There’s a striking mural on display in Cooperstown’s Pioneer Park at the intersection of Main and Pioneer streets – the triptych tips its hat to Fenimore Art Museum’s summer exhibition Drawn from Life: Three Generations of Wyeth Figure Studies. Muralist Josh Sarantitis turned to young local artists to help with the underpainting, a fitting nod to a stirring installation that, as Fenimore says, provides a snapshot of N.C., Andrew, and Jamie Wyeth “as young artists” mastering their figure studies.
“This exhibit is a window into the evolution of who these artists were as young men,” said curator Victoria Wyeth, granddaughter of Andrew Wyeth. “You can’t have ‘The Helga Pictures’ or ‘Treasure Island’ without these early sketches.”
The ‘Helga’ in question, of course, is the model for what is perhaps Andrew Wyeth’s best-known work – more than 240 paintings and drawings shown in the National Gallery of Art. ‘Treasure Island’ refers to the masterpiece N.C. Wyeth – Andrew’s father – created for the cover of the Robert Louis Stevenson novel. Jamie Wyeth – Andrew’s son – carried on the family’s fine art and figure study traditions.
“We have three generations of Wyeth figure studies on display at Fenimore this summer,” Ms. Wyeth said in a conversation with The Freeman’s Journal / Hometown Oneonta. “It’s not your typical Andrew Wyeth exhibition, but these are the basic anatomical sketches and work-ups that led to the great work we all recognize.”
“My grandfather might not be a big fan of what I’m trying to present here,” she said of the expansive display. “He did not like showing the imperfections in his drafts along the way. I think he’d be in favor of how art students can see how the process works. This show is as much about their amazing process as it is about the finished works.”
“When you look at Andy’s work from the 1930s, let’s say, you see lots of hesitation,” Ms. Wyeth said. “You’’’ see one, two, three, maybe four stops-and-starts in a pencil line. By the time you get to the 70s, it’s just these long, fluid pencil lines drawn with so much confidence.”
She said Fenimore’s Director of Exhibitions and her co-curator, Chris Rossi, encouraged her to add N.C. and Jamie Wyeth’s work to the Andrew Wyeth pieces on display.
“He suggested taking a look at the family’s art through my eyes,” she said. “We were talking about the concept and he said, ‘Just ask your uncle what he thinks!’ Uncle Jamie agreed and it was amazing to interview he and Daddy discussed the work.”
She’s thrilled to have her family presented so creatively in Fenimore Art Museum’s historic setting.
“For an exhibit like this to work, the aesthetics have to be just right,” Ms. Wyeth said. “The building has to have a certain quality of space. Inappropriate surroundings take away from the beauty of the work. I want people to look at the paintings, not the space.”
“The Fenimore,” she continued, “is exquisite. Here it is in this little Mecca of culture and influence – the Fenimore, the Baseball Hall of Fame, the Glimmerglass Festival, so many galleries, so much art. And the building … so much history, beautiful crown molding, beautiful approach. I’ve loved Fenimore Art Museum since I first came here 10 years ago.”
At the June 11 ceremony dedicating Mr. Sarantitis’s Pioneer Park mural, Ms. Wyeth told the audience, “I’m a big fan of art in education. This exhibit shows what worked and what didn’t.”
Mr. Sarantitis agreed, saying his mural “bridges the gap from the public outside to the installation inside.”
“Subject, media, and voice,” he said of the mural’s left-to-right design. With 10 area students, aged 9-12, helping with the work’s underpainting, he was able to show them concepts in color, design, and social interaction.
“Dialog is what’s missing so often,” he said. “Yet it is so important. While working on this mural we found the international language of art at play right here on Main Street. People coming up to us with different religious and political backgrounds talking not about religion and politics, but about beauty, art, color, and lines. That’s what murals can do.”
“I had two rules for the students,” he said. “The first rule: ‘There is nothing wrong with what you’re creating.’ The second, “Don’t paint over anyone else’s work!”
Danielle Henrici, Director of Education for Fenimore Art Museum and The Farmers’ Museum, said, “I am so happy that this mural will greet tourists and residents alike all summer long, and hope it will serve as a constant reminder of how creative and arts-oriented our community is and always has been. Community is at the very heart of Fenimore Art Museum.”
“This year, our current Wyeth exhibition featuring drawings and figure studies served as inspiration,” she said. “The figure – and, truly, the person serving as subject themselves – was so important to the Wyeth family of artists. “Place” also played a central role in the Wyeths’ work. “Place” means a great deal to those of us who live here – we chose Cooperstown for a reason.”
Fenimore Art Museum is offering after-hours gallery tours, dinner discussions, and other tours with Victoria Wyeth – find more information at fenimoreartmuseum.org.
“People get carte blanch with me at those dinners,” she laughed. “We talk about all kinds of things, and it’s always such a joy to talk about my family’s work.”
Also on display at Fenimore through September 5, Unmasking Venice: American Artists and the City of Water. The exhibition features paintings, etchings and three-dimensional objects that explore the two Venetian worlds depicted by American artists during the late 19th, early 20th and 21st centuries. The “picturesque” demonstrates the attraction to Venice felt by American tourists, while the “realistic” depicts the grittier realism of an everyday Venetian’s life.
Between the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Venice was a major artistic hub for American and European artists. It was home to more than 450 printers, publishers, and booksellers, making it a prime place for artists to work. Collaboration abounded as artists found like minds to share techniques and observations of the city.
Venice intrigued the American artists who were arriving in large numbers. They were captivated by the city’s unique atmosphere, singular waterways, volatile coastal climate, and blend of East and West architectural styles. They floated along its canals and wandered its cobbled streets as they strove to render the city’s delicate light and distinctive colors on their canvases and sketchbooks. Some followed in the footsteps of earlier artists like Giovanni Antonio Canal, known as Canaletto (1697–1768), who was among the first to depict vedute (view paintings) of city landscapes, creating a market for panoramic views of cities and their inhabitants. Others were enthralled by the city’s history as a declining maritime power. They focused on the signs of decay in Venice’s architecture, its darkened interiors, and its forgotten back canals, and observed from a distance the daily life of working-class Venetians.
A catalog will accompany the exhibition as well as a several public programs. Visit FenimoreArt.org for more information.
HOURS and ADMISSION: Fenimore Art Museum is open daily 10:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m. Admission: $15.00 (adults 20-64) and $12.50 (seniors 65+). Free admission for visitors age 19 and under. For more information, visit FenimoreArt.org.