Dorothy Brinton Parker, 64, knew members of the Wyeth family well. She lived close to them in Chadds Ford, Pa., spent summers with them in Maine and was included in many of the family’s social events. Dee, as she is known, also modeled numerous times for Andrew Wyeth, including during the summer when the “Helga Pictures” became public.
How did you get to know the Wyeths?
I met [Andrew Wyeth’s son] Jamie at the Chadds Ford Inn and within a few months I met Andy and Betsy. Later I met [Jamie’s brother] Nicky and eventually all of Andy’s siblings. It all started in 1982. I was in my early 30s.
When did Wyeth first paint you?
Probably 1984, I’m really not sure. One day he asked me if I would pose. I said, “Sure,” and I posed in his Chadds Ford studio near the north-facing window. I had on a white sweater with a red turtleneck. He titled it “Schoolteacher” — I was an art teacher — and it’s part of a private collection.
Around that time, I started to go up to Maine in the summer. The first two years, I stayed at Nicky’s house on the Wyeth farm as their “friend/helper” taking care of [Nicky’s daughter] Victoria and joining the family in all kinds ofl events.
Andy and Betsy were just down the driveway in their house, close by.
Wyeth would paint all summer?
Oh yeah. And one day he came up and asked if I would pose, and that’s when “Dee” was painted. I was looking directly into his eyes and he sat right in front of me. His watercolor board rested on my knees. Every time he looked down to work, to sketch, to paint, I could look down at the same time to watch the whole process. That was really special because I had an instantaneous art lesson from him. I learned many things from it. As far as I know it’s one of perhaps three paintings where the subject is looking directly at him. In most of his famous paintings, the models’ heads are turned, sometimes turned completely away. Think of “Christina’s World.”
Did he talk while he worked?
We talked all the time. Stories of his youth. About people that [Wyeth’s father] NC invited to their home when they were young. Actors, artists, writers. People with a lot of character. There was a lot of actor in all of his family. Makeup , costumes, facial expressions . . . Andy could make some of the funniest or scariest expressions. When he painted, he would screw up his face. Now and then, he would pick the painting up and put it at a distance, even upside down to see if the balance worked. He encouraged me to join him, standing back and looking at it. He would ask my opinion. He appreciated my sense of the artwork. He brought me into the process.
How long were the poses?
It depended on the light and the weather. If it were a rainy day he wouldn’t necessarily come over. But probably an hour and a half, maybe two hours, before the light changed. I posed clothed and not. That didn’t bother me. I’d taken life drawing classes, I wasn’t embarrassed.
Did you get paid?
In general, no. But once Betsy gave me $200. We were “paid” by including us in social events with the family and with boat rides, dinners, parties.
What was your hardest pose?
When I posed as Anna Kuerner [the farmer’s wife] for “Snow Hill.” I was on tiptoes with the right foot, my left foot was resting on a low stool and my arms were outstretched. He told me that I was his best model because I could hold the pose for long periods of time. He may have told that to every model. Who knows? . . .
I remember posing on a Maine beach, flat on my face staring at my shoulder and there were sand fleas jumping up my nose, in my eyes and all over my body. I enjoy nature so it really didn’t bother me.
I have no idea where some of these paintings are now. He hadn’t necessarily finished when I had to come home and get back to my art room at school, so I didn’t always see them completed. He did six paintings of me and I think four others that I posed for and he used in a different way, for example Snow Hill. I was once a mermaid statue at a friend’s pool!
You were in Maine in 1986 when the Helga paintings hit the news?
Yes. We could hear helicopters going overhead. Betsy said she fielded 90-something phone calls that day.
What was the atmosphere?
I think Betsy had been given a heads-up about the paintings. But nobody was prepared for the size of the media response.
What set the Wyeths apart?
Their energy. Their sense of humor. They are and were very knowledgeable and well read. They kept up with the news and politics. They mixed with all different kinds of people. They enjoyed people with character. They shared themselves easily with those they trusted.
The National Gallery show focuses on windows. Does that surprise you?
Andy did a sketch of me standing in a window at Eight Bells [his father’s house in Maine] from the outside, looking in. It’s all about balance and light, shadow and texture. He painted a lot of windows, with and without people.