You can never escape the bonds of family history, no matter how far you travel. And the skeleton of a house can carry in its bones the marrow of all that came before.

Andrew Wyeth,

Later he told me he’d been afraid to show me the painting. He thought I wouldn’t like the way he portrayed me: dragging myself across the field, fingers clutching dirt, my legs twisted behind. The arid moonscape of wheatgrass and timothy. That dilapidated house in the distance, looming up like a secret that won’t stay hidden. Faraway windows, opaque and unreadable. Ruts in the spiky grass made by an invisible vehicle, leading nowhere. Dishwater sky.

People think the painting is a portrait, but it isn’t. Not really. He wasn’t even in the field; he conjured it from a room in the house, an entirely different angle. He removed rocks and trees and outbuildings. The scale of the barn is wrong. And I am not that frail young thing, but a middle-aged spinster. It’s not my body, really, and maybe not even my head.

He did get one thing right: Sometimes a sanctuary, sometimes a prison, that house on the hill has always been my home. I’ve spent my life yearning toward it, wanting to escape it, paralyzed by its hold on me. (There are many ways to be crippled, I’ve learned over the years, many forms of paralysis.) My ancestors fled to Maine from Salem, but like anyone who tries to run away from the past, they brought it with them. Something inexorable seeds itself in the place of your origin. You can never escape the bonds of family history, no matter how far you travel. And the skeleton of a house can carry in its bones the marrow of all that came before.

Who are you, Christina Olson? he asked me once.

Nobody had ever asked me that. I had to think about it for a while.

~ Christina Baker Kline, from Prologue of “A Piece of the World: A Novel


Art: Christina’s World is a 1948 painting by American painter Andrew Wyeth, and one of the best-known American paintings of the middle 20th century. The woman in the painting is Anna Christina Olson (3 May 1893 – 27 January 1968). She is likely to have suffered from Charcot–Marie–Tooth disease, a genetic polyneuropathy. Wyeth was inspired to create the painting when he saw her crawling across a field while he was watching from a window in the house. Wyeth had a summer home in the area and was on friendly terms with Olson, using her and her younger brother as the subjects of paintings from 1940 to 1968. Although Olson was the inspiration and subject of the painting, she was not the primary model—Wyeth’s wife Betsy posed as the torso of the painting.[4] Olson was 55 at the time Wyeth created the work. (Source: Wiki)

Comments

  1. In the queue…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m very excited to see the Wyeth exhibit in Rockland, come May. Chilling, serene, calming, severe, uncertain, and Home come to mind. Thank you for highlighting such a great artist today. It kills me how frequently we’re not acknowledged until we are dead.
    Paula

    Liked by 1 person

  3. oh, i would love to see this – i’ve always wondered what the story was behind this –

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  4. Although I’ve seen a Wyeth exhibit, I didn’t know the story behind this painting.There’s so much to know. Thanks for this, David.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. David. What you said is so true. That painting always scared me and gave me the creeps in I suppose a good way. I agree that it is hard to move from the bones of your marrow/existence and family – those who achieve it I admire, I still have the monkeys on my back!

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  6. From my home, Chester County, PA. Quite the hero. While homesick out west, I found and framed his “Chester County Farm”, still a treasured piece. Simple. Genius. 💘

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  7. Christie says:

    I’ve always been fascinated by painting, photographs people’s faces, nature’s landscapes, the stars, colors, etc…so interesting to learn of the backstory of Andrew Wyeth’s painting…I love how he captures, starkness along with pause of breath, then engagement of curiosity steps in and starkness disappears and richness, unfolds… Dave, thanks for posting this about A. Wyeth and now, known to me Christina Baker Kline and her novel “A Piece Of The World” and Christina Olson…

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I had to come back to find this post of yours – the image stuck in my head (I wish I could say I knew allll about the painting, story, etc, but alas, I did not). Until now. While looking for a new book to read ( I had just finished “A Man Called Ove” and highly recommend) and settled upon “A Piece of the World” – as I was reading the synopsis in Amazon, I had that sense it tied to something something else I had seen…and then your post came to mind. Sure enough! What’s even better? I’m taking my son to NY later this week and our visit will include a stop at MoMA where, if my research is correct, this Wyeth painting is on exhibit. So, I will be reading a book about a painting that I will actually see! Thanks for this post so I could put all that together. Serendipity in a few ways, so fantastic!

    Liked by 1 person

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