Andrew Wyeth at the SAM: Public Sale

Ideally a work of art should be moving in and of itself, whether or not you have any prior experience of the content. But I had a deep emotional connection to the painting entitled “Public Sale”, of a farm being auctioned off during the 1940’s in rural Chadd’s Ford, Pennsylvania.

My grandfather Newton Elbert York’s farm was auctioned off in rural Davis County, Iowa, after his death in 1942. The flyer advertising the auction, which my Aunt Edna found in an old pie cupboard and had copied for each of the grandchildren, is entitled “Public Sale” just like the Wyeth painting. This was a poor farm too, with every last chicken, milking pail, grain feeder, tool, cow and horse and item of farm equipment sold for what I’m sure was pennies on the dollar. When grandfather York died he left Ruth, his second wife — my grandmother Ada had died while my father was in high school — with very little to live on. I have no idea what people did in those days when they were left destitute. Nearly starve, I suppose.

I imagine that auction day to have been dark and gloomy, in feeling if not in fact, just like the Wyeth painting.

2 thoughts on “Andrew Wyeth at the SAM: Public Sale

  1. for Phyllis: Small farming lost its viability in rural Iowa decades ago. I have wonderful memories of visiting my aunts and uncles on their farms in the 1950’s, where they did a little bit of everything. But none of their kids, my cousins and age peers, became farmers. You’re right — it is a hard life.

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