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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

The works of the Wyeth family will be on display at the MAC

By Ed Condran For The Spokesman-Review

The impact of genetics is undeniable. It’s evident in the world of sports, entertainment and art.

Regarding the latter, there is the enduring legacy of the Wyeth family. The tradition of artistic skill spans three generations. N.C. Wyeth (1882-1945) set the tone for the creative family as a prolific painter and illustrator. Wyeth earned acclaim during the first half of the 20th century, particularly for his illustrations of Robert Louis Stephenson’s “Treasure Island.” His uncommon work is vivid and uncompromising.

Wyeth encouraged his son Andrew (1917-2009) to pursue painting, and he became one of America’s most popular artists of the century courtesy of his haunting, detailed paintings.

Jamie Wyeth, who was born in 1946, followed his father and grandfather, painting people, animals and landscapes of Pennsylvania and Maine.

Henriette Wyeth (1907-1999) isn’t as well known as her brother Andrew, but she made her mark painting portraits, still lifes and landscapes.

And then there is her husband, Peter Hurd (1904-1984), who chronicled the American West on canvas.

There seem to be as many common denominators as there are differences between the works from America’s first family of art. “The Wyeths: Three Generations – Works from the Bank of America Collection” will feature each of those artists and be on display Saturday through Aug. 20 at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture.

“We’re thrilled to share this unprecedented exhibition with the Inland Northwest region,” MAC executive director Wes Jessup said. “The Wyeth family’s legacy stretches over a century, and we believe visitors to the MAC will be inspired by the way these artists crafted narratives and developed their innovative techniques. We are thankful to Bank of America for sharing these treasures.”

Art enthusiasts will enjoy the provocative, moving and varied exhibit comprised of 66 paintings and drawings.

“I think there is something for everybody at this exhibit,” Victoria Browning Wyeth said while calling from Maine. “For those who prefer action and color and illustrations, there’s the work of N.C. For those who like landscapes and impressionism, there’s my great-grandfather. And then there is my Uncle Jamie, who provides the best of both worlds. Jamie has N.C.’s sense of humor and sense of color. Jamie is also great at depicting animals, just like my grandfather.”

For a deeper understanding of Andrew Wyeth and Jamie Wyeth, Victoria Browning Wyeth, who is the only grandchild of the former, will offer her unique insight on the Wyeth’s family art June 15 in the Eric A. Johnston Auditorium on the MAC campus.

“Art lovers know their work but then there are the people who created the art,” Wyeth said. “My grandfather was two different people. He was Andrew Wyeth, the artist. And then there was Andy, who was very affectionate and loved to snuggle. Some people are surprised by that since some see something dark in his paintings, which I don’t see. Andy would often give my dad and my uncle a peck on the lips, which might seem strange to some families but I loved it. I remember being a young child and he would rub my hand and I can still feel it.”

Wyeth, 43, looks back fondly at family dinners with her accomplished relatives, who would discuss art and life at the dinner table.

“When I think back to those days it was like being in a movie,” Wyeth said. “The conversation was fascinating. What I experienced growing up was normal but perhaps it was different in some ways with other families.”

The Wyeths were immersed in their world of art, veering from the pragmatic. When Wyeth informed her grandfather that she planned to study medicine, he disapproved. “Andy had a fit when I told him my plan,” Wyeth recalled. “He told me he was going to go to medical school too and quit art. I cried hysterically and I look back at that poignant moment and I’m hit so hard by what he did. It was a pivotal point in my life. I was doing lectures and he thought that my lectures were great and I’m still doing them today and look forward to speaking about the Wyeth family in Spokane.”

However, Wyeth doesn’t paint. “I’m an academic,” Wyeth said. “I studied psychology and worked on research. Not every Wyeth paints.”

So much for genetics.

“There are enough Wyeths who paint,” Wyeth said. “The family needed a mouthpiece and my grandfather knew that was my gift. ”

Having the exhibit in Spokane means a lot to many, and especially president of Bank of America Spokane, Kurt Walsdorf.

“I grew up mere footsteps from the MAC, which has been a destination for our shared cultural experience for generations,” Walsdorf said. “Similarly, the Wyeths have made such rich contributions to our national arts and cultural heritage, which is why we’re delighted to be able to share pieces from the Bank of America collection to both support one of our most beloved arts institutions and give visitors a chance to be inspired from three generations of masterful artists.”

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to correct the relationship between Victoria Browning Wyeth to N.C. Wyeth. He is her great-grandfather.