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January 25, 2009

Andrew Wyeth: A Light Goes Dim at the Farnsworth

I have loved two artists named Andy.

One is Andy Warhol, genius of soup cans and silkscreen prints, who also spent time at my alma mater in Pittsburgh. My support of his enduring fame even led to me being dubbed a Warholista by one of D.C.'s famed gossip columnists years ago — a badge I still proudly wear.

The other is Andrew Wyeth, painter of watercolors that you can look at 1,000 times and never tire of, who died in his sleep Jan. 16 in Chadds Ford, PA. When I got off the plane and reluctantly checked my BlackBerry after a long wedding weekend in Mexico on Monday, of the 300 e-mails I scanned, the news alert of his passing knocked the still fresh, sun-and-rum fueled bliss right out of me.

The Wyeths, of course, have nearly a century of history in Maine, living and working around the Penobscot Bay region. Andrew's father N.C., who died in 1945, was a famous illustrator. He bought and restored a farmhouse in Port Clyde (named after Winslow Homer's "Eight Bells") in the 1920s, and Maine became the family's summer home. Andrew continued the tradition, and his son Jamie lives and paints in Tenants Harbor at least part of the year.

A print of "Christina's World" hung in a weathered frame in the bathroom of my father's 200-year-old farmhouse in Turner, where he lived until four years ago. It was Dad who took me to the Farnsworth Museum in Rockland for the first time when I was a teenager. He was doing work as a contractor on a piping project there. I remember walking along the smooth, wood floors and being transfixed by Wyeth canvases, large and small. So many new favorites followed in the next decade-plus of learning about their work: N.C.'s "Eight Bells," Andrew's "The White Dory"and "Her Room" and Jamie's "Island Friendship."

I try to visit the Farnsworth at least once a year and Dad and I have returned several times since our first trip. Many have been drawn there in the last week to pay their respects to Andy. This year, I think, I'll buy a copy of "Christina's World" for my own.

Jessica Strelitz is a contributing writer to Maine Food & Lifestyle magazine.

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