As a daughter of one of America’s greatest illustrators, N C Wyeth, and a sister of one of the most prominent realist painters of the twentieth century, Andrew Wyeth, Ann Wyeth McCoy was part of one of the most influential families in the history of American art. Though a talented musician in her youth, she developed a reputation as a highly skilled watercolourist in her own right. Despite no formal training, Ann Wyeth McCoy focussed on serene, beautifully composed watercolours of the world around her, creating a visual journal of peaceful life in rural America. Ann Wyeth was born in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, on 15 March 1915, the fourth of five children of Newell Convers Wyeth and Carolyn Brenneman Bockius Wyeth. Her father, known as N C Wyeth, is widely regarded as one of America’s greatest illustrators, best known for his illustrations to the ‘Scribner Classics’ series, including Treasure Island (1911), Robin Hood (1917) and Robinson Crusoe (1920). Ann Wyeth was raised in a highly artistic environment that nurtured the creative passions of her and her siblings.
Their father was a patient teacher who encouraged his children to paint and draw in the studio of the family home, while the financial freedom that his fame and success as an illustrator provided allowed the family to indulge their interests. By the 1920s, N C Wyeth had become a celebrity, and visitors to the Wyeth home that Ann met as a child included F Scott Fitzgerald, Hugh Walpole and the actor, John Gilbert. Her two younger sisters, Henriette and Carolyn, would become successful artists and teachers in their own rights, while her elder brother, Andrew, would become one of the best known American Realist painters of the twentieth century. Though her younger brother, Nathaniel, was less artistically inclined than his siblings, he was no less successful; his talent for science and engineering was encouraged by his father, and he would go on to invent the type of plastic widely used today in drinks bottles and containers.
Though Ann Wyeth was given painting lessons as a child and displayed talent from a young age, her greatest childhood passion was music. She took piano lessons with William Hatton Green, a former pupil of the Polish pianist and composer, Theodor Leschetizky, and also studied composition under the pianist and composer, Harl McDonald. In 1934, when she was just 19 years old, one of Ann Wyeth’s compositions, Christmas Fantasy, was performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra, with Leopold Stokowski conducting. More of her compositions were performed by the Pennsylvania-based Kennett, Germantown and Main Line orchestras.
In 1935, Ann Wyeth married John McCoy II, a young artist whom she had met while he had been studying under her father at his studio in Chadds Ford. McCoy would teach watercolour painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia from 1946 to 1961. Together they had three children, John Denys, Anna Brelsford, and Maude Robin. Ann was encouraged to resume painting by her husband, and did so with a renewed enthusiasm. Working in watercolour, she focussed on painting the world around her – from the views from the windows of her Chadds Ford home to objects in her life that simply brought her pleasure. She had no formal training, and she viewed her work as a deeply personal chronicle of her simple life in her native Pennsylvania. Though at first the time she could dedicate to her work was limited as she raised her children, she continued to paint as much as possible, taking inspiration and encouragement particularly from her husband and her brother, Andrew. She sold her work directly at first, her first purchasers being the actor, Vincent Price, and the journalist and publisher, Hodding Carter. The first formal exhibition of her work was held in the late 1960s at the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, where she sold 28 paintings on the opening night. She continued to exhibit regularly at the Brandywine River Museum, as well as at the Somerville-Manning Gallery in Breck’s Mill, Delaware, and the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, Maine.
Another passion in Ann Wyeth’s life was collecting antique dolls. She received her first doll as a gift from her parents on her eighth birthday, with each subsequent birthday and Christmas during her childhood and adolescent years marked with a new doll. The collection grew so extensive that since 1972 it has been the feature of a number of Christmas exhibitions at the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford. The displays were designed by Ann, along with her husband, and after his death in 1989 she recreated the display for a further 15 years, until her last exhibition in 2004. She died of a heart attack on 10 November 2005.