The future of the Farnswyeth

By Rufus Foshee | Oct 09, 2009

Phyllis Mills Wyeth, married to Jamie Wyeth and one of the DuPont clan, has stepped forward as spokeswoman for the Wyeth clan, offering social and economic connections that are irresistible, evidently, judging from comments by museum officials.

Board President Richard Aroneau said, "This campaign, initiated and led by Phyllis Wyeth, represents a great gift to the Farnsworth ... By enabling the Farnsworth to deepen and fulfill its unique mission in celebration of Maine's extraordinary role in American art, this endowment will be a wonderful and altogether fitting memorial to Andrew Wyeth's legacy."

Chief Curator and acting Director Michael Komanecky said, “This is nothing less than a transformative event in the Farnsworth’s history.”

What was not said was that the Wyeth endowment might now lighten the Farnsworth budget, which has been drained supporting Wyeth interests for decades. The endowment is to be used exclusively in maintaining the operations of the Olson House in Cushing, the Wyeth Study Center, the Wyeth Center and the Wyeth Research Center.

According to reports, Wyeth will head a $12 million endowment campaign, being set fire by a charity auction at Sotheby's in New York in October 2010. It is no surprise that this endowment is to be called the Andrew Wyeth Memorial Endowment. Neither is it any surprise that funds from such an endowment may be used for only four purposes.

It must not go unnoticed that this endowment will not benefit the Farnsworth in any overall way. This is not new; this is not the first attempt on the behalf of the Wyeths to shape the development of the Farnsworth. Such effort went on for years under the management of Charles Cawley, contributor, and Chris Crosman, former director.

Encroachment has been the name of this game. First there was the Wyeth Museum down the block, then the expansion began. Linda Bean Folkers set up a Wyeth gallery at the main building to honor Wyeths. More and more Wyeths not owned by the museum cover the walls of major galleries. Folkers, as was the case with Charles Cawley, has invested in the works of various Wyeths.

It is no secret that museums need people of prestige and economic power at all times. But remember that not all such people have to have their names plastered on large banners everywhere, as does the Tisch family in New York or as do others elsewhere.

To the contrary, in 1938 the National Gallery of Art in Washington was funded by and founded by Andrew W. Mellon who, though urged by Joseph Duveen, his adviser, to place his name on the gallery, refused to do so. As a result, it has grown, with other families willing to give great collections to enhance what Mellon had left without having any family names on this great national institution.

Earlier in New York, beginning in 1928, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller (wife of John D. Rockefeller Jr.) led the effort to establish the most noted museum of modern art in the world. Yet the Rockefeller name was never attached to the building.

Even Alice Walton, Sam Walton's only daughter and one of the heirs to the Wal-Mart billions, has chosen not to wave her name, or even the Walton one, on the $50 million Crystal Bridges Museum being constructed over the Buffalo River in Bentonville, Ark. To lighten it a bit, one may wish to remember a line from May West who said, "Goodness had nothing to do with it."

If Phyllis Wyeth is to raise $12 million, or even more, it is useful to keep in mind that one does not exert such effort unless one, in this case a family, wants something very big in return. What is it the Wyeths want?

To date, even in their other grazing pastures in the Delaware/Pennsylvania area, no museum or even a wing has been named or dedicated to them. In New York, generally accepted as the art capital of the present world, the same is true.

Phyllis Wyeth has said, “This endowment is important to the Wyeth family as well. It is an expression of the family’s deep belief that the legacy of Andrew Wyeth is intimately tied to the Farnsworth, here on the coast of Maine, where he spent almost every summer of his life, where he created so much of his finest work, and where he was so at home and so loved.” But only in Rockland at the Farnsworth have the Wyeths been able to get anyone to swallow this hook, line and sinker.

It may also be useful to remember that not long ago the Farnsworth announced that Linda Bean Folkers, as she is now known, had given the museum $1 million that was to be earmarked for the promotion of the N.C. Wyeth legacy. Folkers had given the museum a piece of land, and the museum gave her a receipt for a million dollar tax deduction. Finally, the museum was able to sell the land for about half that, putting the museum in a very dangerous position if the Internal Revenue Service had wanted to move in.

If the Farnsworth board is going to continue abnegating its responsibility except on the behalf of the Wyeth family, perhaps it is time to separate the two, the Farnsworth and the Wyeth, and have separate boards.

Or maybe the museum might be appropriately renamed the Farnswyeth, under one board.
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