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  • On the day after Christmas, 1960, I walked next door to Andrew and Betsy Wyeth’s house to visit. It’s the day my education, my real education, began.

    Andy and Betsy were like second parents to me, and my brothers and I had free run of their property. The Wyeths bought their old Quaker-built mill complex in 1958, my parents having purchased the other part of the property in 1957. I was – and still am – smitten by Betsy, and Andy was an exciting figure to us kids…he never seemed to “go to work,” he liked poking around old barns and around the river, he used “colorful” language and there was just plain an air of excitement and fun about both of them.

    On that particular day Andy told me to “have a good look” at all the paintings in the room. There were a number of paintings hung, Andy’s and NC’s, none of which I remember save one.

    Then Andy sprung The Game on me for the first time.

    “Peter, the house is on fire….which one painting do you grab on the way out?”

    I was surprised, but thought “this is fun,” and pointed to a new tempera which Andy had just given Betsy for Christmas.
  • “Good,” said Andy, “now tell me why you chose that one.”

    God knows exactly what I said, but I know I stammered something about liking it most of all the paintings that were hanging.

    “Right,” said Andy, “but tell me why you like it.”

    I recall saying something to the effect of liking how the young bull’s coat and the wall seemed kind of the same.

    That’s when It happened.

    Andy’s eyes narrowed down until he was squinting, almost glaring, at me…he was standing close to me and he suddenly looked very fierce to ten-year old me.

    “Peter,” he said, very directly, “I mean I want you to really tell me why you like this one.”

    That was The Moment my education began…in earnest.

    He would not let me off the hook. There were only three of us in the room plus their dog Rattler. The fire was blazing but suddenly I was flushed from something besides the heat in the room.

    He pressed and pressed for more specifics, he pressed for “deeper,” and I cannot remember what I had to say. This went on for what seemed an eternity, but I’m sure, at this remove, could not have lasted more than five minutes, if that.

    But he pushed me hard and wouldn’t let up. I had no clue what was really going on but I remember feeling dizzy and excited all at the same time.

Suddenly, like a line-squall that has just ripped into and through an afternoon, it was over and I remember nothing else from the day.

    It was only the first of many times Andy made me think – I mean really think – about what I was looking at. This was the day I first had my awareness challenged and pushed under the surface.

    My brothers and I were blessed with a mother who gave us the great gift of loving to read. She took us to museums and made sure we were fully open to the world in which we lived as little boys. My parents let us have wild animals as pets, boats and BB guns, and we led childhoods of supreme happiness and innocence there on the banks of the Brandywine River.

    However, it was next door at The Mill where things ultimately got a lot deeper for me, but before that happened there would be the passage of some years.

    With the late 60’s came my loss of innocence. The sybaritic trappings of the era took center stage, and all of that, combined with my innate headstrong nature, saw me willingly swept up in the tumult of the times. I was quite the young & aspiring, moderately debauched photo-journalist.

    But once I started easing back on the throttle a bit, oh, about 1975 or so, once I had started basing out of Chadd’s Ford again, once I settled down, married, and bought some property just half a mile up the road from my natal home, Andy & Betsy welcomed me back into the fold with open arms.

    And what a welcome it was. Over the next few years I was given really important books and introductions. There were countless dinners at their house, umpteen adventures and then Andy asked if I would try photographing his paintings…a fascinating and rewarding second-career for me.
  • They were incredibly generous and nurturing. Their caring knew few bounds.

    And then, The Miracle…in 1978 they told my wife and me that we would spend the summer with them in Maine.

    That redefined everything.

    And they knew exactly what they were doing.

    And I now play The Game with my family and with people I like.

    So, I wonder, what photograph of mine you would grab on the way out the door?

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