I first discovered the painting 'Christina's World' by Andrew Wyeth when I was about 13 or 14 years old. It immediately resonated with me. I later found out I had interpreted it quite incorrectly but that's okay because art is open to personal interpretation. Any way we relate to a work of art is acceptable, as long as we CAN relate to it.
I was passionately drawn to this painting from the onset because I saw it as a reflection of myself. I was not like my peers. I was not a silly, giggly adolescent. I was a kid who combed the psychology shelves at the library, checking out college level psychology books, struggling to understand what I was not capable of understanding. (Later in life, as a college student, I did take psychology courses and must defend my intellectual abilities by saying that at that point of maturity, I was perfectly capable of understanding what I was reading. Honest!)
As a youth, I always felt I was on the outside looking in. I was too young to realize that we all feel that way. And we are all, indeed, on the outside looking in. We are born alone and we die alone, and all in between, a gift. But I didn't know that back then.
I saw Christina as a young girl, gazing longingly at a home where she could not belong, tho she desperately wanted to belong. To me, that farm house symbolized the world. My circle of friends. My community. My school. My life outside of my life.
Christina was me and I was Christina.
Of course, that's not what this painting was about. It was really about quite a remarkable woman by the name of Christina Olson. She was middle aged at the time Wyeth painted her, tho we cannot see her face in this painting. However, Wyeth did gift us with a far lesser known painting of Christina, which does show us her face in profile.
As a little 'aside' note, this painting, above, was not used for public awareness of anything affecting Christina; it had to do with Andrew Wyeth, who suffered for many many years with a long time undiagnosed case of tuberculosis.
But we can tell from the painting, that Christina was not a beautiful youth, in fact not a youth at all.
From what I can glean, Christina suffered from some advanced case of a degenerative muscular disease and did not have the use of her legs. She had been a long time friend of Wyeth's wife. With her brother, she owned the farm known as 'Olson's Farm,' in Cushing, Maine.
The Olson house depicted in Christina’s World was built in the 1700’s by the Hathorn family. Captain Samuel Hathorn renovated the house in 1871 and added bedrooms to the third floor. Christina’s mother, Kate Hathorn, met and married John Olson in 1892, who then took over the maintenance of the family farm. In 1929, Christina and her brother Alvaro inherited the property and Christina lived there until two months before she died in 1968. The Olson home is now owned by the Farnsworth Museum and is open for public viewing.
Andrew Wyeth was captivated by the house. He saw it as a unique and honest portrayal of life in rural Maine. He loved it enough that the Olson's 'gave' him his own bedroom, which he turned into his art studio where he painted for over 30 years.
But back to Christina, herself, and this particular painting. Apparently Christina did not lie in fields and dream of being a part of the bigger scene; she did all the chores needed to keep a working farm running. She dragged herself from place to place, using her arms to pull her torso. When Wyeth captured her in Christina's World, she was not resting on her laurels or day dreaming; she was pulling herself back to the farmhouse after visiting her mother's grave.
If I had known all of this as a young girl, would I have been as drawn to the painting as I was under my misconception of the story behind it? You betcha. Even more so.