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The Western Wyeth

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Peter de la Fuente, a self-described “Western boy,” is the lone painter among fourth-generation Wyeths.We certainly connect Wyeth art and the Brandywine River, but with the Rio Ruidoso? Yup. One branch of the family has lived in New Mexico for nearly three-fourths of a century and, like their Eastern cousins, a passel of them paint. Call it the Hurd mentality.

The continental divide began in 1938, when Peter Hurd, a student of N.C. Wyeth, moved with his wife Henriette—Wyeth’s daughter—from Chadds Ford to San Patricio, New Mexico, near Hurd’s hometown of Roswell. The Ruidoso River rips through their 2,400-acre Sentinel Ranch, where two of the Hurd’s three children, Michael and Ann Carol, and her second husband, Peter Rogers, still live. Ann Carol’s son, Peter de la Fuente, grew up there. All are artists in their own right. Western artists.

“I’m not in any way a Brandywine painter or a Maine painter. I’m a Western boy,” says de la Fuente, 39. De la Fuente is the only member of the Wyeth family’s fourth generation who currently paints.

Maybe first generation N.C. Wyeth was a Western boy, too. His first published works illustrated stories about the West, and souvenirs from his several trips to Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico are fondly displayed today in his Chadds Ford studio.

This gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico,  features works by Wyeths and relatives.There is no Ruidoso River Museum to celebrate Western Wyeth art, but de la Fuente and his uncle, Michael Hurd, both run galleries that feature works by family members. De la Fuente’s Wyeth-Hurd Gallery is in Santa Fe, just a few blocks from the New Mexico Art Museum that is home to a number of his grandparents’ paintings. Michael Hurd’s Hurd-La Rinconada Gallery is on Sentinel Ranch, a four-hour drive south. Both galleries surprise East Coast visitors who always wander in, amazed to find the Wyeth name so far afield.

Chadds Ford quaint it ain’t, but the Santa Fe storefront projects its own adobe ambiance. Eastern folks will readily recognize a Helga print by Andrew Wyeth, though most paintings on these walls feature sheds, sagebrush and coyotes instead of springhouses, forests and foxes. Horses painted by Ann Carol and Peter Rogers hang amid Big Sky vistas by Peter Hurd and by de la Fuente himself.

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De la Fuente estimates he’s sold several hundred of his own paintings, ranging from $500 to $25,000, since opening the gallery 25 years ago. In a video about his own work, de la Fuente relates a conversation with his Great Uncle Andy, who said the sky in a painting was too blue, too dark. When he argued that the sky in New Mexico really is that blue, Andrew reminded him that he was painting air.

Many of the paintings appear luminous. That’s due to the egg tempera technique that Peter Hurd taught to his father-in-law, N.C. Wyeth, and to his brother-in-law, Andrew Wyeth. De la Fuente still uses his grandfather’s mineral pigments. De la Fuente sent one painting, “Afternoon at Llaves,” to Qoro, LLC in New Castle to be reproduced. “They are the only ones who can capture the luminosity,” he says, unlike giclée prints, which will last for centuries.

“South Hills at Tinnie” by Michael HurdThough he grew up surrounded by people talking about painting, de la Fuente says everyone in the family was encouraged to find their own way of working. “That’s why there’s a diversity of styles and mediums in my family, because everyone explored their own thing,” he says. “I consider myself a chronicler. I work from life, but I’m not trying to do a photograph. I may edit out houses or put an ant hill in the foreground.” He quips, “I can move mountains.”

His uncle Michael Hurd agrees. While it can be intimidating to be “in the wake of that great Wyeth ship,” he says, artists must see the world on their own. Hurd even prefers watercolors and oils to father Peter Hurd’s egg tempera.

Now 62, the same age as his cousin Jamie Wyeth, Hurd says saving the ranch, which he calls his parents’ legacy, was always a priority. Not only does he run the Hurd-La Rinconada Gallery on the property, he rents five guest houses that overlook the Ruidoso and the polo field.

De la Fuente’s “Afternoon at Llaves” Yup. A Brandywine Valley polo field in the Ruidoso Watershed. Peter Hurd used to play all the time with literati and glitterati back in the day. Michael was an avid player, too, and still has a pony he describes as “old enough to vote twice.”

“My father told me I had a practical mind and should stay out of the arts, but my mother told me I had a sensitive side,” says Peter Hurd, a Stanford University graduate who spent two years working in Chicago before buying a one-way ticket home. “I’m not a city person,” he says. “I’m a New Mexico coyote.”

After he started joining his father in the afternoons to paint, he decided to study painting and drawing at New Mexico State University. He often showed his work to his mother, Henriette, but if she waited more than 15 seconds to comment, he knew there was a problem. “Oh, that poor girl. Is her left arm really six inches longer than her right?” he recalls her asking with a smile. These days, his oil paintings fetch as much as $30,000.

“I love the Brandywine River Museum, but it’s OK to be out here,” Hurd says. He’ll go with the flow.  

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