- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 20, 2001

frgtcd 59 67 0 Wyeths share patriotic viewsART / Joanna Shaw Eagle Artist Andrew Wyeth is the most famous of the Wyeth clan, but his father, Newell Convers Wyeth, and son James Browning Wyeth are close seconds.

Now James — better known as Jamie — shows his artwork, along with that of his grandfather (1882-1945), in "One Nation: Patriots and Pirates Portrayed by N.C. Wyeth and James Wyeth." The exhibit, installed at the Russell Senate Office Building in time for today's presidential inauguration, focuses on the meaning of patriotism.

"One Nation" would be remarkable at any time or place because it reveals the close stylistic bonds between the two men. "There are more connections between myself and my grandfather than me and my father," Jamie Wyeth, 55, of Southern Island, Maine, said at a press preview earlier this week. "N.C. and I both reflect our times."

The artist remembers exploring N.C.'s workshop in Chadds Ford, Pa., as a child. "I went to his studio in a huge building next to our family's — it was big because he painted murals — full of costumes and scabbards. His studio inspired me to become an artist," Mr. Wyeth says.

Exhibit curator Lauren Raye Smith of the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, Maine, put together the unusual show. She says she wanted to do a different kind of Wyeth exhibit and began exploring the political underpinnings of both artists.

Jamie Wyeth suggested his grandfather for the show because of N.C.'s patriotic works during the two world wars. One of the most famous illustrators of his day, especially of classic novels and children's adventure books, the elder Wyeth felt his idealistic mission deeply.

U.S. government and military agencies called on him for patriotic images. N.C.'s first works in the exhibit — the Uncle Sam painting "We're on Our Way" (1944); the pencil drawing "Amateurs at War: The American Soldier in Action" (1943): and the illustration in oil of Abraham Lincoln, "He Saved the Union" (circa 1923), showing the president delivering his second inaugural address — feature dynamic stances and American flags.

"N.C. lived for his country, his illustrations jump out of the page," Mr. Wyeth says of his grandfather. Jamie Wyeth, by contrast, came of age during the turbulent 1960s and did paintings such as "Draft Age" (1965).

Mr. Wyeth, who calls himself the "pirate part of our history," says, "I want to dive into subjects as N.C. did."

He did this with "Draft Age," an intense portrait of a childhood friend, a work that sums up the hostility toward the Vietnam War.

Just as N.C. thrust his figures diagonally forward for drama, Mr. Wyeth has his friend slanting backward in "Draft Age." The painting orchestrates rich black hues to express cynicism and sexuality.

The artist painted the zippered black leather jacket to show part of the muscular chest. Gleaming black sunglasses hide the subject's eyes, and the lips are full and sensual. It shows Mr. Wyeth's special brand of meticulous realism and ironic ridicule.

Vietnam was but one trauma of the 1960s and 1970s. The revelations during Watergate congressional hearings and trials of 1973 and 1974 — which stemmed from the 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Hotel in Washington and the resignation of President Richard Nixon on Aug. 9, 1974 — stunned the American public.

Harper's Magazine commissioned the artist to record the first "Plumbers' Trial" — involving the White House Special Investigation Unit — from which photographers were barred. He continued to record other proceedings. The Wyeth drawings have a strong parallel to Winslow Homer's Civil War images, commissioned by Harper's Weekly.

Both record America's loss of innocence at different times, first through war, then by abuse of power. Mr. Wyeth and Homer also loved the rugged seacoast of Maine and made their homes there.

Most of the Watergate crew is in the work for Harper's: U.S. District Court Judge John Sirica; Nixon domestic aide John Ehrlichman; G. Gordon Liddy, who worked for Mr. Nixon's re-election committee; E. Howard Hunt, a White House consultant; White House chief of staff H.R. Haldeman; Attorney General John Mitchell in a double portrait; Albert Jenner, minority counsel to the Senate committee investigating Watergate; and Charles ("Chuck") W. Colson, who was one of Mr. Nixon's White House lawyers.

Mr. Wyeth's many pencil drawings are unremitting reminders of the tension of the trials. Every face shows strain.

Placing figures against expanses of empty space also was effective, as when he drew Mr. Ehrlichman at the bottom of a page, topped by an American flag.

Miss Smith displays two of his "Watergate Sketchbooks," one open, the other closed, in a nearby display case.

She also includes drawings and paintings of past presidents and their families. Kennedy family members are obvious favorites.

Mr. Wyeth did paintings of the White House for President Reagan and first lady Nancy Reagan in 1981 and 1984. Most recently, he painted a bicentennial portrait of the White House called "Dawn, the White House, 2000," which was unveiled Nov. 9 by the White House Historical Association. It joins the show temporarily, in Washington. It shows a dramatic explosion of yellows and grays, which contrast with the rich reds and pinks of the images in the Reagan paintings.

The artist, with blue paint still under his fingernails, humorously told about painting "Dawn."

"I arrived in the dark to catch the sunrise but didn't find my name on the visitor list. A steward let me out on the South Lawn, where a SWAT team promptly nailed me. After explaining I was there to paint the White House, they gave me a 'Worker, Grounds Only' badge," he says.

Mr. Wyeth set up his easel to paint the sunrise when President Clinton's dog, Buddy, jumped on him and knocked over the easel. The artist was so amused that he decided to include Buddy in the painting, and has him scampering over the lawn.

N.C. painted an earlier White House image in 1930, "Building the First White House Washington, D.C., 1798." The original is lost and only copies exist.

N.C. viewed the White House as majestic, set far away on a hill, surrounded by billowing white clouds. It's an idealistic vision; his grandson's White House is a close-up, realistic version. Both the artists are adept at painting skies.

The exhibition of 80 drawings and paintings presents the similarities and differences of the two Wyeths. The project is so rich and interesting, it should be expanded.

"One Nation," on view here only through next Friday, travels next to the New Britain Museum of American Art in Connecticut, the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, Pa., and the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Fla.WHAT: "One Nation: Patriots and Pirates Portrayed by N.C. Wyeth and James Wyeth"WHERE: Rotunda, Russell Senate Office Building, Constitution and Delaware Avenues NEWHEN: 9 a.m. to noon today and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through next FridayTICKETS: Free


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