MIT Institute Archives & Special Collections

Letter from Andrew Wyeth to Catherine Stratton, 1960

Regarding an exhibition of Wyeth's temperas and watercolors at MIT


Trodden Weed, 1951 tempera

TRODDEN WEED, 1951 tempera
© Andrew Wyeth

MIT hosted the first Boston area one-man show of paintings by Andrew Wyeth in the Hayden Gallery at MIT in 1960. The exhibit brought together forty works of art (18 tempera paintings, 21 watercolors, and one pencil drawing), which were on view from November 9 through December 4. The Institute planned a cocktail party for the artist and his wife for the evening before the official opening, but Wyeth declined the invitation, as the letter reproduced here indicates. His reply to Catherine Stratton, wife of MIT president Julius Stratton, carefully explained his position:

Page 1 of letter

Read the entire letter

I sincerely feel that it is much wiser for the paintings to stand on their own merit and the artist's presence confuses the issue. I do hope you will understand the above statement which probably sounds odd indeed.

Andrew Wyeth, born in 1917, was largely home-schooled and trained in art by N. C. Wyeth, his father, who was also a famous artist. He worked primarily in watercolor and egg tempera in a realist style, drawing his subjects from the landscapes and inhabitants of rural areas in Pennsylvania and Maine. Trodden Weed, his 1951 tempera of boots tramping across a hardened field in winter, was one of the paintings exhibited at MIT in 1960 and remains one of the artist's most enduring images. He has described the painting as a "self-portrait."

The Boston Globe, in a November 13, 1960, review, called the exhibit a "marvelous showing," and praised Wyeth as "a magnificent draftsman and craftsman...who closes in with utter realism on the silent world of field and stream, abandoned farmhouses, beached dories, hay lofts, and barns..." President Stratton said that the exhibit was the best the Hayden Gallery had ever mounted. In 1960 the Hayden Gallery was located in the Hayden Library Building in the space now known as Killian Hall. The Hayden Gallery evolved into the List Visual Arts Center when the Wiesner Building opened in 1984.

The letter exhibited here is from the Catherine Stratton Papers, which include her "Social Books"; records of entertainment at the President’s House while Julius Stratton was president of MIT. In 1960 Mrs. Stratton organized the MIT Art Committee to “bring to the MIT campus a new emphasis on art as a necessary counterbalance to technology.” The committee attracted support for the arts at MIT and began the Institute's outstanding permanent collection of sculpture, painting, and prints.

Hayden Exhibition Gallery Catalogues (N528.A3), the papers of Catherine N. Stratton (MC 426), the records of the MIT Art Committee (AC 66) and the Office of the Arts (AC 230), and other materials pertaining to the arts at MIT are available for use in the MIT Institute Archives and Special Collections, 14N-118.

Object of the Month: March 2006

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