It’s 1948. The woman in the painting is supposed to be Anna Christina Olson of Hathorne Point near Cushing, Maine, but it’s not. The person pretending to be Christina is actually Wyeth’s wife, Betsy. The real Christina was 55 years old in 1948. She died 20 years later.
Wyeth painted Betsy’s arms and legs as though they were emaciated from Polio or Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, as were Christina’s.
I walked into the painting and asked Betsy what she was thinking.
I’m thinking I’m glad to have someone to talk to, even if you are imaginary.”
I said, “What were you thinking before I arrived?”
I was thinking about the day 11 years ago when I first met Andrew and introduced him to Christina. It was July 12, his 22nd birthday. He came to Cushing to meet my father (Merle James, an artist.) I was 17. Andrew asked me to show him around town, so I decided to show him a real Maine building and brought him here to Hathorne Point, where my friends Christina and Alvaro live.”
Ron, I asked Betsy a follow-up question of my own. I hope you don’t mind. I said, “Do you know what inspired Andrew to make this painting?”
Absolutely. Andrew and I came to see Christina and Alvaro yesterday. Alvaro let us in the house and then pointed to a window and said, ‘Christina’s in the yard.’ Andrew and I looked out and saw Christina crawling, dragging herself with her arms, really, through the grass. We knew she wouldn’t want any help from us, so we just sat in the house and waited until she was finished with her adventure. That was when Andrew had the idea of painting Christina from behind as she looked toward the house.”
I told her the painting was going to become famous.
She looked at me matter-of-factly and said, “I know.”