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Charlton Heston's secret love: the artwork of Andrew Wyeth




Charlton Heston, center, became friends with painter Andrew Wyeth (right), whose work the actor collected. (At left is Wyeth's son, Jamie.)
Charlton Heston, center, became friends with painter Andrew Wyeth (right), whose work the actor collected. (At left is Wyeth's son, Jamie.)
Courtesy of the Heston family
Charlton Heston, center, became friends with painter Andrew Wyeth (right), whose work the actor collected. (At left is Wyeth's son, Jamie.)
Charlton Heston and his daughter, Holly. The Heston family is in the process of auctioning three artworks by the American painter Andrew Wyeth.
Lydia Heston
Charlton Heston, center, became friends with painter Andrew Wyeth (right), whose work the actor collected. (At left is Wyeth's son, Jamie.)
Charlton Heston and his daughter, Holly. The Heston family is in the process of auctioning three artworks by the American painter Andrew Wyeth.


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Charlton Heston was primarily known as a movie star who later became President of the National Rifle Association. But he also harbored a love of fine art, in particular the work of American realist painter Andrew Wyeth, whose work Heston collected.

("Flood Plain," by Andrew Wyeth. Courtesy of Sotheby's)

Now, three works of Wyeth's that Heston owned will be auctioned by Sotheby's in New York in November. Holly Heston, the actor's daughter, joined us on the show today to talk about her father's history with the visual arts, and how growing up in a small Michigan town helped him identify with Wyeth's moody paintings.

Interview Highlights:

When people think of your dad, I bet that "art lover" isn't the first thing that comes to mind, but what role did art play in your father's life?

As a child, my father was an avid draftsman. He loved to sketch and paint, and he was often alone in the woods of Michigan and spent a lot of time reading books. So sketching, painting and reading were all big pastimes for him.

And how did he develop his love specifically for the work of Andrew Wyeth?

Andrew's paintings evoked the environment that he grew up in — he often painted lonely, desolate winter landscapes and they were just so all-American and simple and beautiful. And I think his work really appealed to my father, because it was familiar.

("Ice Pool," by Andrew Wyeth. Courtesy of Sotheby's)

And I believe there was also a connection between your father and Andrew Wyeth's father, N.C. Wyeth?

Yes. In those days, because they didn't have TV, kids quite often got lost in fantasy stories. My father read books constantly and his favorite stories were "Treasure Island," "Robinson Crusoe," and "Lives of the Hunted." And many of those stories' Scribner's versions were illustrated by N.C. Wyeth.

One of the three pieces that's being auctioned by the Heston family is a painting called "Flood Plain." In 1991, your father received a surprise package in the mail — a sketch of the painting from Andrew Wyeth. Your father sent a fantastic letter back to Andrew, and it says, "I haven't been so excited about a Christmas gift since I was 10 years old when I got my first .22." Were you around that Christmas? Do you remember him receiving that sketch?

I remember the story behind it. I think what made it so special was that it really showed my father the process of painting, the artistry behind creating the images that one finally ends up with.

In fact, the sketch is slightly different than the final painting, so you see the process of, What do I put in this corner? How do I draw you into the painting? Do I use a specific color? Those things are so important — you don't just quickly paint it. It's a process.

These artworks meant a lot to your father and I'm sure they meant a lot to your family as well. Why auction them off? Was there a temptation to keep them in the family?

The timing was right for us. My mother's 92 and we're downsizing from the life that we led with our family, and it's one of those things that we can't split in half. So we think it makes the most sense for another family to buy it and enjoy it the way our family did.

 



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