Monday, December 27, 2010

Snowday, Wyeth style

I start this post in the immediate aftermath of a Northeast blizzard, one strong enough to shut down the railroad, and grant me a snow-day to follow the Christmas break.

It occurred to me that a new bunch of N. C. Wyeth (1882-1945) prints that have trickled into the studio share this wintry vision. Living where I do, it's not uncommon to see some snow on the ground from December to March, and it always surprised me that it doesn't show up in more work, from anyone who lives in the north. N. C. must've liked the snow as well, because looking over a group of his early works, a large percentage of them are snow scenes, including one of my most favorite Wyeth pieces. Seemed like a good theme to explore on a snow-day. Without taking it for granted—Newell Convers Wyeth is one of the most important illustrators of the twentieth century. He joined Howard Pyle, studying under him at the Brandywine, and Wyeth soon became Pyle's star pupil. Wyeth had an incredibly prolific career in both book and magazine work. He was also the patriarch of what became America's first family of art, with his son Andrew Wyeth, and grandson Jamie Wyeth being the central figures of three generations of Wyeth artists.

The images— a few nice covers from The Popular Magazine, including this cover with a Yukon adventure look to it- Polar bear, Native Americans, a trusty Colt .45. A second features one of N.C.'s strong solitary thinkers, in this case, a poacher...
A few plates from The Outing Magazine, January 1907- from a story entitled "How they Opened the Snow Road"
and a pair of plates from two classics—
The frontispiece from Mark Twain's last novel, The Mysterious Stranger (a read which I enjoyed tremendously in my college days)
and a piece I have the highest amount of respect for, from Robert Louis Stevenson's The Black Arrow, (also a good read)

Wyeth used snow in many of these pieces the way he used dust in his even earlier (or contemporary) western themed works—providing a light field, it helps him to increase contrast and strengthen shadows. He also frequently simplified figurative areas into definitive shapes, and obscured the details of distant backgrounds that would otherwise distract from the focus of the piece.

Stay warm. See you in the New Year, here's to a good one!

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