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The Homeschooling of Andrew Wyeth
The renowned American artist Andrew Wyeth posseses no college degree, nor does he have a high school diploma. In fact he only attended elementary school for a couple of short years. Yet no other modern painter has achieved such popularity and acclaim among educated circles. Ironically, Wyeth's realistic watercolor and tempera paintings became super popular in the 1960s just at the time when abstract expressionism was in vogue at the New York galleries.

Wyeth's images of country people and landscapes have admirers calling him a "painter for the people" (His critics accuse him of being little more than an illustrator.) The true essence of Wyeth's art goes be yond his characteristic, though deceptive, illusions of reality--the craggy stone mill, snow-swept hill, or pensive model, It lies In his mystery of more enduririg eIements, like the delicate balance he achieves between spontaneity and discipline, and the bold abstact designs with which he builds his paintings.

Much of the elan of Wyeth's art is rooted in the environment that molded his childhood and values -- and the special mentorship he shared with his father, illustrator N.C. Wyeth, from whom he learned both moral and artistic judgment.

Andrew Wyeth is the vounsest of five children of N.C. Wyeth, whose illustrations brought to life such adventure titles as Treasure Island and The Last of the Mohicans. N.C. Wyeth followed Howard Pyle, his art teacher, each summer for classes in a grist mill near the rural Pennsylvania village of Chadds Ford. After N.C. Wyeth's marriage, he settled hi family there. Pyle and his followers -- whose style as the Brandywine Tradition -- were designed to become the most famous "tree" of American artists, and N.C. Wyeth became the patriarch of its largest branch.

Andrew Wyeth attended school only to third grade, and after that received his art training and all other education entirely at home. He has lived in and near Chadds Ford almost all of his 68 years. In an exclsive interview with GCM from his home there, a restored eighteenth century mill, Wyeth revealed why he feels home schooling is the way to raise an artist.

GCM: Would you explain the circumstances that caused you to be home schooled?

Wyeth: "I had whooping cough when I was very young, which left me with bronchial problems, and I would always pick up colds. I was very thin and nervous so my father and mother took me out of school and had me tutored at home. My sister Ann was tutored with me for a couple of years. We were first taught by Mrs. Rigby, a local woman who would come every morning and teach us for about three to five hours, five days a week "She would came to Chadds Ford by bus and then walk over. In snowstorms Ann and I would hope, 'Well, maybe she isn't coming today,' because, of course, we wanted to go out and play. But soon we would see her little figure coming up the road and be disappointed."

Ann, two years older, soon left tutoring and went on to study music Wyeth's other two sisters, Carolyn and Henriette, went to Quaker Friends' schools and also became artists. Wyeth's brother Nathaniel went to a prep school in nearby Philadelphia and then the University of Pennsylvania, and is an engineer with the du Pont Company.

"I cherished the time alone because it made me utilize every moment, I realized that I was different... (and) had this great opportunity."

GCM: how long did your tutoring go on?

Wyeth: "I was tutored until I was 18."

GCM: Was tutoring expensive?

Wyeth: "It was expensive. but I wouldn't call it exorbitant. I think it's possible. My father got local people whom he knew had been well trained."

GCM: Did the local school officicials approve of your having a tutor?

Wyeth: "No, they did not. They looked down on this idea. They thought, "Why isn't he like any average child having an education." When I was about 8 years old my father finally got it worked out"

GCM: How did you spend the rest of your time as a child?

Wyeth: "Well, being the youngest child and frail, I was left alone a great deal of the time. This was a fortunate thing for me because that's when I began wandering the countryside each day, just as I do now. The woods around Chadds Ford became my Sherwood Forest and I was Robin Hood. I surrendered to a world of my imagination, reenacting all those wonderful tales my father would read aloud to me. I became a very active reader, especially history and Shakespeare. And, of course, I began drawing so much -- wild, undisciplined pencil drawings and watercolors of knights battling and such. We always' had around the house costumes, and swords, and other props my father used for his illustrations."

GCM: At any point did you feel that your childhood suffered socially?

Wyeth: "that was a very strange thing. I had friends -- neighborhood boys that I saw on weekends but-not much during the week But that never bothered me. I realized that I was different." "I cherished the time alone because it made me utilize every moment. I realized I had this great opportunity. I'd better learn how to draw. I'd better know about certain things in the country.... how deer look running through the winter woods. I'd better sense all these things."

At One with His Work

Wyeth's life forms the fabric of his paintings. His wife Betsy. who advises him and "protects" him from the distractions of daily business routines, said in an interview for Ametican Artist, "I was soon aware that I married a man who aIready had a mistress," ---his painting. All the subjects for Wyeth's works can be found within a short trek of two locations-- his home in Chadds Ford and his summer home and studio in Cushing on the rugged Maine coast.

Wyeth's paintings rarely contain more than a single, solitary figure, as evidenced in Christina's World, depicting the crippled figure of Cushing's Christina Olson crawling through a field toward her home. This Oriental quality of being in harmony with nature rather than dominating it reflects his own relationship with nature both as a child and adult.

The Japanese.have had an oVerwhelming appreciation of the symbolic moods of Wyeth's paintings, prompting him to feel that the Japanese seem to understand his work more truly than Americans.

GCM: When did you begin studying art with your father?

Wyeth: "I had always been influenced by him, but when I was about 15 I began academic training in his studio half the day. At 18 I began painting steadily fulltime and at age 20 had my first New York show at the Macbeth Gallery."

CGM: Dld your father set up a regimen of activities?

Wyeth: "Oh no. He wanted me to paint the things I wanted to. I had two years under him where I was in the studio doing casts and getting models, and then as I developed he gave me more freedom to go out and paint landscapes and get my own models."

His Longest Winter

Wyeth's painting Winter 1946 depicts a lone neighborhood boy running down a hill within sight of the Chadds Ford railroad crossinq where Wyeth's father had been killed the previous year. The tempera, loaded with personal symbols of Wyeth's admiration for his father, was the first painting he did after his father's death.


by Gifted Children Monthly, May 1986, Vol. 7 No. 5.

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