"Using Middle America as her muse, Kowch draws the history of a particular place -- invariably rural -- to the surface as it collides with a new reality in layers of metaphor and moodiness. The faces of her women may remind you of characters in a Tim Burton film."
--Steve Parks, Newsday

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Exploring New England

Last week, I had the amazing experience of visiting the East Coast. Thanks to my younger brother who is beginning college in Boston, I was able to finally make my dream of visiting New England a reality. Those of you wonderful folks who read this blog are, by now, probably well aware of my deep-rooted interest in early American history. So, imagine me finally being able to visit places like Boston and Salem, Massachusetts! Unreal and totally invigorating! And dare I mention inspiring? After doing illustrations for stories like The Crucible, The House of the Seven Gables, and Sleepy Hollow, you bet I was absolutely thrilled to be in the presence of the real things.

But, aside from trying to take in all I could in my quick day-trips to places like Salem and other surrounding areas, the place that will forever leave its mark on me is the Olson House in Cushing, Maine – the site and inspiration that gave birth to over 30 years of work by Andrew Wyeth. We all know his most famous work Christina’s World, the most beautiful, haunting painting to ever grace the face of American art. I remember the first time I saw Wyeth’s work. It was Braids, one of the Helga paintings, which I came across in a book back in high school. All I remember was sitting and staring at the image, wide-eyed with awe. A few years later when I was a senior, my teacher had hung a large poster of Christina’s World on the wall. It was the first time I had seen it, and I felt something I couldn’t explain. It still does the same thing to me today. And, after many hours of reading and researching the poignant and touching story of Christina Olson and her brother Alvaro (direct descendants of the Hawthornes from Salem), it’s no wonder why the Olson paintings are so powerful. When I was there, it all felt like a dream. Totally surreal. It still feels that way recalling it. It's hard to even find a place to begin describing it. Janice Kasper, Curator of Historic Properties for the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, ME, explained it best in her introduction for Wyeth's retrospective of the Olson paintings at the Farnsworth back in 2000:

Over the past nine years, I have seen the effect "Christina's World" has had on the public through my association of managing the Olson house for the Farnsworth Art Museum. My very first experience involved a person who flew to Boston from North Carolina, rented a car and drove to Cushing to see the house after hearing that it had recently opened to the public, and drove back to Boston the same day. Since then, I have encountered many others who drove from out of state to see the Olson House and, after visiting the site, returned to their home towns the same day. Many remember seeing a print of the painting "in their school, or their home, or the doctor's office" and that strong image from childhood has remained vivid in their adult minds. Some are intrigued with the mystery of the woman in pink crawling up the hillside, while others being disabled themselves, or having relatives with disabilities, identify with the disabled Christina Olson. For some, the farmhouse on the hill is reminiscent of their parents' or grandparents' home in Iowa, Maine, or almost anywhere in the United States. The painting and the farm evoke pleasant memories of family times together, times of hardships, a time that was closely lived with the natural world. Through "Christina's World," people are intensely drawn to the old saltwater farm in Cushing, and like the painting itself, their reasons for being there are strongly felt but unexplainable. At the house, I have often witnessed people who are so overcome with emotion that they are brought to tears. Another common occurence is to have people linger the entire day at the site, not wanting to let go of the experience.

The Olson House brought me to Maine, and as a result, Maine won me over, too. The Wyeth Center at the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, ME is a must-see for Wyeth fans, housing breathtaking originals by N.C., Andrew, and Jamie.

I have LOTS of pictures that I want to share with you all, so I uploaded them to Flickr (with captions) to make it easy for everyone to see. There you'll find my excursion to Salem, MA, where I spent a warm evening at the House of the Seven Gables and the birth house of Nathaniel Hawthorne, surrounded by a breathtaking harbor and lush gardens (unfortunately no photos were allowed inside the houses, but let me assure you, it is unreal! Filled with 300-year-old secret stairways, hauntings, and all!), and my misty Maine morning at the Olson House in Cushing, ME. New England is everything I expected and more.
To visit my online photo albums, click HERE.


Kaylen Conley said...

How funny is that, that you were visiting Wyeth through his Maine home, while I was visiting his Pennsylvania home?? BEAUTIFUL pictures- I need to see this in person! Very breathtaking, definitely a dream vacay if you asked me :) soak up the inspiration!

Alvin Richard said...

Hey Andrea,
I have always sensed in your work that you must have an affinity for the Wyeths. Your latest painting is truely amazing. I saw influences of Andrew Wyeth even when you are doing your small style life paintings. Thank you for sharing your photos on Flickr. I know how you feel when you are put in a setting where art history has been made. I love the way you posted photos of paintings of A. Wyeth, then yourself in the place of Helga (I'm guessing). During the fall of 2000, my wife & I did a 4-day tour of Maine & Mass. when I was taking part in a marathon in Lowell. We visited The Farnsworth Art Museum & Wyeth Center at Rockland. Christina's World was on loan from the MOMA of NYC. It was the second time I would get to see it in person. The first being at the MOMA in 1994. During that trip we also visited The Clark Art Institute and the William College Museum of Art in Williamstown, Ma. Emily Dickinson homestead and the Robert Frost Library in Amherst, Ma. The Springfield Museum of Fine Art where a duo retrospective show of twins David & Doug Brega was underway.You must love Doug. If you don't know him....check in out. He set out at the age of 22 to study Andrew Wyeth: his technique, his talent, his career. We also visited Nubble Lighthouse in The Yonks Me the previous day, not knowing that he had a painting of it in the show. Also James Whistler's house at 243 Worthen Street. The Peabody Essex Museum in Salem Ma where Frank Benson had a retrospective. But for me my favorite was peaking into the art studio of Norman Rockwell and seeing the art Museum dedicated to his work in Stockbridge. I have to admit that I had a lump in my throat, and tears in my eyes after viewing a few of his paintings upclose.

In 2006, I had the chance to visit Claude Monet's house in Giverny, France. Walk through the lush flower gardens, and across the little arch bridge where the famous waterlily paintings were done. In 1997, I went for a run on la Grande Jatte Island on the Seine River. I knew I was at the right place when I turn unto Georges Seurat Blvd.

Thank you for posting all of this for us who are fans of your work. It really adds to understanding why you paint what you paint, and since you are still very young....we are witnessing first hand your journey into finding your own way in the artworld. You already have the talent, and what you have produced so far really sets you apart.

Anonymous said...


I just stumbled upon your blog. I'm a Wyeth fan, too.

I live in "Wyeth Country," and I'm writing this from my studio here in Rockland, ME.

I have a "How funny" like Kalen's of my own to tell. Andrew Wyeth has been visiting a gallery I show at (Mars Hall Gallery in Port Clyde, ME.) and is quite taken with my work. How about that?!

I was 14 when I bought 'The Art Of Andrew Wyeth." I never dreamed he would be seeing my work someday and commenting favorably on it. Unreal.

You do very nice work yourself, Andrea. Keep it up!