The woman of the painting is Christina Olson (May 3, 1893 - January 27, 1968). She had an undiagnosed muscular deterioration that paralyzed her lower body. Wyeth was inspired to create the painting when through a window from within the house he saw her crawling across a field. Wyeth had a summer home in the area and was on friendly terms with Olson, using her and her younger brother as the subject of paintings from 1940 to 1968. Although Olson was the inspiration and subject of the painting, she was not the primary model " Wyeth's wife Betsy posed as the torso of the painting. Although the woman in the painting appears young, Olson was 55 at the time Wyeth created the work.
The house depicted in the painting is known as the Olson House, and is located in Cushing, Maine. It is open to the public as a part of the Farnsworth Museum complex; it is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, and has been restored to match its appearance in the painting. In the painting, Wyeth separated the house from its barn and changed the lay of the land.
an historic site at the Farnsworth Art Museum
The Olson House is the subject of numerous works of art by Andrew Wyeth, including his 1948 painting Christina's World, now owned by the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Wyeth's series of drawings, watercolors and tempera paintings featuring Christina Olson, her brother Alvaro and the house itself, occupied Wyeth from 1939 through 1968.
On the day they met in the summer of 1939, seventeen-year-old Betsy James, who would later marry Andrew Wyeth, introduced him to Christina and Alvaro Olson. A summer neighbor and friend of the Olsons, Ms. James saw the Olson House for the first time at the age of ten. She later described it as "looming up like a weathered ship stranded on a hilltop." Betsy and Andrew married ten months later. Over the next three decades, a growing friendship developed between the artist and the Olsons. Wyeth was allowed to wander through the house as he pleased, and used an upstairs room as a studio.
Wyeth expressively documented life on the isolated, saltwater farm in many of his works. He said, "In the portraits of that house, the windows are eyes or pieces of the soul almost. To me, each window is a different part of Christina's life." For him, Christina and the Olson House were symbols of New England and Maine. He once remarked, "I just couldn't stay away from there. I did other pictures while I knew them but I'd always seem to gravitate back to the house. ... It was Maine."
The gift of the site to the Farnsworth Art Museum by John and Lee Adams Sculley in 1991 is especially appropriate because of the museum's long relationship with Andrew Wyeth. In 1944, the Farnsworth bought six works by the young artist, and in 1951 mounted a major exhibition of his work. The Farnsworth has now more than twenty-five works by Andrew Wyeth as well as examples by other artist-members of the family.
Please respect the rights of private property owners by restricting your visit to the Olson House site only. The barn, field and cemetery across the road are private property not owned by the museum.
A brief history of the house
In 1743, William Hathorn IV, Samuel Hathorn and Alexander Hathorn, left Salem, MA, to settle on the Maine coast. Each had received a 100-acre land grant on what is now known as Hathorn Point in Cushing, Maine. Hathorn Point is bordered by the St. George River and Maple Juice Cove and leads out to Muscongus Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. Like many other families in the area, the Hathorns were seafarers and shipmasters. Each man built a log cabin on Hathorn Point.
In the late 1700s, Captain Samuel Hathorn II, the son of Alexander, replaced one of the cabins with a frame house, creating the original structure of the present Olson House. His son, Captain Aaron Hathorn, occupied the house until 1859. In 1871, Aaron's son, Captain Samuel Hathorn IV, dramatically altered the original structure. A new, steeply pitched roof replaced the former hip roof, enabling several bedrooms to be added to the third floor. From 1872 to the 1890s, the bedrooms were rented to summer visitors and the residence became known locally as a "summer house." The family also established a successful farm.
In 1892, an early freeze on the St. George River forced ashore John Olson, a young sailor. There he met 34-year-old Katie Hathorn and her recently widowed mother, Tryphene. The women were the last surviving members of the Hathorn family. John and Katie were soon married and John took over the family farm. In 1929, two of their four children, Christina (1893-1968) and Alvaro (1894-1967), inherited the property and lived there throughout their lives.
The Olson House was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995.