Personal Correspondence


The drawing process is not limited to the sketchbook or stray paper. The sketches that accompany personal correspondence provide, not only insight into the artistic process, but a wealth of biographical detail as well. For some artists, words were not enough to communicate their feelings or ideas. Adding drawings to a letter is, in a sense, a gift to the reader. Illustrations punctuate expressions of thanks or love, enrich accounts of travel or interesting events, or clarify instructions or explanations for business purposes. As outside readers, we are treated to glimpses of personal relationships, interests, or alternate styles of drawing that can nuance our understanding or appreciation of the artist.

Andrew Wyeth’s interest in World War I was born in his father’s studio, which was littered with uniforms, weapons, and photographic reference for paintings. Films and toys fueled his passion and he made numerous drawings and paintings of American and German soldiers in his boyhood; yet, only a handful of the thousands of artworks he completed over his long career incorporate German or WWI imagery. Wyeth’s correspondences with his friend Terry Maurer provides an intimate view of how this passion manifested in his adulthood and how he shared it with close friends. In this missive from 1973, Wyeth thanks Terry for some shirts she sewed for him and mentions a WWI novel he is about to begin reading. He honors Terry’s gift and celebrates their mutual interest by inserting his portrait and adding a German cross, transforming the shirt into a “German tunic.” Rather than a literal illustration, Wyeth engages in the sort of imaginative fun shared by kindred spirits who are captivated by the same subject.

Andrew Wyeth often illustrated letters to friends and family, including sketches of where he was drawing, the models he interacted with, and his plans for final paintings. This 1974 letter to his friend Terry Maurer is somewhat different. In it, he gives form to the content of a book she has sent him, illustrating his fascination with German history. Wyeth’s enthusiasm for the book is reflected not only in the text, or even the words he has underlined, but his excitement spills into an illustration that takes up the entire first page of his letter. The action of the soldiers rushing down the trench is caught in his expressive lines, the boom of exploding bombs belching acrid smoke in plumes of watercolor. On the right page, Wyeth describes how the book has transported him to the trenches of 1914; on the left, the line of soldiers leads the eye up through the rising smoke to Wyeth’s name printed at the top of the page. The soldiers’ backs are to the viewer, but the connection of image to text implies Wyeth’s participation in this invented scene.