Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Chadds Ford, Delaware County
The father of the famous Wyeth family of artists of Chadds Ford, N.C. Wyeth illustrated The Boy's King Arthur, Robinson Crusoe and many others.
On October 22, 1882, N.C. Wyeth was born in Needham, Massachusetts, where he grew up. After attending Pyle School of Art in Delaware, Wyeth settled in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, where he spent most of the remainder of his life. Wyeth's natural talent led to a successful career in illustrating. Some of his most famous works appear in reproductions of Robert Lewis Stevenson's Treasure Island (1911), James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans (1919), and David Dafoe's Robinson Crusoe (1920). Wyeth gave up illustrations later in his career in order to work artistically with paintings and murals. He died shortly thereafter at age 63 when his car was hit by a train on October 19, 1945.
Newell Convers Wyeth — known to the public as N.C. and to his family as Convers — was born in Needham, Massachusetts, in 1882, but later developed strong ties to both Pennsylvania and New England.
Wyeth studied first in Boston at the Mechanic Arts School and then at the Massachusetts Normal Arts School. In October 1902, he began schooling at the Howard Pyle School of Art in Wilmington, Delaware, a competitive art trade school designed to enhance imagination, artistic ability, understanding of color and drawing. Wyeth excelled in his studies: by 1903 he was already commissioned by Curtis Publishing Company of Philadelphia to do his first cover illustration for The Saturday Evening Post, which appeared February 21, 1903. Wyeth finished his schooling in August, 1904, but remained in Wilmington.
When Wyeth's fascination with the American West led him to concentrate on scenes typical of that area, famed illustrator Howard Pyle urged him to develop direct knowledge of his subject by traveling to those places that had sparked his interest. Wyeth journeyed west three times between 1904 and 1906 where he learned about the region through adventures and excursions. The mental images developed during these trips inspired his work and later placed Wyeth among the best illustrators of his time. He rapidly began a lucrative career based on the experiences he had on his travels.
In April 1906, Wyeth married Carolyn Brenneman Bockius of Wilmington. The young couple moved for the first time to Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, where they spent most of their lives. It is a small colonial town between Wilmington, Delaware, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Wyeth was inspired by the beautiful landscape of eastern Pennsylvania.
Wyeth also painted advertisements throughout his early career including those for American Tobacco Company, Aunt Jemima, Coca-Cola, General Electric, and Steinway and Sons. Although critics consider Wyeth's later commercial work less inspired, his works for the Cream of Wheat Company in 1906 and 1907 are considered among his best western pieces.
In October of 1907, Wyeth's wife gave birth to their first daughter, Henriette. Later the family had two more daughters and two sons: Carolyn born in 1909 and named after her mother, Nathaniel in 1911, Ann in 1915, and Andrew in 1917. The family lived in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania except for a brief, two-year return to Wyeth's hometown in Needham, Massachusetts from 1921 to 1923.
In March of 1906, Charles Scribner's Sons commissioned Wyeth to illustrate Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. This joint-venture began a long and prosperous relationship between Wyeth and Scribner's that developed into the Scribner's Classics, a series of juvenile novels books all illustrated by Wyeth.
In 1916, Wyeth illustrated Stevenson's The Black Arrow: A Tale of the Two Roses. That same year, Harper and Brothers commissioned Wyeth to illustrate Mark Twain's The Mysterious Stranger, published first in Harper's Monthly and then later in hard cover.
He published illustrations for Scribner's The Boy's King Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory in 1917 and then Jules Verne's The Mysterious Island in 1918, while David McKay of Philadelphia brought out Paul Creswick's Robin Hood with Wyeth's illustrations. Soon after, in 1919, he illustrated The Last of the Mohicans for Scribner's publishing company.
Also in 1919, Wyeth discovered that Scribner's sold many of his original paintings out of their Fifth Avenue bookstore. He had submitted the paintings to become illustrations, but was unaware that Scribner's was making a double profit off the illustrations and the originals. Wyeth then insisted that he maintain possession of all original artwork.
In 1920, Scribner's published Westward Ho!, Cosmopolitan published Robinson Crusoe, and Houghton Mifflin published The Courtship of Miles Standish, all with Wyeth illustrations. Critics have named these three pieces "Wyeth classics." Wyeth also supplied images for government agencies such as the American Red Cross. Furthermore, he produced patriotic posters during both World War I and II.
Wyeth purchased property on the coast of Maine in 1920 where he and his family vacationed during summers to maintain Wyeth's roots to New England without uprooting his family. However, Wyeth continued his strong ties to New England by publishing illustrations in 1936 for Men of Concord . . . As Portrayed in the Journal of Henry David Thoreau and then for the book, Trending into Maine by Kenneth Roberts in 1938.
By the late 1930s, Wyeth had grown weary of illustrations and began to explore what he considered the more respectable arts of paintings and murals. He had begun work on an elaborate set of murals for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, but he died unexpectedly at age 63 when his car was hit by a train in Chadds Ford on October 19, 1945.
After his death, Wyeth's work only increased in popularity. In 1965, an exhibition was held in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and another in 1972 in Chadds Ford, focusing on Wyeth's original artwork, prompting critics to reevaluate Wyeth's position in American art history. Subsequent exhibitions highlighted aspects of his career, such as his western work (Buffalo Bill Historical Center, 1980; Brandywine River Museum, 1990) and his personal paintings (Brandywine River Museum, 1982).
The major exhibition, "An American Vision, Three Generations of Wyeth Art" (Brandywine River Museum, 1987), celebrated this esteemed family of American artists. In 1981, Charles Scribner's Sons began to republish many of the works Wyeth illustrated. Today, many of Wyeth's original works can be found in libraries and museums.
Wyeth did not create a "Wyeth School" of art, but he did leave behind five children who have all explored their own artistic endeavors and carried on a family legacy. Henriette Wyeth Hurd, Carolyn Wyeth, and Andrew Wyeth each formed their own artistic personalities while recognizing the incredible debt owed to their father.
In 1971, the Brandywine River Museum opened up in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, to celebrate N.C. Wyeth and his family of fellow artists. In 1996, the museum opened the N.C. Wyeth Studio after 25 years of distinguished success of the museum. The museum contains most of Wyeth's existing work today.
Illustrated Scribner's Classics
Stevenson, Robert Lewis. Treasure Island. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1911.
Stevenson, Robert Lewis. The Black Arrow: A Tale of the Two Roses. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1916.
Malory, Thomas. The Boy's King Arthur. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1917.
Verne, Jules. The Mysterious Island. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1918.
Cooper, James Fenimore. The Last of the Mohicans. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1919.
Kingsley, Charles. Westward Ho! New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1920.
Other Illustrated Works
Twain, Mark. The Mysterious Stranger. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1916.
Creswick, Paul. Robin Hood. Philadelphia: David McKay, 1917.
Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth. The Courtship of Miles Standish. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1920.
Dafoe, Daniel. Robinson Crusoe. New York: Cosmopolitan Book Corporation, 1920.
Thoreau, Henry David. Men of Concord. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1936.
Kenneth Roberts. Trending into Maine. Boston: Little Brown & Co., 1938.
Michaelis, David. N.C. Wyeth: A Biography. New York: Alfred Knopf, 1998.
Podmaniczky, Christine B. "N.C.Wyeth." Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 188: American Book and Magazine Illustrators to 1920. Steven E. Smith, Catherine A. Hastedt, and Donald H. Dyal, eds. The Gale Group, 1998.
Podmaniczky, Christine B. "N.C.Wyeth." American National Biography. Oxford UP, 2000.