Remember when? Remember the way the light came in…the sounds from the trees…and the car crunching up the driveway? Nostalgia is sentimental, yes, a kind of melancholic memory of what was.
Both travel and well-designed interiors can create an implied nostalgia, a sense of longing that relates to no specific loss – just a slight hint at something wonderful that might have been.
The best decorating photographs, for instance – the ones I linger over in magazines – are those that make me wonder about the person who has just left the room.
They were taken in Cushing, Maine, at the home of Christina Olsen. Christina is best known as the subject of the 1948 Andrew Wyeth painting “Christina’s World”, one of the most recognizable paintings of the last century. Christina lived in this house with her brother Alvaro and both were painted extensively by Wyeth.
The painting itself is melancholy.
Christina was paralyzed from the waist down, probably by polio. Wyeth came up with the idea for the painting while watching her drag herself across an empty field. Today, the house stands like an isolated memory. From the outside it is stark. Wyeth’s wife compared it to the beached hull of a ship. There were decaying apples littering the ground when I was there, adding a sticky sweet smell that may be what nostalgia smells like.
Wyeth painted the Olsens over and over, for almost thirty years, starting in 1938. He kept a studio on the upper floor of their house. Today, the 14-room farmhouse looks much the same as would have then, evocative of a hundred such houses in dozens of hamlets, where the wood around the door handles and the centers of the thresholds has been worn soft.
The light filters in at just the right angle and you can feel Wyeth’s inspiration everywhere. Fleeting. Timeless. And nostalgic, which is exactly what many in the art-world establishment critically called his work.
Olsen House is maintained by the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, Maine. The Farnsworth holds over 20,000 pieces of American art in multiple locations, including works by Andrew, N.C. and Jamie Wyeth. It is well worth a day’s visit.