Iconic American artist Andrew Wyeth died today at age 91. I was lucky enough to have had a brief, pleasant encounter a couple of years ago with the private painter when I was doing a newspaper story on his granddaughter Victoria Wyeth. He was very proud of her. Victoria, who was close to her grandfather, gives insightful, playful tours at the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, Pa. (about 1 ½ hours from Baltimore), where many of the Wyeth family paintings are displayed. Andy, as locals and family call him, lived nearby with his wife, Betsy.
Andy was no recluse in the area that set the scene for many of his stark, somber works in the Brandywine Valley. In fact, he could often be found at Hank’s Place near U.S. 1 and Route 100 in Pennsylvania with many of the regulars who posed for his paintings, including Helga Testorf. You may remember a bit of shock and awe when Andy’s nude paintings of Helga were discovered in the mid-1980s. But that’s history, and the family has dismissed the "scandal," Victoria told me.
I stopped by Hank’s—its motto is "Where Hungry People Eat and Friendly People Meet"—several times for a bite to eat while on various story assignments in the area. Andy could have been there, but you would never know, even though the place is small and cramped. (Everyone at the cafe was protective of him, and it was considered rude to even contemplate approaching him.) But then I’d hear, "Oh, Andy was just in here this morning," or "He’s coming back for lunch."
Hank’s is an interesting stop, and I recommend it if you’re in the area. But there are certain unwritten rules: stand politely in line at the door, don’t keep the outside door open, wait till one of the staff points to an open seat, pay in cash.
The menu is essentially really good diner food with items like eggs over easy; thick, triple-decker sandwiches; and plump, juicy burgers, many with lovely sautéed mushrooms. (After all, Kennett Square, Pa., the mushroom capital of the world, is right around the corner.) There are also platters like calves liver and veal parm.
But, in 2007, Andy also started chowing down at the nearby Brandywine Prime Seafood and Chops when the old, country inn was transformed into a spiffy dining spot. At the restaurant’s grand opening, I heard Andy was there, but it was so crowded I couldn’t maneuver around the room. I ended up being wedged next to an elegant, older woman in a fluffy, white fur hat. How pretty she is, what an interesting face, I thought. It was Helga.