Mother Archie's Church1945
25 in. x 48 in. (63.5 cm x 121.92 cm)
Like all of Wyeth's paintings, this early work depicts a place with which the artist is intensely familiar. The octagonal stone church, now reduced to its foundations, was located within walking distance of his studio in Chadd's Ford, the Pennsylvania town where he has lived all of his life. As a boy he often wandered over to the church on Sundays “to hear the chatter of Negro songs and voices rise up from the building during services.”3
Often the impulse to paint the scenery around him hits Wyeth unexpectedly—“a sort of accident in the right spot.”4 According to Thomas Hoving, "Chance, the odd happenstance, the abrupt appearance of life where before there was stillness or death is of critical importance to Wyeth the painter.”5 This is borne out in Wyeth's account of how he came to paint Mother Archie's Church:
Late last Spring, 1945 a shower caught me and I ducked in the back window of this old building. The big room was cluttered with the remains of long church benches, dried palm leaves, a faded purple Bible on a stand and an elaborate square piano. Suddenly a whirring sound broke the silence as a pure white pigeon flew in the broken window and roosted on a stove pipe with a dark grey blue pidgeon which I hadn't even noticed before. The white pigeon against the damp grey plaster ceiling was startling in its beauty and so I was first fired to do a tempera to somehow put across the feeling I had of the lush Spring landscape (as seen through the window) outside that momentarily gave up the immaculate white pidgeon so that it could also seek shelter in the musty beauty of the old church.6
The sudden appearance of the white bird allowed Wyeth to discover something new in a familiar place. The painting is thus a combination of fresh impressions and old memories—both deeply personal and subjective.
At first glance, Wyeth's private feelings and associations seem masked. His realistic style and his use of the exacting and time-consuming medium of egg tempera are means of avoiding what he himself says is the "messiness" of his true nature.7 Yet his paintings are not merely records of fact. In creating his compositions, Wyeth consciously chooses elements that allow the viewer to catch a glimpse of his personal responses. One need not know of the artist's experience that spring afternoon to sense his excitement at witnessing the bird fly into the abandoned building, an excitement conveyed in the striking contrast between the vivid green seen through the window and the bleached-out gray of the interior. Similarly, it is not necessary to know the history of the church to sense the presence of past occupants, as epitomized by the rusty stovepipe and extinguished oil lamp.
The simplification of the scene to essential details is evidence of a strong abstract element often overlooked in Wyeth's work. Modernist devices such as the unusual angle and cropping disorient the viewer and endow this seemingly naturalistic image with an air of otherworldliness. Denied any firm grounding, the viewer, like a displaced spirit, looks down at the window while also looking up at the ceiling. The psychological tension is heightened by elements such as the window and the cracks in the plaster ceiling that bleed off the edges of the painting, simultaneously drawing the eye into and out of the composition.
The painting's disconcerting effects lead the viewer away from the particular to the universal. Compositional elements become symbols for the ephemeral as well as the perennial nature of the world. Finding larger truths in the ordinary is a hallmark of Wyeth's art, reflecting his strong belief that the “commonplace is the thing, but it's hard to find. Then if you believe in it, have a love for it, this specific thing will become a universal.”8
Allison Kemmerer, Addison Gallery of American Art: 65 Years, A Selective Catalogue (Andover, Massachusetts: Addison Gallery of American Art, 1996), pp. 499-500
1. Bartlett Hayes to Andrew Wyeth, 2 February 1946, Addison Gallery Archives.
2. The Phillipian, 70 (6 March 1946), p. 1.
3. Wyeth to Hayes, 13 February 1946, Addison Gallery Archives.
4. Quoted in Thomas Hoving, introduction to Andrew Wyeth: Autobiography (Boston: Little, Brown, 1995), p. 11.
6. Wyeth to Hayes, 13 February 1946. This letter was written in response to Hayes's question about the resemblance of the white pigeon to traditional symbols of the Holy Spirit. While Wyeth did not directly address Hayes's question, he responded by emphasizing the pedestrian aspects of the painting while avoiding its religious aspects.
7. Richard Meryman, "Andrew Wyeth: An Interview," in Wanda M. Corn, The Art of Andrew Wyeth (Greenwich, Connecticut: New York Graphic Society, 1973), p. 55.
8. Ibid., p. 103.
This object was included in the following exhibitions:
- Temperas and Water colors by Andrew Wyeth William Macbeth Gallery (William Macbeth, Inc.) , 10/29/1945 - 11/17/1945
- Andrew Wyeth Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts , 4/8/1947 - 4/20/1947
- Contemporary American Painting and Sculpture [Exposition d 'Art Américain Contemporain] Galerie Giroux , 9/3/1947 - 8/3/1948
- Joint exhibition of Andrew Wyeth and Merle James Bowdoin College Museum of Art , 7/1/1949 - 7/30/1949
- Contemporary paintings from Great Britain, the United States, and France with sculpture from the United States. The Art Gallery of Toronto , 11/10/1949 - 12/26/1949
- American Painting 1950 Virginia Museum of Fine Arts , 4/22/1950 - 6/11/1950
- Contemporary Paintings from the Addison Gallery, Andover The Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston , 11/8/1950 - 11/19/1950
- Paintings in Oil, Watercolor, and Tempera by Members of the Wyeth Family The Wilmington Society of the Fine Arts , 1/8/1951 - 1/29/1951
- Fine Arts Festival, Kansas State College Kansas State College , 4/12/1951 - 4/22/1951
- Paintings and Drawings by Andrew Wyeth Currier Museum of Art , 7/7/1951 - 9/8/1951
- Andrew Wyeth and Waldo Peirce The Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston , 6/5/1952 - 6/21/1952
- Variations...Three Centuries Addison Gallery of American Art , 1/8/1954 - 2/15/1954
- Five Painters of America: Louis Bouche, Edward Hopper, Ben Shahn, Charles Sheel Worcester Art Museum , 2/17/1955 - 4/3/1955
- Scope in Collecting [25th Anniversary Exhibition] Addison Gallery of American Art , 10/19/1956 - 12/24/1956
- Wyeth Exhibition Hilson Gallery, Deerfield Academy , 5/6/1957 - 6/6/1957
- Project ELAI: Exhibition of Living American Artists to Israel American Federation of Arts , 1/28/1959 - 11/28/1959
- The Museum and Its Friends Whitney Museum of American Art , 3/5/1959 - 4/12/1959
- Andrew Wyeth - A Retrospective Exhibition of Temperas and Watercolors Charles Hayden Memorial Library, Hayden Gallery, MIT , 11/9/1960 - 12/4/1960
- Art in American History Addison Gallery of American Art , 7/22/1962 - 10/28/1962
- Andrew Wyeth: Temperas, Water Colors and Drawings Albright-Knox Art Gallery , 11/2/1962 - 12/9/1962
- Seven Decades, 1895-1965: Cross Currents in Modern Art Public Education Association , 4/26/1966 - 5/21/1966
- Andrew Wyeth: Temperas, Water Colors, Dry Brush, and Drawings Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts , 10/5/1966 - 6/4/1967
- Wyeth's World, an Exhibition of Watercolors, Temperas and Drawings by Andrew Wy Wichita Art Museum , 9/15/1967 - 11/15/1967
- The Wonder of Andrew Wyeth The Oklahoma Museum of Art , 12/3/1967 - 12/24/1967
- The Works Addison Gallery of American Art , 11/7/1969 - 2/22/1970
- Andrew Wyeth Museum of Fine Arts, Boston , 7/17/1970 - 9/6/1970
- Andrew Wyeth Paintings and Drawings St. Paul's School , 4/4/1971 - 5/2/1971
- Works of Andrew Wyeth National Museum of Modern Art , 4/6/1974 - 6/30/1974
- Nothing is Certain But Change Addison Gallery of American Art , 4/18/1975 - 5/18/1975
- Andover Garden Club Exhibition Addison Gallery of American Art , 4/10/1980 - 4/13/1980
- Masterworks from the Collection: 50th Anniversary Exhibition Addison Gallery of American Art , 5/9/1981 - 6/14/1981
- Masterworks of American Art from the Addison Gallery Collection Hirschl and Adler Galleries, Inc. , 10/6/1981 - 10/31/1981
- Andover Garden Club Addison Gallery of American Art , 11/5/1982 - 11/7/1982
- The New England Eye: Master American Paintings from New England School, College Williams College Museum of Art , 9/9/1983 - 11/13/1983
- Andrew Wyeth William A. Farnsworth Library and Art Museum , 7/7/1988 - 10/17/1988
- Addison Gallery of American Art: 65 Years Addison Gallery of American Art , 4/13/1996 - 7/31/1996
- Framework: American Pictures and Frames Addison Gallery of American Art , 1/16/1999 - 4/4/1999
- Tracing the Sublime Addison Gallery of American Art , 12/16/2003 - 3/21/2004
- Andrew Wyeth: Early Watercolors Currier Museum of Art , 10/8/2004 - 11/20/2005
- 80 @ 80 Addison Gallery of American Art , 10/15/2011 - 12/31/2011
- The Wyeths: A Family Legacy Fenimore Art Museum, New York State Historical Association , 5/25/2013 - 9/2/2013
- Heaven and Earth Addison Gallery of American Art , 2/7/2015 - 4/5/2015
- Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect Brandywine River Museum of Art , 6/24/2017 - 1/15/2018
- Currents/Crosscurrents: American Art, 1850–1950 Addison Gallery of American Art , 10/16/2020 - 3/7/2021
This object has the following bibliographic references:
- David Cateforis. Rethinking Andrew Wyeth . University of California Press. Spring 2014
- usage in relation to The Wyeths – A Family Legacy . Fenimore Art Museum, New York State Historical Association. 2013
- Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect . Seattle Art Museum. 2016
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