Painting and Prose by Janet Whittle Freedman


Andrew Wyeth

I’ve thought many times of that trip to Pennsylvania in 1958. The outing was arranged at the request of my widowed grandmother who, urged by fleeting time and memory, had been struck with a longing to see the farm where she had lived as a young bride and to visit Aunt Katherine, the widow of my grandfather’s brother. To say that I was unenthusiastic was, of course, an understatement. I was 12 years old and engaged with more important activities. I knew the excursion promised only a confined and boring afternoon surrounded by a gaggle of uninteresting adults.

“Do I have to go?” I whined. “I don’t know any of these people. Couldn’t I stay at home?”

“You are going with us” replied my mother with a well-recognized note of finality, indicating it was useless to argue or beg.

Outvoted and resigned, I found myself wedged between my bulky grandmother and larger brother in the backseat of our 1957 canyon coral Chevy BelAir for a two hour drive from Baltimore to the countryside near the small town of Kennett Square, Pennsylvania.

The farm was indeed lovely. The gleaming white house was surrounded by mature trees and colorful flowering shrubbery set in a swath of lush green lawn. Beyond the barn the fields of ripening corn and grain seemed to stretch to infinity. This was Chester county – fertile land, substantial homes, money. Wilbur, my grandfather’s brother, had been a gentleman farmer and Philadelphia lawyer, with apparently far more financial success than our family branch. His son, now also an attorney, resided with his family in the farmhouse, with Aunt Katherine settled into a new and smaller home further down the road. We sat in her orderly living room, the adults drinking coffee, where amid the clank of china and silverware they spoke unendingly of times past and people unknown to me. My day dragged on.

Late in the afternoon, shortly after my father began his expected rumblings about time and traffic, suggesting that we begin our return trip soon, Aunt Katherine turned to me and asked about school.

“What is your favorite subject?” she asked.

“Art”, I responded shyly.

“Oh” she said “I have a dear friend who is an artist!”

She went to her bookcase and brought out a book of prints, turning the pages slowly, showing me her favorite pieces. I did not like them. There was little color. I thought of the exuberant reds and corals we had viewed that morning in the farm’s rose garden, the lavish greens of lawn and trees and cornstalk, the iridescent gold of hay and wheat fields. I remembered my teacher arranging a still life in art class the previous week. It was an assortment of flowers, a riot of color in hot pinks, yellow, blue and lavender in a deep carmine vase. I liked color. The prints Aunt Katherine showed me were executed in shades of brown, ochre and sepia. They were as boring as my day had been.

“I could take you to visit his studio if you like” Aunt Katherine offered. “It is very near and he always likes to encourage young artists.”

I declined her offer politely, and at my father’s insistence, we were soon packed into our car and heading towards Baltimore. As an adult, I can see that my response was the result of my sometimes incapacitating shyness but also because my untrained eye was simply not appreciative of the work I had been shown.

Human beings frequently make decisions based on narrow views. I now remind myself to be more open and to not dismiss that which I don’t readily understand. I prod myself to set aside uncertainty and shyness in order to see opportunity and possibility. Both are lessons learned during that Pennsylvania visit so many years ago. I have been a practicing artist for over 50 years. My education informed me long ago that my decision in 1958 had been an unfortunate one. The artist I chose not to meet that day was Andrew Wyeth.