- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 2, 2000

CUSHING, Maine - On some days, you can catch them on the grassy slope. They fold their bodies into gentle curves, inching toward a weathered farmhouse.
Visitors to the Olson House have been known to stake out positions as they create simulations of Andrew Wyeth's signature painting, "Christina's World." One woman even brought her own costume.
"She went out to her car to change her clothes and put on a pink dress and got into the pose," says Margaret Smith, a volunteer at the old farmhouse that draws thousands of Wyeth devotees each summer.
Most visitors, of course, do not attempt to mimic Mr. Wyeth's depiction of the crippled Christina Olson crawling through a field toward the house she shared with her brother, Alvaro.
Like pilgrims drawn to a shrine, they come from all over the country and overseas to the three-story house near the tidal St. George River that Mr. Wyeth captured in some 300 temperas, watercolors and drawings from 1939 to 1969.
One of a handful of iconic American paintings, "Christina's World" has immortalized its twin focal points — the resolute Christina and the house at Hathorn Point that was built in the 1700s and remodeled in 1871 by Miss Olson's great-grandfather, a sea captain.
The empty farmhouse was closed when Dee and Dave Colton saw it for the first time two years ago, but like other Wyeth admirers they were captivated by the bucolic setting and its connection to one of the nation's most beloved artists.
"We looked in the windows, and we were so entranced," Mr. Colton recalls. Since then, he and his wife have returned to the Olson House four times from their home in Boerne, Texas.
Now, nearly a half-century since it left Maine, "Christina's World" is returning to Wyeth country.
The 1948 painting goes on display today at the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, Maine, as part of a 20-work exhibit that will remain there until year's end. "Christina's World" will be on loan from the Museum of Modern Art, the first time it has left its New York City home since the early 1970s.
"It's a monumental occasion to have the painting allowed back into Maine," says Sarah Wilbur, coordinator of the Wyeth Center at the Farnsworth.
The buzz generated by the return of "Christina's World" is sure to attract more visitors to the farmhouse, but no one really knows what to expect. The 2-acre property was donated to the Farnsworth in 1991 by John Sculley, former Apple Computer chief executive officer.
The house, open from Memorial Day weekend to Oct. 15, draws about 8,000 visitors a season, but people at the Farnsworth are wary of a potential influx of tourist traffic.
They still shudder at the unpleasantness that surfaced nearly 30 years ago when Hollywood producer Joseph E. Levine bought the house and filled it with paintings. Mr. Levine drew hordes of visitors, who clogged the two-lane road, tramped on neighbors' property and left their trash behind.
Since then, the Olson House, set about 10 miles down a scenic peninsula off U.S. 1, has maintained a low profile. Its visitors tend to be serious Wyeth fans — most of them "from away" — who regard it as a destination, not a tourist haunt one stumbles upon.
In Maine, Wyeth country embraces an area of the midcoast frequented by three generations of artists who bear the famous name.
Andrew's father, the Massachusetts-born illustrator N.C. Wyeth, made his home in the fishing village of Port Clyde. Andrew settled in Cushing, where the family of his wife, Betsy, had a home. Their son, Jamie, lives and paints offshore on Monhegan Island, one of Maine's best-known art colonies.
The work of all three generations is as popular as ever. A major exhibition, "One Nation: Patriots and Pirates Portrayed by N.C. Wyeth and James Wyeth," opened in August at the Farnsworth, where it will remain for the rest of the year.
No paintings are on display at the Olson House, but the rooms are adorned with small photographic reproductions of Andrew Wyeth's works. Each was placed in the room depicted in that painting or at the vantage point where the artist did the work.
In an eerie re-creation, seed corn hangs from a line to dry near the window of a third-floor bedroom, just as Mr. Wyeth painted it in 1948. The burlap bag featured so prominently in his watercolor, "Beans Drying," is positioned identically in another bedroom.
Mr. Wyeth's 87-year-old brother-in-law, Dudley Rockwell, lives nearby and visits the Olson House daily to deliver a 20-minute talk that weaves in the history of the house and the artist's enduring friendship with Miss Olson and Mr. Olson, who died a month apart in the winter of 1967-68.
Those seeking a reality that duplicates the image may be disappointed. Mr. Rockwell notes that Mr. Wyeth took a lot of "artistic license," separating the barn from the house, omitting a stand of pine trees and setting Christina in a position that doesn't correspond to the precise lay of the land.
Perhaps most interestingly, Mr. Wyeth used his wife as a model. As a result, the skeletal arms of the 55-year-old Miss Olson are attached to the body of the 30-year-old Mrs. Wyeth.
The reclusive Mr. Wyeth, now 83, still spends summers in the area on a nearby island. Mr. Rockwell says his brother-in-law paints each day and will, on occasion, stop at the Olson House to look at the guest book where visitors can set down their comments.
"Once in a while he'll come by for a cup of coffee, and I'll open up early so he can come in and read what people wrote about him in the book."


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