Right Hand Artistry

Henrietta was born in 1907 in Delaware. She was the oldest child in the family. Her father, Convers, was a noted illustrator of books (e.g., Treasure Island), magazines (e.g., Saturday Evening Post), and corporate advertisements (e.g., Coke-Cola). He always wanted to become better known as a painter. He also hoped that his children would become painters.

When Henrietta contracted polio at age 3 and lost the use of her right hand, Conver’s hopes for his oldest child ever becoming a painter seemed to be doomed. But Henrietta had other ideas. She learned to draw with her left hand. She would then place a brush between her first and second fingers on her right hand and use her right hand for painting.

Henrietta was an artistic prodigy and began to study art in prestigious academics at the age of 13. By the age of 16, she was earning commissions for portraits.

When she was 21, she married a fellow artist and moved to New Mexico. She was so established at the time that celebrities would come to her ranch for portrait sittings.

Time Magazine commissioned her to do the cover for its Person of the Year edition. Ironically the portrait was of her brother. Later she and her husband did another Time Magazine portrait of Lyndon Johnson when he was selected as the Person of the Year. Of all the portraits she did, the one that she is best known for is the First Lady portrait of Patricia Nixon (see below). She is considered to be one of the greatest women painters of the 20th Century.

For all of her accomplishments, Henrietta is little known today. Her brother, Andrew Wyeth, is much better known. What is little recognized is how the father N.C. Wyeth helped his children discover and nurture their talents. That nurturing has now moved to another generation of Wyeth’s.

Henrietta never gave up hope that she could become a great artist even when facing a physical challenge that would have defeated the hopes of many. What can we learn from her pursuit of her talent that we might share with others?

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“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” – Edgar Degas

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