This exhibition tells the story of Andrew Wyeth’s focus on the fragile rhythms and intimate dramas of plant life. Drawn exclusively from the holdings of the Wyeth Foundation for American Art, most of the 40 watercolors and drawings on view have never been exhibited before. As visionary and poetic responses rather than scientific illustrations, they reveal an insufficiently understood aspect of the work of an iconic American artist, and one that is especially timely as the web of botanical relationships that inspired Wyeth is impacted by rapid changes in the very ecosystems that inspired him.
In the lore of the Wyeth family, Andrew Wyeth’s birth 100 years to the day after the influential nature writer Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862) meant the two men shared a common spirit. Just as Thoreau celebrated the often-overlooked beauties of “every leaf and twig” in his 1854 book Walden, or Life in the Woods, Wyeth developed a painting practice grounded in time spent alone outdoors, steeping himself in the two distinct ecosystems that defined his life: mid-coast Maine and Pennsylvania’s Brandywine Valley.
The specimens of plant life Andrew found and depicted on walks and wanders in landscapes he knew deeply spoke to him of compelling forms, colors, and dramas unfolding in miniature. This attunement to the cycles of nature, manifest in stunning depictions of a corn stalks in winter or apple trees at harvest time, mirrored that of Betsy James Wyeth, whose fascinating planting and earth shaping efforts are another key context of the exhibition.
Every Leaf & Twig is an exhibition in two parts of which this is the second, following a presentation of related Maine works at the Farnsworth Art Museum in late 2023–early 2024. It was conceived by Amy Morey, Associate Collection Manager of the Andrew & Betsy Wyeth Study Center (Maine), with support from Dr. William L. Coleman, Wyeth Foundation Curator, and the staff of the Wyeth Study Center. The fully illustrated catalogue combines the two parts with supporting essays from Morey, Coleman, and Maine coastal botanist Lauren Stockwell.