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Wind from the Sea

Two Patrons of America: Andrew Wyeth and George W. Bush

When Andrew Wyeth marched up the steps of the golden stage in the White House East Room, he did so with remarkable vivacity. Greeting President George W. Bush with tactile familiarity exposed him not only as America’s distinguished painter, but also as a personage of a heartfelt nature. At that instant in 2007, Andrew Wyeth and George W. Bush stood side by side in candid conversation. Moments later, the President presented him the National Medal of the Arts.

The President’s wife Laura had decorated one of the rooms in the White House with paintings that they owned in order to make the space feel like home. She called one of Andrew Wyeth’s paintings “Island of Maine” and it gave George W. Bush the opportunity to remember the summers he spent with his wife in Maine.

Art works that discreetly reveal some of Andrew Wyeth’s notable character traits are “Christina’s World” and the Helga series.

Christina's world

Christina's World

Christina’s World

Wyeth’s most prominent work, ‘Christina’s World” was inspired by a particular emotion which transpired when he saw his neighbour, Christina Olsen, crawl across a field towards her house. Christina was paralyzed from the hips downwards. We can assume that the work arose out of empathy, and it is as revealing of the artist’s character as is the warm approach he gave to George W. Bush.

Within the painting, the purposely stretched distance between the subject and the house creates a sense of longing and personal isolation, emotions that Wyeth most likely projected unto Christina. Yet, there also exists a level of serenity and beauty in the composition that indicates his understanding of the concept of slowing down in order to produce a clear appreciation of natural surroundings. Wyeth was a man who took his time and went for long walks alone, so there is a subtle embodiment of the painter’s personal traits in “Christina’s world”. His appreciation of a peripheral life may have stemmed from the fact that he was a sickly child who had to be schooled at home, and therefore spent much of his time inside the house. Like many of Wyeth’s images, “Christina’s World” has a haunting quality that is not easy to shift. See more about Christina’s World.

The Helga Series

Wyeth’s ability to paint with depth and insight comes from his unconditional love for human beings and his ability to notice in others what most would miss. His wife Betsy understood her husband, especially when it was disclosed that Wyeth had been secretly painting a woman called Helga for 15 years, creating 246 pieces of art work. Despite the essence of eroticism in the Helga series, Betsy knew her husband well enough to dismiss any wrongdoing or potential scandal, and proclaimed that these pieces were about “Love”. The analytical nature of the Helga pieces is more like that of an observer who is familiar with his subject than that of a man who would be expressing lust for a new acquaintance. See more about The Helga Series.

Any similar traits?

One might venture to say that there are some similar values between Andrew Wyeth and George W. Bush. The President believed in “the goodness and wisdom of the American people” and appreciated the nature of a remembered Texas, during his life in Washington. This fondness for home was something Andrew Wyeth also possessed. Wyeth never left the United States, except for a trip to France and England in 1977. In fact, the settings for all his work exist within the borders of Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania and Cushing, Maine.

Aside from this ‘love of home’ connection, and their meeting at the nomination in his honour, Andrew Wyeth and George W. Bush share little in common, but will always remain renowned patrons of America.


The National Medal of the Arts honourees are selected by an independent federal government agency, the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA). The presentation honours great talent and accomplishment, and George W. Bush’s words that special evening gave due gratitude to all honourees, “In your work we see the creativity of the American spirit and the values that make our nation great”.

The National Medal of the Arts was not the first award bestowed upon Andrew Wyeth. In 1963 he became the first painter to receive the President’s Freedom Medal and in 1990 received the Congressional Gold Medal which is the highest honour granted to a civilian.

We will probably never know what Andrew Wyeth was so intimately sharing with George W. Bush on November 15th 2007, but the President’s words reflected the people’s opinion: “[his] meticulous realism has captured the American consciousness and [his] austere vision has displayed a depth and dignity of American life”. Andrew Wyeth died on January 16, 2009.

- by Dan Woods

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