crossed your winding path from Modena to Whitford, from Fallowfield to Uwchlan, from Bucktown to Glenlock,
To the stones of a hundred graves bearing names:
The Talbots and the Downings and the Bruners and Townsleys and the Wilsons and Browns.
Families floating like flotsam through my veins.
Sometimes a creek and sometimes a river,
Who are we? ***
And as if uncertain whether the Brandywine is a river or a creek, critics have struggled with this artist in the 70 years he graced canvases with his art over his 91 years. Let me clarify it for them. The man was a river. His work is not illustration, it is not sentimentality. It is a true examination of America, done in a realistic style that belies the depth of emotion, thought and story beneath the sombre colors of tempura. This was certainly one of the greatest of American artists, perhaps the greatest. He is certainly among the greats of the world and history.
He died the other day asleep in his "Master Bedroom". Now he rests with the immortals and his dog sleeps alone against his pillow, still feeling his last embers against its skin, holding onto that last flicker of warmth, while we who loved his work can gaze upon his genius forever in those paintings hanging about our walls.
"Master bedroom" was the first I bought, a gift I purchased for my wife at the Boothwyn Farmers Market.
What tied our visits to the Farnsworth in Maine and the Brandywine River Museum in Pennsylvania? Just what it said this morning in his obituary:
Services will be private. A celebration of his life and work will be held at the Brandywine River Museum at a date to be announced later. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, Pa., and the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, Maine.
I never met Andrew Wyeth, at least not knowingly. We traveled the same roads all our lives. Last night my wife and I ate at the Chadds Ford Tavern, where paintings by his father hang. We have eaten in restaurants he ate at, and next to where I work is a coffee shop he sometimes bought his morning brew. That coffee shop connects to the other event that brings my little world to national attention this weekend. Joe Biden would also often stop in that shop for coffee early on his way to the train station from his Greenville home.
Today a train will slow by my small town station and then stop down the way a piece in Wilmington, where Joe Biden will be waiting. On the train will be the President-elect, Barack Obama. They will make some speeches and then travel on to Baltimore and Washington.
Like the dog by the fireplace in "Ides of March", I feel between the changing of a season. I watch, perhaps, the end of winter for the America I knew and face ahead an uncertain Spring. I will miss the passing of Andrew Wyeth in the final winter of his life. He was in many ways a modest man, known as Andy, who ate breakfast at Hank's Place and asked that people not stare. He leaves the scene as a train brings someone who doesn't appear modest at all. It is certainly a milestone of history, but I fear the heightened expectation. Can anyone live up to such hopes? But we can only wait and ponder until this man sets his brush to painting our future, will it be a masterpiece or something less.
Andrew Wyeth is beyond our prayers now. Barack Obama is in need of them.
And I sit here in my little corner of the world a-sudden caught in the spotlight of attention. I am sure many speeches today will end with God Bless America. But to paraphrase John F. Kennedy, it is not is God on our side, but are we on God's?
***"RiverCreek Mystery" by Nitewrit, published in Mobius: The Poetry Magazine, Fall-Winter 2004. Copyright by the author, 2004