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
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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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



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;

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.

After Jamie bought Kent's house, he returned regularly, and still spends considerable time on the island each year.

Most of Wyeth's work in this show is recent, from the last decade or so. Whereas Kent painted sweeping landscapes of the island, Wyeth focuses on tight portraits of local people and unusual scenes. Both avoid the iconic views of lobster boats and buoys favored by many island painters.

Kent's passionate avoidance of common subjects impressed Wyeth from the get-go, and helped steer him toward his own subject selection, he says.

"The problem with Monhegan is that it is such an emblematic place," Wyeth says, gesturing at Kent's light-imbued "Monhegan Headlands" from 1905. "Kent stayed away from all of that. He just did simple, elemental shapes.

"What fascinated me about this show, I think we are quite different painters. It's phenomenal that an island could produce two entirely different sets of views, but both are not the usual typical things of buoys hanging and fishermen and that sort of thing. I am honored to be hanging in a gallery with his work. I wish I had met him."


Wyeth has his own set of dreams from Monhegan, and they are portrayed here in two unusual paintings.

In 2009, soon after his father's death, Wyeth dreamed he saw his father; his grandfather, N.C. Wyeth; Winslow Homer and Andy Warhol standing on the rocks at White Head in a storm.

N.C. and Andrew obviously share Wyeth's genetic lineage. Homer was Maine's best-known seascape painter, though he never painted at Monhegan. And Warhol was a longtime friend. These four are bound by their connections to Jamie, either directly or through their painting pedigrees.

Painting on cardboard, Wyeth depicts Warhol standing away from the raging sea. Homer stands closer to the water's edge, walking stick in hand. N.C. and Andy are snug up to the surf, one pointing out a distant feature to the other. The stormy water is a gurgle of white, brown and pink.

In another painting, "A Recurring Dream," Andy and N.C. stand together in the same spot.

Maine writer Stephen King owns a third painting in this dream sequence.

Wyeth says he was spiritually moved to make these works, though he is not sure he understands them -- and never intended for them to be shown publicly.

"Some dreams are not dreams, they are so vivid," he explains. "I said, 'I have to paint this.' They are very odd paintings. When I look at them now, I think, 'What the hell was in my mind?'"

There are several other odd paintings in this show: An image of pumpkins tossed from the cliffs at the Headlands, floating through the air like balloons; of dogs taking a dip in the water, their eyes fixed in cold stares at the viewer; of another dog staring bug-eyed underneath a great white shark jaw that hangs in display on a wall.

All are interesting and unique, revealing Wyeth's humor and personality. And none is the kind of Monhegan painting we have come to expect.

Perhaps the most unlikely painting in the show is "Battleship," from 2002.

In it, Wyeth places an island boy, who models for him regularly, with a group of other island kids as they watch a U.S. warship motor by the island's southern edge. The sky is a brilliant late-day yellow, and it casts the ocean in an equally yellow blanket.

With its tones, "Battleship" shares a similar feeling as Kent's brilliant "Late Afternoon, Monhegan Island." But Wyeth's painting goes someplace else altogether.

For island residents, battleships crossing their path is a common scene. But it is not something that visitors and Sunday painters often experience, Wyeth says.

"This happens when they trial the ships offshore. It happens all the time," he says. "They literally come by Monhegan on their sea trials. This is when the ships are still owned by the people who built them, not by the Navy. These things glide by Monhegan and dwarf everything."

Much like the setting sun.


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

Twitter: pphbkeyes


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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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