ROCKLAND, Maine — Fred and Randy Knee had things to do around their West Gardiner home Saturday, but there was someplace else they wanted to be that afternoon.
A little more than 24 hours after it was revealed that American artist Andrew Wyeth had died in Pennsylvania, the Knees were moved to visit the Farnsworth Art Museum, which is the second-largest repository of Wyeth works in the country.
“We were sad. We’ve been great, great fans of his and this museum,” Fred Knee said after he and his wife wandered out of one of the current Wyeth exhibits and signed their names in a guest book. “I think he transcends the whole art world.”
Many Farnsworth visitors Saturday had already planned trips to the museum, but the news of Wyeth’s death made the draw that much stronger.
“Many people are coming to the museum, and I’m sure it’s out of respect to Andy and his contributions to American art,” said the Farnsworth’s chief curator and interim director, Michael Komanecky, as a steady flow of visitors passed through the museum. “He’s been a part of our museum even before we opened, and for the past several years we’ve been doing four exhibitions a year devoted entirely to his work.”
Komanecky said the Farnsworth has about 70 works by members of the Wyeth family, including Andrew, his father, N.C., his son Jamie and others. Komanecky said only the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, Pa., where Andrew Wyeth was born and near where he died early Friday at age 91, has more Wyeth work.
Paintings by all three major Wyeths are in major museums throughout the world, but Andrew Wyeth has particularly strong resonance among Maine residents who recognize the landscape of their state in the artist’s work.
“To me, he reflects back to Mainers why we love Maine,” said Zoe Armstrong, who lives two blocks from the Farnsworth.
“I think in Maine there will be a great grieving,” Armstrong said, “but also a tremendous celebration for what he contributed to the world.”
Members of the Wyeth family have spent about a century summering in towns in the midcoast area, from Cushing — made famous in Andrew Wyeth’s “Christina’s World” — to the waters of Penobscot Bay, where the family owns islands, and Port Clyde, the site of N.C. Wyeth’s studio, Eight Bells.
“He just really captured Maine,” said Brewer resident Joe Arsenault, who was visiting the museum with Darron Geel, also of Brewer. “The everyday things that you don’t really notice, he captured them.”
At the Farnsworth, which bought six Andrew Wyeth works in 1948 before the museum even opened, there is always some sort of Andrew Wyeth exhibition in the two galleries closest to the main entrance.
The two current gallery shows, “Early Temperas and Watercolors” and “Andrew Wyeth — Winter Exhibition,” are good examples of the range of his work, from blue, green and purple images of fishermen and the ocean to the sparer, craggy images of rough coastal Maine.
“We never get tired of looking at his work. Never,” Randy Knee said. “We’ve been big followers.”
The museum’s small gift shop, which is packed with items from all generations of Wyeth art, was doing brisk business in items such as postcards and calendars.
Komanecky said Wyeth stopped in to the museum last summer.
Wyeth was an occasional visitor to the Huston-Tuttle art supply shop a few storefronts down from the Farnsworth, a clerk there said Saturday. He sometimes would shop for his own supplies, said shop clerk Patsy Sharkey, although the usual practice was for someone else to come in for him.
“One day [a few years ago] he actually stopped and looked through my little sketchbook I keep here to encourage people to draw,” Sharkey said. “He was just lovely, very quiet, low-key, encouraging. We’re going to miss him terribly. He made a point to support the local businesses. He was a man who was world-famous, [yet] who was far more personable than many who had one-tenth of his stature.”
For information about the Farnsworth Art Museum, go to www.farnsworthmuseum.org.
Wyeth works in Maine
Coastal Maine held a special place in the heart of Andrew Wyeth. Here are four Maine museums that are now or soon will be exhibiting Wyeth’s artwork.
Colby College Museum of Art: Colby has four Wyeths on hand and another coming to the museum as part of a recent gift. None is now on view; however, the museum staff may put them up soon in the wake of Wyeth’s death. For museum details, call 859-5609 or visit www.colby.edu/academics_cs/museum/index.cfm.
Farnsworth Art Museum: With one of the largest Wyeth collections in the world, the Farnsworth now has two Wyeth shows: “Early Temperas and Watercolors” and “Andrew Wyeth — Winter Exhibitions.” The Farnsworth, which is usually closed Mondays and Tuesdays in the winter, will be open those days next week. For details, visit www.farnsworthmuseum.org.
Portland Museum of Art: The PMA has nine Wyeth works in its collection. Now on display are “Ravens Grove” (1985) and “Bridge at Martinsville (Morris Cove)” (1939). For museum information, call 775-6148 or visit www.portlandmusuem.org.
University of Maine Museum of Art: The museum will put up its two watercolors, “The Duck Pond” (1946-47) and “On Bar Island” (circa 1946) in the permanent collection starting next Thursday. For museum information, call 561-3350 or visit www.umma.umaine.edu.