The woman crawling through the tawny grass was the artist's neighbor in Maine, who, crippled by polio, "was limited physically but by no means spiritually." Wyeth further explained, "The challenge to me was to do justice to her extraordinary conquest of a life which most people would consider hopeless." He recorded the arid landscape, rural house, and shacks with great detail, painting minute blades of grass, individual strands of hair, and nuances of light and shadow. In this style of painting, known as magic realism, everyday scenes are imbued with poetic mystery.
American Modern: Hopper to O'Keeffe, August 17, 2013–January 26, 2014
Director, Glenn Lowry: Andrew Wyeth's favorite subjects were the land and people around him. He spent his summers in Maine, where he lived near Christina Olson, the woman who inspired this painting. Christina suffered from a neuromuscular disease and eventually lost the ability to walk.
Curator, Kathy Curry: One day he looked out the window and saw her crawling across a field picking blueberries, and he was inspired to paint the scene he was seeing.
Glenn Lowry: Wyeth significantly enlarged the size of the field to heighten the drama of the scene.
Kathy Curry: And he worked very carefully in the tempera technique to outline each blade of this straw. He even thought of the buildings in the back sort of as an after-thought; he worked on those much later. He really was concentrating on the field to show how lost she feels and how hard it is for her to crawl across the field to her home.
Glenn Lowry: In a 1953 letter to Alfred Barr, the first director of The Museum of Modern Art, Wyeth explained:
Andrew Wyeth (read by actor): The challenge to me was to do justice to her extraordinary conquest of a life which most people would consider hopeless. If in some small way I have been able in paint to make the viewer sense that her world may be limited physically but by no means spiritually, then I have achieved what I set out to do.