May 20, 2012

Bound by a love for Monhegan

For a major summer exhibition, the Farnsworth Art Museum pairs a couple of artists -- Rockwell Kent and Jamie Wyeth -- with a shared love for Monhegan island, especially for a particular house on its rocky shore.

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

ROCKLAND – Although he has lived with these Rockwell Kent paintings in his Tenants Harbor home for many years, Jamie Wyeth acts as if he is seeing them for the first time when he walks into the gallery in the Wyeth Center at the Farnsworth Art Museum.

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"Battleship", by Jamie Wyeth, depicts a new warship built at Bath Iron Workscruising past Monhegan on a trial run, a fairly common sight for islanders.

Courtesy photo

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"Late Afternoon, Monhegan Island" by Rockwell Kent.

Courtesy photo

Additional Photos Below

ON VIEW

"JAMIE WYETH, ROCKWELL KENT AND MONHEGAN"

WHEN: Through Dec. 30

WHERE: Wyeth Center at Farnsworth Art Museum, 16 Museum St., Rockland

HOURS: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday through May 31; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily beginning June 1; until 8 p.m. Wednesdays

HOW MUCH: $12; $10 for seniors and students; free for ages 16 and younger; free for everyone after 5 p.m. Wednesdays after June 1

INFO: 596-6457; farnsworthmuseum.org

WHAT ELSE: The show will travel to the Greenville (S.C.) County Museum of Art from Feb. 6 to April 21, 2013, and to the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, Pa., from June 8 to Sept. 2, 2013.

He expresses childlike amazement at Kent's brilliant sunset painting, "Late Afternoon, Monhegan Island." It casts a yellow-orange glow over the gallery entrance, beckoning viewers with its warmth. One can almost feel the heat of the searing ball going down.

Wyeth steps back to take it all in. He calls it the "seminal painting" of Monhegan, and prescribes Kent as the "pre-eminent painter who's ever painted out there. I thought his works went beyond anything that had been done out there. Very simple and abstract. I became wild about his work."

The Farnsworth celebrates the bond between these two artists with its latest exhibition, "Jamie Wyeth, Rockwell Kent and Monhegan." The show includes several recent Wyeth paintings from the island as well as almost a dozen large Kent canvases, half of which are owned by Wyeth himself.

But that is not all of Kent's handiwork that he owns. With proceeds from early-career sales in New York, Wyeth purchased the house that Kent built on the island, which sits 10 nautical miles from Rockland and has lured artists for more than 150 years.

Although the two artists never met, they exchanged friendly letters in 1970, the year before Kent died.

Wyeth wrote to Kent to tell him he had recently purchased one of his paintings. Kent wrote back, expressing delight that one of his works had found a home with young Jamie Wyeth and that Wyeth had also purchased Kent's island home.

"About the situation of the house," Kent wrote, "you will be interested to know that when I built it so very close to the sea, I was warned by old Monheganers that it would never stand up against stormy weather. But since there was grass growing in the scanty soil on that site, I was certain the sea would never reach it.

"But for a year or two after I built the house, I had nightmares over its being washed away and of myself swimming about in the wreckage."

INSPIRATION FOR BOTH ARTISTS

The Farnsworth exhibition honors the shared sense of place that bonds these artists, says curator Michael K. Komanecky. He got the idea for this show the first time he visited Wyeth and his wife, Phyllis, at their home in Tenants Harbor. He was surprised to see so many important Kent paintings in the hands of a single collector, let alone a painter with the stature of Wyeth.

Given Wyeth's own longtime infatuation with Monhegan, it made sense to bring these two together, Komanecky says.

But, he warns, "This is not an exhibition that intends to suggest any kind of influence of Rockwell Kent on Jamie Wyeth, other than Monhegan serving as an incredible source of inspiration for both of them over a long period of time."

Kent came to Monhegan in 1905 at the suggestion of his teacher and mentor, Robert Henri. He returned many times over the years, and some years stayed over through the winter. He loved the place, respected the fishermen and year-round residents, and did his best to blend in without being intrusive.

Wyeth has done much the same. He first came to Monhegan in the 1950s with his father, the late painter Andrew Wyeth. They sketched together, and some of Jamie's early Monhegan paintings -- a bronze bell in particular -- became some of his best-known work.

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Additional Photos

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"A Dog and the Great White Shark" by Jamie Wyeth.

Courtesy photo

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