Andrew Wyeth: The Dory

CAndrew Wyeth (1917-2009) The Sisters, 1978, watercolor © 2016 Andrew Wyeth/Artists Rights Society (ARS) Private Collection  

 

 

The dories of midcoast Maine were descended from the lap-strake wherries common in 18th century colonial New England waters. This working small craft was 
the primary source of local transportation for subsistence farmers and fishermen in the midcoast during a time when highways did not exist. Light, flat-bottomed and round- sided, they were easily hauled up on a beach and remained upright while being loaded or unloaded. They were easily rowed by one person from either a sitting or standing position and could carry hundreds of pounds of fish or freight. By the middle of the 20th century, most dories had all but disappeared along the coast.

Andrew Wyeth was a young boy when he and his family first began summering in Maine in the mid-1920s. While the Wyeth’s house, Eight Bells, named after the Winslow Homer painting, was being restored the family stayed at the Wawenock Hotel in Port Clyde. During these summers, Andrew developed a friendship with two brothers, Douglas and Walter Anderson, sons of the cook at the hotel.

Andrew and Walt became inseparable, and together they spent time exploring the coast and nearby islands where Andrew was able to observe local fishermen at work,fishing, lobstering, and clamming.

 “Almost daily they rowed to the islands in Andrew’s dory,  Walt digging clams for lunch while Andrew did watercolors, his pants stiff with paint. Walt knew the shallow reefs in the open sea, and they rode the combers that broke over the barely submerged rocks. Or they sat silently drifting, a chip on the palm of the sea. They rowed out to islands at night, through fields of phosphorescence. ‘The water was filled with fire,’ Wyeth once wrote in a letter, ‘and each dip of the blade of the oar made the water into a star light sky.’ Andrew learned to row standing up, facing forward, rhythmically pushing the oars. He learned how to read the impending weather, the spots to be safe in case of squalls.” 

Andrew continued to use his dory as he explored the coast and islands and traveled the St. George River long after he and Betsy were married in 1940.

Many of Andrew’s watercolor and tempera paintings completed over a span of fifty years featured the dory.The paintings in this exhibition capture the artist’s 
understanding and appreciation of the dory and help document an important part of coastal Maine history.