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N. C. Wyeth's Christmas in Old Virginia


N. C. Wyeth's large oil painting entitled, Christmas in Old Virginia, is currently on view in the Bowman Concert Gallery at the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts in Hagerstown, Maryland. The painting is on loan from the Martinsburg, Berkeley County Public Library in West Virginia and will remain at the Museum until the library's renovations are complete.

Wyeth, one of the leading American artists of the first half of the twentieth century, was born in Needham, Massachusetts in 1882. He grew up on a farm near Walden Pond and received early art training in the Boston area. He also studied privately with book illustrator Charles W. Reed and painter Charles H. Davis. At the age of twenty, Wyeth was accepted as one of the few students of master illustrator Howard Pyle in Wilmington, Delaware. Wyeth's talent was almost immediately apparent and Pyle had a lasting influence on his style and subject matter.

Wyeth's first illustrations appeared in the Saturday Evening Post in January of 1903. Later, his work appeared in the most popular magazines of the day including Collier's, Harper's, Scribner's, Cosmopolitan, Century and McClure's. In 1904, the Post and Scribner's sponsored his trip to Colorado and New Mexico where he sketched cowboys, horses and cattle. He specialized in themes relating to American History and medieval subjects and illustrated many adult and children's books including Treasure Island, Robin Hood, The Last of the Mohicans, Westward Ho!, Robinson Crusoe, Rip Van Winkle and The Deerslayer.

In 1906, Wyeth purchased 18 acres in Chadd's Ford, Pennsylvania, now the site of the Brandywine River Museum. In the 1920s, he gave increasing attention to easel painting, working on scenes of Chadd's Ford and the coast of Maine where he vacationed. In the 1930s, he received commissions for large murals, many of which were based on American history. During the course of his career, Wyeth produced more than 3,000 illustrations and he was the founder of an artistic dynasty that included his children Andrew, Carolyn and Henriette and his grandson Jamie. In 1945, Wyeth and one of his grandsons were killed when their car stalled at a railroad crossing and was struck by a train.

The Interwoven Stocking Company commissioned this work for advertising. The scene, depicting George Washington receiving a Christmas tree outside his Mount Vernon plantation, appeared on their sock packaging at Christmas. Once a substantial contributor to Berkeley County's economy, the Interwoven mills, located off Porter Avenue and West John Street in Martinsburg, closed in the late 1960s. After the company closed and the local factory was abandoned, the painting was found in the factory basement and donated to the library. In 2001, the painting was restored with grant money from the West Virginia Commission on the Arts.

Editor's note: RLM readers may also enjoy these earlier articles:

Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts in Resource Library Magazine.

Search for more articles and essays on American art in Resource Library. See America's Distinguished Artists for biographical information on historic artists.

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