Farnsworth Art Museum mourns the passing of Betsy Wyeth

Tue, 04/21/2020 - 8:00pm

ROCKLAND — “The Farnsworth Art Museum is deeply saddened by the passing of Betsy Wyeth, who died yesterday, Tuesday, April 20,” said a news release issued by the museum on April 21.

“Her association with the Farnsworth goes back to 1944, when the museum purchased six works from an as-yet-unknown artist Andrew Wyeth out of the Macbeth Gallery in New York City. Mrs. Wyeth has been a supporter of the museum throughout the Farnsworth’s public existence. She will be greatly missed.”

Betsy Wyeth was born September 26, 1921 and was raised in East Aurora, New York.

The daughter of Merle and Elizabeth (Bess) James, she grew up in an art-friendly environment, with her mother interested in the performing arts and her father the rotogravure editor for the Buffalo Courier-Express. It was in July of 1939 that she met the painter Andrew Wyeth and accompanied him to a dance in Rockland, Maine, a few days later, where he asked her to marry him. Though they had known each other for one week, she accepted.

“Betsy Wyeth was much more than a passionate supporter of this institution,” said Farnsworth Director Christopher J. Brownawell, in the release. “She was a dear friend. Her love of the midcoast was felt far beyond the reaches of the art world. Her generosity extended to the island residents, the fisherman, and the people of Maine. Through her support of the museum, we have been able to exhibit countless of her late husband’s works throughout the past decades for the enjoyment of our local, national, and international visitors. We extend our most sincere condolences to the family. Betsy Wyeth will be greatly missed by the Farnsworth’s board of trustees and the entire staff.”

From their very first day together, when Betsy took Andrew to the Olson House to meet Christina and Alvaro Olson, Betsy played an essential role in Andrew’s career. She was a major source of strength for the artist at the very outset of their relationship when Andrew could easily have settled for the comfort of his early successful work. She provided the support that allowed him to follow his artistic vision while dealing with pressure from dealers, patrons, critics, and his father, N.C. Through their years together, she served as Andy’s model, inspiration, advisor, curator, editor, and business manager.

“Her generosity and vision have also had a lasting impact on Maine’s Midcoast, and beyond,” the Farnsworth Museum said. “She served an inspirational and in fact pivotal role in the founding of the Island Institute, dedicated to sustaining and preserving Maine’s island and remote coastal communities. Her creation of Up East Foundation led to the preservation of a seventeen-acre property that was once part of the Olsons’ saltwater farm, the place that inspired some 300 of Andrew Wyeth’s works, including his iconic 1948 painting, Christina’s World. In addition, the direction of the Farnsworth’s exhibition program was enhanced when in 1998 it opened the Wyeth Center and the Wyeth Study Center, galleries devoted to showing the work of N.C., Andrew, and Jamie Wyeth. Supported by generous loans from the collection of Andrew and Betsy Wyeth, these exhibitions have reached audiences from around the world. “