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, was struck with a longing to see the farm where she’d lived as a young bride and to visit Aunt Katherine, the widow of my grandfather’s brother. My twelve-year-old self was unenthusiastic. The excursion promised a boring afternoon surrounded by a gaggle of uninteresting adults.
“Do I have to go? II 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 Chevy BelAir for a two -hour drive to the countryside near the small town of Kennett Square, Pennsylvania.
The farm was lovely; the white farmhouse was surrounded by trees and colorful shrubbery set in a swath of lush green lawn. Beyond the barn, 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 at the farm, with Aunt Katherine settled into a new and smaller home further down the road. We sat in her parlor, the adults drinking coffee, where amid the clank of china and silver they spoke unendingly of times past and people unknown to me.
Late in the afternoon, when my father began commenting about traffic and suggesting that we begin our trip home, 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 selected a book of prints from a nearby shelf, showing me her favorite pieces. I did not like them. I thought of the colors I’d viewed that morning in the farm’s rose garden, the greens of lawn, trees and cornstalk; the golds of hay and wheat fields. I remembered the still life our teacher had arranged last week, an assortment of flowers in pink, yellow 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.
“I could take you to visit his studio if you like” she offered. “It is very near, and he always likes to encourage young artists.”
I politely declined, and at my father’s insistence, we were soon packed into our car and headed homeward. As an adult, I can see that my response that day was rooted in shyness but also because my untrained eye was not appreciative of the work I had been shown.
We humans frequently make decisions based on such narrow views, so I remind myself not to dismiss that which I do not readily understand and strive to be open to both opportunity and possibility — lessons learned during that Pennsylvania visit. My art education informed me long ago that my decision in 1958 had been an unfortunate one. The artist I chose not to meet was Andrew Wyeth.