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Andrew Wyeth and Swazi orphans

Yesterday I went to an exhibition of America’s most prominent living painter, Andrew Wyeth. He has spent much of his life in Maine and his paintings reflect that lonely landscape. He made a conscious effort to leave people out of his paintings in the same way that many of us live lives without …
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

Yesterday I went to an exhibition of America’s most prominent living painter, Andrew Wyeth. He has spent much of his life in Maine and his paintings reflect that lonely landscape. He made a conscious effort to leave people out of his paintings in the same way that many of us live lives without intimate relationships. It’s a sad aspect of our American cultural heritage which prizes independence over interdependence.

This morning I received an email from my coworker Ben Messner in Swaziland:

Our first day was spent delivering food to 500 orphans scattered all over the community. We found 2 very sick children laying on a mud floor. It was worse than what you see on the TV for sponsorship commercials. These children are completely malnourished and sick.

Bugs were swarming all around them and climbing in and out of every crevice. The children were either too weak to notice or had given up the fight. The one child had been fed a steady diet of alcohol and little else. Our hearts were breaking. Today the solution was to get multi vitamins and de-worming pills and make sure the caregivers cleaned hands with soap and used boiled water. The need is overwhelming.

Andrew Wyeth chose a life lived far away from such realities. People in his paintings often seem remote, isolated from society and its messiness.  We who trust Jesus serve a Lord whose lifestyle and message was very different. It’s sad when our lives look more like lives in a Wyeth painting – distant from the world’s pain.

“This is true religion, to help widows and orphans in their distress.”

Comments (14)

  • And there’s this deep yearning in us, even when we’re pushing others away. Christina’s World the painting in your blog could just as well be about Wyeth himself. Thank God for bringing people into our lives, for interrupting us with their needs. The fellowship we get as a result is a small picture of what we can have with God if we let him have his way.

    Cool observations, Seth.

  • Great Blog. Ben and Janeen have re-entered the world of reality for so many in the world. That’s the similar condition in which we found Alfie, the 2 year old living with us since September.

  • I can’t wait to have the opportunity to be Jesus to those in Swaziland.

    Thanks for these daily writings Seth. They are an encouragement to read day after day.

  • Seth, your reflection reminds me that Jesus went out and lived among the people, and He calls us to do the same. It’s rarely easy. But I’m discovering that if we allow our clay to be kept soft,the Holy Spirit uses our interactions with others to shape us into the character of Christ. Is the molding process messy? Sure. Is it meaningful? Always.

  • Mr. Wyeth’s work is not ment to be taken literally; the scene’s Wyeth paints are not “snap-shots” of the town(s) where he lives. Wyeth’s work, like all true artists, is a combination of imagination, reality, abstraction, feelings, personality, etc. He changes the landscapes, people, etc. to his liking- irregardless of world politics and religious affiliation.

    I find it a odd when people get annoyed with a artist’s work (in this case Andrew Wyeth’s) because it doesn’t fit with their idea of how the world should be, or is. Art is so personal, its like being annoyed with someone because they’re right-handed- just doesn’t make any sense.

    Mr. Wyeth’s painting, whether you like it or not, is a very personal statement and its asethetic and spiritual quality is going to speak to you or not. You have to look more at the work, and not assume that it should “fit” your world-view.

    P.S. please excuse spelling errors…

  • Hi, my name is Elizabeth Brown and I am 11 years old. I have heard about children oversees in orphanages and I want to know how I can help. When I get old enough I want to be a missionary and tells others how GOD helped me when I was little. I gave my life to the Lord when I was five years old and he has changed my life.


  • I believe you do Mr. Wyeth an injustice in “using” he and his work to make your “contrast”. To use ‘Christina’s World’ seems even more ludicrous when one knows that Christina Olson had a degenerative muscular disorder and was crawling across that field. To say he “depersonalized the pain he encountered” seems a very wrong synopsis, doesn’t it? What gives you the right to cast aspersions on the artist’s character or pass judgment?? Do you know him personally?

  • Cynthia,

    I stand by my observation – check with any of a host of critics and biographers on the issue; Wyeth’s personal perspective is elucidated by others – the observation I made was not a polemical one.

    What gives me the right? The same thing that gives you the right to disagree with my blog – it’s made in a public forum.

    Having said that, let me add that I respect Wyeth as a painter, his sympathy for Christina (what you observed about her muscular disorder was a well-known fact), and your right to disagree with me. Thanks for weighing in.

  • I find your comments arrogant and offensive.
    I would venture to say that as many paintings of Wyeth’s include the people of his life as well as his landscape. The way he lives and the choices he has made in life is between he and God and not for you to judge. I know that in his life he has brought much joy by sharing his gift with many. You cannot speak of the donations he has made to society because it is the one that does it anonymously that is truly obedient. His life is something you should glorify instead of make messy and painful.

  • I am a Swazi myself but decided to leave Swaziland for a better life in Europe because i had too many problems and i knew they were getting worse.I have 2 children and thank God i am making it now that i am in Europe.
    1.Swazi culture and tradition is disgusting they have no value for women and these women end up thinking it is normal for them to be involed in a relationship where a man is cheating you.
    Women have got no respect for each other they are happy to be involved with married men even though they are fully aware that these men do not want to support their children and again sleeping around is not regarded as sin.So first step is
    We need the word of God(More deliverence services so they can be delivered and know exactly who God is.(I know people in there are too hungry to listen to preachings now but God never fails)We need genuine repentence without God i am not seeing a way forward.We need to preach about fornication and waiting for the right time when you are old enough to cope.For howlong will people donate for orphans who produce more other orphans,please we need volunteers to donate and preach the WORD OF GOD,THAT IS HOW MY EYES WERE OPENED THROUGH JESUS CHRIST.I guess if i was still back home i would be having more children with different men.That is the only way i managed to help my family,through supporting them financially,word of God and encouraged family school leavers who had children at young age to go back to school.Again without the Word of God,without genuine repentence,and not going back to sinning,i tell you,there is no other way forward.

  • Hello-

    Great story about how God calls us to the broken and hurting people around the world. In 2008, I spent 3 months in Swaziland as a volunteer at El Shaddai Ministries, operated by Kallie and Charmain Coertzen.
    There are so many isolated and hurting people in the world. Sometimes, I feel overwhelmed by the compassion God has given me for orphans. I have worked with previously orpahned children in Ukraine, South Africa and Swaziland. I have seen first-hand the impact that God’s love and care can have upon once broken and hopeless children. Christ turns hopelessness into hope!
    Thank you for your work!

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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