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Chester County Press

Betsy James Wyeth, wife, muse and manager of Andrew, dies at 98

04/28/2020 03:32PM ● By Richard Gaw

By Richard L. Gaw

Staff Writer

Betsy James Wyeth, one of the great women of art in the Brandywine Valley over the last century and the long-time wife of artist Andrew Wyeth, died on April 21 at the age of 98.

Born in East Aurora, N.Y. on Sept. 26, 1921, Betsy Merle James was the youngest daughter of the late Merle James and Elizabeth Browning James. After graduating from East Aurora High School, she briefly attended Colby Junior College in New London, N.H.

Throughout her childhood, Betsy’s family vacationed in Cushing, ME. -- where they later moved to -- and it was where on July 12, 1939, at the age of 17, she met Andrew Wyeth, who was celebrating his 22nd birthday. On May 15, 1940, the couple married and moved to Andrew’s home town of Chadds Ford, where they lived for the next seven decades before Andrew’s death in 2009.

In addition to managing the business side of her husband’s career, Wyeth also served as muse for her husband, Betsy is represented in several works by Andrew Wyeth, sometimes embodied only by a highly personal object or setting that reminded her husband of her presence.

In addition to helping to manage her husband’s illustrious career, Wyeth was also a published author, art collector and a driving force behind the start of The Brandywine Conservancy & Museum of Art. She encouraged George A. “Frolic” Weymouth, one of the founders of the Brandywine Conservancy in 1969, to purchase, renovate and transform a 19th-century gristmill along the Brandywine River into an art museum, and promised to lend works by all three generations of Wyeth artists—N. C., Andrew and Jamie, and other family artists such as Carolyn and Henriette Wyeth, Peter Hurd and John McCoy.

Following her husband’s death in 2009, Wyeth gifted Andrew’s Chadds Ford studio to the Brandywine River Museum of Art.

In announcing Wyeth’s passing on its website, the museum called her a “catalyst” in the creation and opening of the Chadds Ford museum and a visionary in the worlds of art and architecture. As soon as it re-opens to the public, the museum will plan ceremonies and events to celebrate her life, which will include a memorial tribute display of 18 Andrew Wyeth works that depict his wife and muse, that were created over the decades.

She was also a founding member of the Chadds Ford Historical Society.

Wyeth is survived by her sons, Nicholas Wyeth and his wife, Lee, of Elkton, MD and Cushing, ME, and James “Jamie” Browning Wyeth, of Wilmington, and Tenants Harbor, ME; her granddaughter, Victoria Browning Wyeth, of Philadelphia; as well as several nieces and nephews including Amy Cook Morey of the Wyeth Study Center in Rockland, ME. 

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].