One day, leafing through the pages of The Hunt, I noticed an advertisement for “Wyeths by Water,” a group of boat tours off Port Clyde, Maine. The tours are run by an outfit called Linda Bean’s Perfect Maine, headed by a third-generation member of the L.L.Bean family.
Most Wyeth watchers know that the Chadds Ford family spent summers in mid-coast Maine. In 1920, N.C. Wyeth, the patriarch of this storied family of artists, bought an island home there that he named “Eight Bells.” After a little remodeling, he installed his wife and five children—the youngest of whom was Andrew, then age three—into this modest Cape Cod-style home and barn purchased from fisherman Norris Seavey. Seavey later appeared in some of N.C.’s paintings.
For the next century, N.C., then Andrew, then Jamie summered here and found inspiration for some of their most famous works.
My husband and I headed up for an idyllic few days in late September, lodging at the Seaside Inn at the harbor.
There are three boat trip itineraries, with a different one offered every weekday. Each tour shows several sites depicted in well-known paintings. The new-build authentic lobster boat holds 20 passengers per trip. Our guide, in this case, was Ron Crusan, director of the Wyeth Gallery, which features original works, rare signed prints, books and reproductions. It’s located on the second floor above the charming Port Clyde General Store (great for breakfast, lunch and gourmet treats, boat services, and provisioning) and the wharf-side Dip Net restaurant. Luscious lobster meals abound.
Crusan held up a reproduction of each famed painting as we cruised by: Lobstering off Black Spruce Ledge; Island Funeral (both N.C.); Christina’s World (Andrew), etc. You also get to see Eight Bells, the art studio beside it, Betsy Wyeth’s home and compound, and several historic islands and lighthouses—all fodder for the three painters. One island is the 1605 landing spot of Englishman George Weymouth, who explored the area, befriending the Pemiquid natives and bringing a few of them back to England.
Besides circling the various islands and getting close-up views of the houses, studio and the Marshall Point Lighthouse, we learned much about the lobster business in Maine. We even motored over to various traps, pulled them up, and measured the lobsters caught inside. They must weigh at least one pound to be pulled up legally. Ron picked up the various babies, measured them, let them walk around the deck, then put them back in the ocean. By the same token, lobsters over three pounds must be returned to the sea because they are brood males who carry the responsibility of sustaining the population.
If you’re in Port Clyde on a summer Wednesday, you might enjoy the paint party held at the Barn Cafe, next to the Seaside Inn. A local artist will instruct you in capturing your idea of Maine on canvas (provided along with paint, brushes, drinks and hors d’oeuvres). A perfect accompaniment to the Port Clyde experience is a short drive away in the town of Rockland, home to the Farnsworth Museum. Its mission is to celebrate Maine’s role in American art, and it houses a large collection of Andrew Wyeth’s work. It also owns the historic Olson House, where the famed invalid Christina Olson lived and where Andrew often lodged and painted. Rockwell has some great seafood, too.
A bit further up the coast is the charming town of Camden, with loads of shops and, unfortunately, tourists.
A board member of the iconic outfitting company founded by her grandfather, Linda Loraine Bean (L.L. Bean) has created an empire of her own in the Pine Tree State. She owns inns and vacation rental homes, restaurants and lobster shacks, the Wyeth Gallery and a massive lobster-processing company. She and three others initiated the first effort to investigate and certify the sustainability of the Maine lobster supply.
Since 2007, Bean’s companies have grown to an annual purchase of up to nine million pounds of Maine lobster. Nearly all is sold within the domestic borders of the U.S. She bought her wharf and lobster business, along with the Port Clyde and Tenants Harbor general stores from which to market them locally.
My husband and I spent an afternoon at her home, a colonial-era house that was moved to offshore Teel Island from New Hampshire by a previous owner. Bean is also building a new reading room near the gallery to house magazines (she loves The Hunt) and scholarly publications.
Bean’s interest in the Wyeths began decades ago. Growing up nearby, she knew all about the family. N.C.’s illustrations, in particular, caught her fancy. In ensuing years, she became an N.C. scholar and collector. Her Tell Island home is packed with originals from all three generations of Wyeths.
Andy’s model for many years, Helga Testorf, now occupies Eight Bells by special lifetime arrangement of the artist. He made her nude image famous in a series of paintings he did secretly over a period of 15 years.