Island Occurrences
American Art Collector|September 2019

In an exclusive interview, Jamie Wyeth discusses his Maine island sanctuary and new works now on view at Farnsworth Art Museum.

Michael Clawson

Twelve nautical miles off the coast of Maine sits Monhegan Island, a rock that juts out of the Atlantic measuring just 4½ square miles. Though the population is less than 100 people, the island is home to a curious lot. There’s a Rockefeller on a porch, a squealing man with a lobster bib, a World War II POW, a communist artist and vicious seagulls.

And artists. Lots of artists. Some of the best. George Bellows, Robert Henri, Edward Hopper, Edward Willis Redfield. All ghosts, except for one. Jamie Wyeth. The painter— son of Andrew Wyeth, grandson of N.C. Wyeth—maintains a home and studio on the island where he paints some of the locals and gets lost amid the mist of the sea and the fog of time.

“It’s quite fantastic living here, which I guess is the problem—too many people are thinking the same way. During the winter there’s maybe five families on the island, but then summer rolls around and it balloons to hundreds of people, mostly day-trippers,” the 76-year-old Wyeth says. “It’s physically spectacular. You’re just out here in the middle of the Atlantic. I have a house here, where I avoid the crowds inside my box where I work.”

Wyeth, who is certainly one of the most famous American artists living today, has turned his attention to Monhegan Island for nearly a decade, during which time he’s made work after work that speaks to the curious rock that he calls home. The Monhegan paintings, as well as many others, are now on view in Jamie Wyeth: Untoward Occurrences and Other Things, a new exhibition at Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, Maine. “In theory any small town like this will have stories or tall tales, and whether they are true or not is sort of irrelevant because they become part of the island lore,” he says. “I’ve been fascinated to create these things. My grandfather painted one big painting here, and my father came out several times with me and he did some watercolors, but I’ve been the one who’s mostly painted here. For me, I think, the island is an equalizer, and it hasa history with painters, including Rockwell Kent, who I’m very fond of.”

Kent was a New York-based painter, muralist and printmaker who worked throughout much of the 20 th century in all parts of the world, but particularly in the American Northeast. He died in 1971, still relatively unknown to the art world due in some small part to the Red Scare and McCarthyism of the 1950s. The painter was a socialist, and socialists tended to get lumped in with communists during that time and in many ways his career suffered from it. Today Wyeth works in the home Kent built for his mother on Monhegan Island.

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