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Andrew Wyeth: The Dory

April 30, 2016 – March 19, 2017

Exhibition Dates

April 30, 2016 – March 19, 2017


The dories of midcoast Maine descended from the lapstrake wherries common in Colonial New England waters. These small working boats were the primary source of local transportation for subsistence farmers and fishermen in the Midcoast before major roads were built.  Light, flat-bottomed, and round-sided, dories 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 early 1920’s 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 1920’s.  While the Wyeth’s “Eight Bells” home (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 Douglas and Walter Anderson, sons of the cook at the hotel.

Andrew and Walt became inseparable, and spent their days exploring the coast and nearby islands where Andrew was able to observe local watermen engaged in their 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 Wyeth, A Secret Life:  Richard Meryman, 1996, Harper Collins Publishers, Page 109.

Andrew continued to use his dory as he explored the coast, islands, and 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 dories. The paintings in this exhibition capture Wyeth’s appreciation of the dory and help document an important part of coastal Maine history.