Wyeth’s World

Their paintings have brought the bucolic beauty of the Brandywine Valley to millions of people around the globe. But spend time with Andrew and Jamie Wyeth, and you’ll soon realize that their art and lives are stranger and darker than they first appear

So with that in mind, Warhol made his portrait of Jamie. He used a Polaroid photo to silk-screen the younger artist’s likeness onto a canvas, then splashed it with dreamy pastel colors that gave Jamie the retouched look of a silent-film star, with chestnut hair and pink-tinged lips.

While Jamie continued work on his portrait of Warhol, the two developed a deeper friendship, shopping for taxidermy, swapping ideas, traveling to Chadds Ford. Warhol fit in remarkably well on the family farm, with his layers of makeup and wigs and self-conscious pageantry. The Wyeths loved a good Halloween character.

In 1976 the two artists revealed their joint project to the public in a show that caused such ravenous curiosity that police had to control the crowds on the sidewalk. Inside, there hung Warhol’s depiction of Jamie as wholesomeness personified.

And there, like a framed thunderclap, hung Jamie’s portrait of Warhol.

For years the people around Warhol had played his game. They worked in his Factory to build his reputation and soothe his ego. But Jamie’s portrait cut like a scalpel to Warhol’s messy heart; he painted Warhol with all the scrutiny and detail he might apply to a hog on the farm in Pennsylvania. The portrait shows Warhol’s pale, pimpled skin, raw fingers, slack mouth. Eyes like black holes sucking in anything with mass and substance. Fragile.

Before long, the two artists parted ways. Warhol had had enough. “I was an oddity,” Jamie said. “If anything, I used him more than he used me.”

Warhol surrounded himself with bizarre characters who tried their best to shock the pop artist and elicit his famously murmured “Ah … ” or “Yeah … ” And now this simple-seeming boy from that imagined place called Wyeth Country had turned it all inside out. “I think he’s peculiar,” the pop artist said. “Maybe even more peculiar than I am.”

Jamie Wyeth had freaked out Andy Warhol.

JAMIE RACED HIS 60-year-old pickup across the Brandywine to the funeral, which was, it turned out, on Frolic Weymouth’s grounds.

Weymouth was the “real character” Jamie had mentioned, who owns one of the country’s finest collections of horse carriages and uses them regularly. Weymouth is also the official portraitist for Prince Philip of England, and once noticed that the British royals all have private chapels. So he built a chapel of his own at Big Bend. It’s a small, elegant structure of stone and wood, with doorways and window frames open to the elements. Each bench seat bears, of course, a tiny metal tortoise.

The funeral was a raucous event, as funerals go. The deceased, a man named Owen, lived a boisterous life, and his friends laughed through stories of him charging around the Chadds Ford area in various stages of undress. He had posed for Jamie once, and now Jamie stood at the edge of the crowd with his hands clasped behind his back, smiling at recollections. Frolic Weymouth attended, chatting alongside biker Andy Bell. The Wyeth world, for all its renown and adoration, is confined to a handful of people scattered over a few square miles of pasture land.