Born in Needham, Massachusetts, Newell Convers Wyeth became one of the foremost book illustrators and mural painters in America in the early part of the 20th century. He did illustrations for most of the major magazines and book publishers in the United States.
He grew up on a farm near Walden Pond, Massachusetts with parents who encouraged his art talent that was inherited by his descendants including son and daughter, Andrew Wyeth and Henrietta Hurd, and grandson, Jamie.
He studied art in high school and in Boston, and in 1902 entered the Howard Pyle School of Art in Wilmington, Delaware. N.C. Wyeth went often with Pyle’s classes to Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. Pyle taught his students to paint with great description and vitality as though it were life itself, and Wyeth, a subscriber to this view, was later credited with being even more skilled than Pyle.
His first sale of a painting was a wild bucking bronco, which became the Saturday Evening Post cover of February 21, 1903. The painting resulted from sketches Wyeth had made in the Southwest with his parents in his youth and from seeing the work of Frederic Remington in many weekly newspapers.
As a magazine illustrator for Scribners, N.C. Wyeth traveled in the West including Arizona in 1904, and in 1906, he returned to the West on assignment for Outing magazine. From these trips, he produced over four-hundred illustrations and paintings. During the visits, he drove a stage coach, climbed many mountains, and visited Indian tribes. When he returned to Delaware, he had numerous sketches and also artifacts he collected, which he subsequently used in his paintings.
After his illustrations for “A Day with the Roundup,” a story that appeared in Scribners, he had more requests for western illustration work than he could fill. And for the remainder of his life, this subject was one he frequently painted.
He also illustrated children’s books including Treasure Island. With money earned from that project, he bought eighteen acres of land at Chadd’s Ford west of Philadelphia, which served as his studio and his family home for nine decades and, after the death of his wife in 1973, became the site of Brandywine River Museum. In the 1920s, he became increasingly committed to easel painting, and he tried very hard to stay away from too many outside commitments so he was free to paint at Chadd’s Ford or the Maine seacoast where he and his family vacationed. Later, he told students that to be a good illustrator, one had to become an artist first.
Feeling a need to paint on larger surfaces, in the 1930s he began painting large-scale murals, and earned many commissions for public and private businesses. Many of his mural themes were based on American history.
In 1941, N.C. Wyeth was elected to the National Academy of Design in New York and was also a member of the Salmagundi Club, the Society of Illustrators, and the American Federation of the Arts. His work is in the collections of The Brandywine River Museum and the Delaware Art Center in Wilmington.
At the peak of a brilliant career, N.C. Wyeth was killed with a grandson in a train/car accident near Chadd’s Ford in 1945.
Michael David Zellman, 300 Years of American Art
Walt Reed, The Illustrator in America, 1860-2000