National Geographic : 1991 Jul
(Continuedfrom page 86) face, feeling the nose and wondering what it was." Years later, reliving the powerful emotions of that moment, he painted the attenuated figure of neighbor Tom Clark, large of nose and feet. On the roof the children heard Old Kriss. Heavy boots stamped, sleigh bells rang, a booming voice called to the reindeer by name. Soon the children heard Old Kriss on the stairs coming in full costume to shake hands with each child. One year Andrew, lis tening to Old Kriss's approach, held his breath till his eyes popped and, in a frenzy of fear and excitement, wet his bed. When they at last could rush into the big room, warmed The Wyeth Family: American Visions by the logs in the fireplace, N. C. made them stop and savor the tree, decorated with real candles burning. Under the tree was the raw material for the children's own intense fantasy lives. Ann yearly received at least one large, beautifully realistic doll bought by her mother, who often sewed period dresses and nightgowns. And Carolyn received toy animals. Nat built Andrew a castle on which N. C. painted the stones and climbing vines, reciting a story with each detail. Brushing a stain below one of the windows, N. C. said, "That's where one of the lazy guards had to go to the bath room and just let it go out the window." N. C. once wrote to his mother about the children, "As they weave the textures of their lives the background of memories will give them untold pleasures, and perhaps be the basis upon which they can build an important life work." Andrew Wyeth has said, "It was the most imaginative, rich childhood you could ever want. That is why I have so much inside of me that I want to paint." EVEN MORE than his father's, Andrew's fantasy world was an extension of life itself. In the house and yard he staged epic battles with the thousand toy soldiers he accumulated. In the studio he studied the illustrations stacked in the storeroom and inhabited his father's characters as completely as his own skin. He recruited Ann and a couple of children from town, who joined him in putting on N. C.'s costumes and weapons-jerkins and leather vests, cloaks and capes, swords, and bows and arrows. The dramas they performed in the woods-Robin Hood, the Three Muske teers-were enactments of secret charades lived by Andrew all day, all week. "Drawing and painting were just some thing we all did, like playing outside in the snow," Carolyn remembers. In Andrew's childhood pictures, World War I soldiers advanced into shot and exploding shell, death was everywhere, knights fought, redcoats warred with colonials. One picture had a musketeer roasting a wienie over a fire. Andrew showed his pictures only to his father, who gravely studied them and, some times demonstrating with a pencil, gave advice: "Andy, you have to free yourself" or "Keep alive to everything." Andrew worshiped him.