ROCKLAND – Andrew Wyeth painted “Christina’s World” in 1948.

It shows middle-aged Christina Olson crawling through the tall grass near her home in Cushing. Her weather-beaten farmhouse, which she shared with her brother Alvaro, stands on the near horizon.

Wyeth enjoyed success in his career when he made that painting, but “Christina’s World” changed everything. It became one of the most famous works in the history of American art and made Wyeth a superstar.

It also made an icon of Christina and the 18th-century farmhouse.

This summer, the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland celebrates the house, the people who lived there and the artist who made them famous. “Andrew Wyeth, Christina’s World and the Olson House” opens June 11.

It’s one of two related Wyeth shows the Farnsworth hosts this summer. The other, “The Road to the Olsons,” opened earlier this month. Both are on view through October.

The Farnsworth acquired the Olson House 20 years ago, and operates it as a seasonal visitor destination. It is expected to be named a National Historic Landmark this year.

The exhibition that focuses on “Christina’s World” and the Olson House includes about 50 watercolors and drawings depicting Alvaro and Christina Olson, and the home in which they grew up and spent their lives.

Except for a small group of paintings from the Farnsworth, the works in this show are from the Marunuma Art Park in Asaka, Japan. They are not often shown in the United States.

The painting “Christina’s World,” which is at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, is not part of the exhibition. Instead, the Farnsworth is showing interior and exterior views of the house and the surrounding land, as well as a dozen preparatory drawings and drafts of the famous work.

The exhibition is being organized by Farnsworth chief curator Michael K. Komanecky.

“My take on this show is to look through Andrew Wyeth’s eyes at what interested him about the place and the people — the site, Christina and Alvaro and their lives there,” Komanecky said. “It’s a way of looking at their world through the artist’s eyes.”

A seafaring family built the Olson House in the 1700s. It was renovated in the late 1800s. It’s a stark, austere home, standing tall at the crest of a rolling landscape along the St. George River.

Wyeth first visited in 1940. His fiancee, Betsy, introduced him to the Olsons. “I just couldn’t stay away from there,” Wyeth once said. “It was Maine.”

Wyeth painted there for many years, and for some time used an upstairs room as his studio.

Christina Olson was born in 1893 to a farm family. They lived mostly off the land, raising potatoes, corn and sheep. The family sold ice and fished the river. Christina and three younger brothers attended local schools.

“They lived a way of life that exists in Maine, but a way of life few of us experience,” Komanecky said.

The family noticed that Christina was weak in the legs and had trouble standing. Her disability grew with age. When Wyeth painted her in the late 1940s, she was a middle-aged woman who could not support herself. He painted her crawling through the grass. She died in 1968 after living in the house her entire life.

After her death, the house changed ownership a few times. One owner, a movie producer, changed the building so it more closely resembled how Wyeth painted it. He removed outbuildings and attempted to make it look almost like a stage set.

Eventually, the house came to John Sculley, a former Apple computer executive, and Lee Adams Sculley. They gave it to the Farnsworth in 1991.

Komanecky writes about the twisted ownership web in the catalog that accompanies the exhibition.

If not for Wyeth, the house probably would not be significant, the curator said. It might not have survived at all. “And if it had survived, it surely would have changed. It very likely would have been renovated and improved. But because Andy painted there, it has become a pilgrimage site.”

The Farnsworth’s secondary Wyeth show, “The Road to the Olsons,” depicts scenes and people the artist knew on the road from Cushing village to the Olson house. That show is on view in the Wyeth Study Center. 

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

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