Have you ever felt a familiar connection to a place you’ve visited for the first time? This happened to me when I visited my aunt at her rustic rental property in Cushing, Maine in the early Fall of 2011. Before this trip, my familiarity with Maine consisted mainly of family summer vacations to inland lakes and winter ski trips with friends, so I was looking forward to exploring a new part of the state.
Cushing is one of the many remote, unspoiled peninsulas that make up jagged Midcoast Maine. After taking a nondescript turn off scenic Route 1, I winded south down a very long road surrounded by thick growth woodlands spotted sporadically with modest homesteads.
The property my aunt rented was barebones with just the basic necessities and nothing more, which my eccentric aunt preferred. She, like my mom, was extremely well read and was content to spend her days surrounded in quiet solitude drinking her morning coffee or glasses of wine at night while reading her New Yorkers and New York Times. I have always admired my aunt’s quick wit and impeccable taste so enjoyed my time with her as she introduced me to some of the local townspeople and showed me around the adjacent towns of Friendship and Thomaston.
My aunt told me that for a few seasons she volunteered as a greeter at The Olson House, a property owned by Farnsworth Art Museum in nearby Rockland. The Olson House was located a few miles down the peninsula after passing over a (then defunct) small bridge spanning the meandering Medomak River, that leads out into Muscongus Bay. It sounded intriguing but I wasn't able to visit during my short trip.
The Olson House was made famous by Andrew Wyeth in his iconic painting, Christina’s World. Wyeth spent 30 summers in Cushing nearby the farm owned by Alvaro Olson and his sister Christina. There he produced over 300 paintings, many within the vacant rooms in the upper level of the Olson home as the soft light came streaming through the windows that overlooked the sloped field leading down to the waterline.
I have always marveled at the magical talent of the Wyeth family, from NC Wyeth to his son Andrew and his son, Jamie. Like my aunt, the Wyeth’s seem wholly content immersing themselves within their intimate environment and soaking up and appreciating the simple people and beauty that surrounded them. To me, Andrew Wyeth’s work produced in Maine perfectly represents the rugged, soul-filled solitude and individualism found there and which, to me at least, invokes inner contemplation. The Wyeth story is very fascinating and there is much written about the family and their legacy.
That first visit to Cushing years ago opened up a whole new world for me. Recently I was very surprised to discover that several generations of my ancestors on my mom's side of the family lived, worked and are buried in that area which has expanded my curiosity further. So a few weeks ago, while returning from a trip further up Maine’s coast, it was approaching sunset and I decided to take a detour to visit The Olson House and take some photos. The timing was perfect. No other souls were around and I was able to get some external shots of the home surrounded in beautiful golden light.
As I walked towards the adjacent field, I noticed a small cemetery tucked into a trove of trees down by the water's edge and made a note to check that out before leaving. Just then, I noticed a single, large Jersey cow slowly meandering up the slope as if coming to greet me. My heart leapt as I have always revered cows and this one was a beauty. It was as if the setting sun was lighting her up from within, as in a dream. As she drew near, I gazed into her large brown eyes to try and connect at some level, yet she passed by me with little acknowledgment. As I was admiring her massive build and silky hide, I wondered where she came from and then noticed a simple rope tied around her neck that appeared to be broken off. Did she escape from an unseen farm down the road? She walked slowly past the Olson home towards the orchard in the back and I followed her and watched as she contentedly feast on fallen apples until I finally let her be.
The sun had set and it was getting dark and I wanted to check out the cemetery before getting back on the road. I drove down the faint path in the grassy field to discover that it was the burying place of the Olson family, including Alvaro and Christina. Most interestingly, prominently placed at the front entrance of the plot, was the simple gravestone of Andrew Wyeth (1917 – 2009). A few colorful pumpkins and gourds were simply arranged in front of the dark granite stone, perfectly complimenting the final resting place of a great artist. He would approve.
So where does my deep visceral connection I have towards this part of Maine come from? Has the magic of Wyeth’s paintings seeped into my consciousness so deeply that I recognize this land as my own? Or could it be that the memories and experiences of my newly discovered ancestors somehow live on within me waiting to be explored? I find it very interesting to contemplate all of this and look forward to future visits to find out what there is to discover.
Learn more about the Wyeths from this excellent BBC Documentary, Wyeth’s World
Below are some photos from Aunt Elinor's Fall rental property in Cushing, Maine (2011.)
Below are some photos of my visit to The Olson House dispersed with some of the Andrew Wyeth's Maine artworks.