Text by Wolf Schneider; Photos by David Cox
As the grandson of famous illustrator N.C. Wyeth, the nephew of Andrew Wyeth, and the son of painters Peter Hurd and Henriette Wyeth—whew!—were you encouraged to go into the art business?
I had an ambivalent childhood that way. My father, who was amazed that I had ability in things like math, encouraged me to do anything but the arts. On the other hand, my mother was very encouraging.
Your family line has produced four generations of painters. Are family reunions sometimes impromptu art workshops?
Oh yeah. We used to play this game where one person would draw a wiggly line on a pad of paper, and the next person would have to complete it into something—a mountain range or a vase, whatever.
What’s the most useful advice about an art career that you’ve gotten from any family member?
My mother used to tell me, “Enjoy what you’re doing and never, never give up. Cling to a ledge.” My uncle Andrew says: “Be definite. Better a definite failure than a tepid success.”
Did your parents influence you much?
I paint in watercolor, which is a spontaneous medium that lets things spread around—I got that from my dad. From my mom I learned my oil palette—the cadmiums, the yellow and orange and red, not a whole lot of black. The blues are French ultramarine and cobalt. Viridian for green, but she’d say green saturates quickly. I guess her father had told her: “When you’re painting green, use every color but green; put a yellow next to a blue.”
You prefer to paint from reality, as have all the Wyeths and Hurds, and you’re primarily a landscapist?
Landscapes and figurative landscapes.
So you live on the family ranch where you grew up in San Patricio, near Ruidoso, and you work in your dad’s old studio?
Yes, we have six guest houses and a gallery here. The studio is about 20 by 30 feet, with a giant north window and two large double doors.
Didn’t N.C. once tell your dad to make the doors big enough for horses to enter the studio? Yeah, and I think my dad did get in a horse a time or two. My father built a polo field here, too.
Tell me about the hand-carved doors from Mexico.
I think they’re from a cathedral. And there are 18-foot vaulted ceilings, vigas, a great fireplace.
Sounds cool. You haven’t always been a country boy, though. You went to Stanford University, sold real estate in Chicago, and were a member of the Kingston Trio for a while. Did you sing lyrics like, “I’m a rambler and a gambler, and a get-rich-quick scrambler?”
Yes, I did! [Laughs] And I did a record with my father of Mexican ranchera revolutionary songs.
Speaking of revolutionary, didn’t you go to a party at Georgia O’Keeffe’s house when you were 6 and get bored and announce, “These paintings are terrible”?
Oh, where did you hear that? It’s true! It was all adults—no kids. Bones, wheels all around, and I’m starved. On the walls were paintings of flowers, mountains, cumulous clouds. I whined, and my mother marched me out to the car and said, “That’s enough, young man.” I remember saying, “OK. I’m leaving. But I don’t care, because it’s boring, and these paintings are terrible.” [Laughs] But I didn’t really mean that. She was quite an icon. I have great respect for her.
At 59 now, what’s the trait that’s served you best in your career, and what’s the trait you deplore in yourself?
Best is my persistence. Worst is my tendency to postpone things.
On what occasion do you fudge the truth?
Oh, sometimes to avoid social things. Little white lies like, “I would love to go that 5 o’clock party, but my painting day is going until 7.”
Which artist, living or dead, would you most like to trade a piece of art with?
Winslow Homer, for a watercolor.
What’s the range that your work sells for?
From $500 to $20,000.
What kind of folks do you gravitate toward, and what kind turn you off?
I gravitate to folks who give out light—y’know, who’re constructive and optimistic. I avoid the light-eaters.
What does an artist need most: a good accountant, a good truck, or a good red wine?
I think the truck is numero uno. I’ve got a Tahoe.
When your time comes to kick the bucket, what sentence would accurately sum it up for your life?
“He loved the show that he saw—it was all interesting, all good.”
Hurd is represented by Nedra Matteucci Galleries, Santa Fe, NM; Hurd La Rinconada Gallery, San Patricio, NM; and www.wyethartists.com.
Featured in “My World” December 2005