Remembering Phyllis Mills Wyeth

Remembering Phyllis Mills Wyeth

This has been a cruel January in many ways. We learned last week of the passing of Phyllis Mills Wyeth, a major force in the cultural and artistic communities of Maine and the Brandywine River Valley, and beyond. To many, Wyeth was the beloved wife of American painter Jamie Wyeth, although she was also—and independently—revered for decades in the competitive thoroughbred community as both a carriage driver and a horse breeder. To the young people whose lives were improved through her teaching, or who experienced the wonders of marine science at Herring Gut Learning Center, Wyeth’s legacy is that of service and environmental education. To the legions of people who benefitted from her arts advocacy, her advocacy on behalf of people with disabilities, or her environmental advocacy, her legacy was larger still.

I met Phyllis only once, at a dinner party in which the animated discussion turned to the beauty and wonder of seeing a fox traipse across winter snow (a very Winslow Homer theme, of course). I remember the sparkling pleasure of that conversation, of Wyeth’s keen aesthetic as well as scientific insight into the subject of foxes in non-wild environments. I remember the joy she brought to the conversation, and the pleasure we all took at her insights. I remember feeling very lucky to be in her presence.

Over the course of the past two years, I have worked with wonderful colleagues at the Brandywine River Museum of Art on a shared project, an upcoming retrospective of the paintings of N. C. Wyeth, the towering figure who established the Wyeth name as an integral part of American art history. We were all looking forward to sharing the show with the Wyeth family, including Jamie and Phyllis together. This will not happen, now, and we are immeasurably sorry. On behalf of all of us as the PMA, we extend our kindest condolences to Jamie Wyeth, and the Wyeth family, as well as to the communities of Monhegan and Tenant’s Harbor, Maine, and to Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. Mrs. Wyeth will be missed.

Learn more about Wyeth's life in the Portland Press Herald obituary here.

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January 22, 2019
Deputy Director and Robert and Elizabeth Nanovic Chief Curator

Jessica May, PMA Deputy Director and Robert and Elizabeth Nanovic Chief Curator, was the project director of the museum’s acclaimed reinstallation project, Your Museum, Reimagined. May served as co-curator and co-author of Richard Estes’ Realism (PMA and Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2014), and curated the 2013 Portland Museum of Art Biennial, Piece Work. Her research and curatorial interests include the history of documentary practice, contemporary photography, and postwar figurative painting in America. Prior to coming to Portland, May was Associate Curator of Photographs at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, Texas. She is the co-author of American Modern: Documentary Photography by Abbott, Evans, and Bourke-White (University of California Press, 2010), and the Subhankar Banerjee: Where I Live I Hope to Know (ACMAA, 2011). She graduated from Barnard College and received her M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, where she wrote a dissertation on Walker Evans. She lives in South Portland with her wife and son.