N.C. Wyeth: New Perspectives
On June 22, the first major N.C. Wyeth retrospective in many years will open at the the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, PA. As envisioned by Christine Podmaniczky, Curator of the Wyeth Collections at the Brandywine, the exhibition and accompanying catalogue set out to bring fresh ideas to an artist who has been shrouded in de rigeur “greatness” since his death in 1944. Brandywine School aficionados know that Howard Pyle, “father of American illustration” (timeworn locution, that) brought summer students to Chadds Ford for field work beyond Wilmington, where his studio school was located during the rest of the year. One of those students was Wyeth, who—as visitors to the Brandywine Museum know—bought property and built a studio on the grounds of what is now the museum and conservancy.
I was approached more than a year ago about writing an essay for the catalogue N.C. Wyeth: New Perspectives, and was convinced by Christine that the Brandywine River Museum (and its organizing partner, the Portland Museum of Art) was serious about gaining fresh takes. My essay addresses Wyeth’s late advertising work, which complicates an assessment of his career. At best, he receded into an historical idyll; at worst, he peddled narratives of cultural dominance that wear poorly today. Watch for an entry at my blog Graphic Tales exploring “Nostalgia Illustrated: N.C. Wyeth, Advertising, and American Cultural History.”