Willard Snowden knocked on Andrew Wyeth's door in 1964 looking for work. Wyeth was 'electrified' by the sight of him and took an immediate liking to this former merchant seaman. Richard Meryman writes that Willard was "destined to take an important place in Wyeth's cast of models...Wyeth saw him as an elegantly speaking drifter, passing through like a modern Wise Man, cloaked in mystery. From that moment came The Drifter. Wyeth painted the life-size head as a 'map of the world of all the Negroes at Mother Archie's, nostrils like one of the hills he walked over' " (Andrew Wyeth, A Secret Life, New York, 1996, p. 196).
By 1964, Wyeth and his wife Betsy had moved down to Brinton's Mill. Andrew, taken by Willard, allowed him to move into the school house on his old property where he also kept his studio. Meryman continues, "Painting him during that time, Wyeth thought of himself as part of Willard's daily environment—'a rare experience, as natural as breathing, like doing a picture of the corner of the studio.' Willard would lounge in an easy chair and in mellifluous, professorial tones expound on life and grape wine, ignoring his problems in the first caused by the second" (Andrew Wyeth, A Secret Life, p. 197). Willard posed for some major works during the few years he was in Chadds Ford, including Grape Wine in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
In Army Surplus, Willard relaxes on a snowy bank on the hills of N.C. Wyeth's orchard in Chadds Ford. Willard wears a deep tan hooded jacket from the Army Surplus store—a gift from Wyeth who mused, "Willard loved that hooded jacket I gave him"—and dark pants. His eyes are closed, concealing the bright whites of his eyes. Willard is rendered in subtle earthen tones and his entire body, huddled slightly for warmth, disappears into the barren landscape, decorated only by the few patches of snow. Willard seems as natural a part of the landscape as the earth beneath him.
Richard Meryman writes, Wyeth has "a tenderness for unappreciated people reduced by life—his reverence for self-sufficiency and perseverance—is a fundamental energy in Wyeth's work. He said, 'I think one's art goes as far and as deep as one's love goes. I see no reason for painting but that. If I have anything to offer it is my emotional contact with the place where I live and the people that I do' " (Andrew Wyeth, A Secret Life, p. 14).
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