N. C. Wyeth
Photo: N.C. Wyeth, Self-portrait, 1913, oil on canvas.
Newell Convers Wyeth, known as N. C. Wyeth, was an American artist and illustrator. He was the pupil of artist Howard Pyle and became one of America's greatest illustrators.
Born: October 22, 1882, Needham, Massachusetts, United States
Died: October 19, 1945, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, United States
Wife: Carolyn Bockius Wyeth (m. 1908–1945)
Children: Andrew Wyeth, Henriette Wyeth, Carolyn Wyeth, Ann Wyeth McCoy, Nathaniel Wyeth
Grandchildren: Jamie Wyeth via Andrew Wyeth,
N. Convers Wyeth via Nathaniel Wyeth,
Caroline Wyeth via Nathaniel Wyeth,
Howard Wyeth via
Andrew Wyeth via Nathaniel Wyeth,
John Wyeth via
Nicholas Wyeth via
David Wyeth via
During his lifetime, Wyeth created over 3,000 paintings and illustrated 112 books, 25 of them for Scribner's, the Scribner Classics, which is the work for which he is best known. The first of these, Treasure Island, was one of his masterpieces and the proceeds paid for his studio. Wyeth was a realist painter just as the camera and photography began to compete with his craft. Sometimes seen as melodramatic, his illustrations were designed to be understood quickly. Wyeth, who was both a painter and an illustrator, understood the difference, and said in 1908, "Painting and illustration cannot be mixed—one cannot merge from one into the other."
He is notably the father of Andrew Wyeth and the grandfather of Jamie Wyeth, both celebrated American painters.
In 1945, Wyeth and his grandson (Nathaniel C. Wyeth's son) were killed when the automobile they were riding in was struck by a freight train at a railway crossing near his Chadds Ford home.
Photo below: N. C. Wyeth by E.O. Hoppe
by: N. C. Wyeth, 1923
N.C. Wyeth and 'The Giant'
Bill Engle died before he could paint his masterpiece—so a friend did it for him.
By Mark E. Dixon
The young are remembered differently than the old. Adults who have died are recalled for their work, their heroic deeds or the families they created. The young? Mostly for lost dreams.
And so it is with The Giant, a 1923 oil painting created in memory of a young artist who had intended to paint something like it himself. Instead, William Clothier Engle died of tuberculosis only a few years after graduating from the Westtown School in 1910.
“Bill had always meant to execute a scene like this of children by the sea, looking up into the clouds,” William Ellis Coale, a former classmate, wrote in the 1940s. “But his early death precluded this, so that his old friend and master created this fitting memorial, and thus fulfilled the pupil’s dream.”
The friend in question is N.C. Wyeth, father of Andrew. Commissioned by Engle’s former classmates, Wyeth’s 5-by-6-foot painting has hung for nearly 90 years in the school’s dining room. According to an archivist, “not even a speck of food” has ever been found on the canvas, though generations of middle- and high-school-age students have eaten their daily meals only a few feet away. Today, it’s protected only by a motion detector that squawks if anyone comes too close.
Engle grew up mostly in Newark, N.J., though he spent summers in Beach Haven working at his uncle’s tourist hotel, the Engleside. His father, David, was a printer who also played flute in the Newark Symphony and was a sport fisherman who made his own rods. Engle’s mother, Margaret Clothier, was from a branch of the same family that produced Strawbridge & Clothier’s co-founder. The family was Quaker, so after Engle was through elementary school, his parents chose to continue his education in the “guarded” environment of Westtown.
Founded in 1799, Westtown was part of Philadelphia-area Quakers’ reaction to their loss of political, economic and social status during the Revolution. Quakers had opposed the War for Independence and were still widely viewed as traitors. That ostracism led them to withdraw from the wider world. They avoided politics and enforced rules against intermarriage.
To preserve and pass on their beliefs—and, in particular, to help Quaker children find appropriate spouses—the Friends turned to their schools. New ones were founded and older ones became more exclusive. Some that had previously accepted non-Quaker students began to turn them away. Westtown provided room and board, which allowed faculty and administration to fully steep their charges in Quaker values and behavior.
Even “[Westtown’s] distant location,” according to a school history, “was an intentional effort by the Philadelphia Quakers to keep their children away from the influences of the city.” The result was a strong familial atmosphere in which lifelong relationships were formed—and in which Engle made many friends.
Decades later, Coale described Engle as a tall, thin artist and philosopher. “Between classes, he was always out with brush and palette, painting about the countryside near the school,” he wrote.
In the course of this, Engle met Wyeth. Still mostly unknown then, Wyeth had moved from Massachusetts to Chadds Ford in 1902 to study with his mentor, illustrator Howard Pyle. “Several of my classmates can recall with me the privilege in our senior year of visiting Mr. Wyeth’s studio and of seeing him and Bill put on canvas the rich colors of the Brandywine Valley,” Coale wrote.
Engle had originally planned to attend Haverford College after graduating from Westtown, but his experience with Wyeth apparently led to a change of plans. In the fall of 1910, he began three years of study at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. In 1913, he moved to Chadds Ford to work in Wyeth’s studio.
The two men were close, and Wyeth’s letters show that Engle was more than a mere assistant. In June 1913, he wrote to his parents, “Sunday blew in cold as March, and exceedingly clear. We drove over for Engle, who was attending a reunion at Westtown. We spent a bully day in his company. He stayed overnight.”
And the mentoring seems to have
gone both ways. In late 1913,
Wyeth was struggling over his career
direction—whether to continue as
primarily an illustrator of magazine
stories or to stretch for paintings that
would establish him as a true artist.
It was something he would struggle
with throughout his career.
“It is nearly easy,” Wyeth wrote to
his brother, “to convince oneself that
‘sticking it out,’ as Papa says, would
be the most courageous and helpful
course to pursue. But as Bill Engle
adds, ‘It takes more courage to
give up the proposition in your
circumstances than to stick it out.’
And I agree with him.”