When researching the early life of Massachusetts industrialist George Bird an amazing connection to artist Andrew Wyeth was discovered, as well as an odd coincidence. Perhaps it is a little weird to think that two men, born about 150 years apart, could have a famous place and an oddball fact in common and yet they do.
Francis William Bird’s biography, notes that when his father, George was orphaned as a boy, he was sent to live with his maternal grandparents, Alexander and Mercy (Bartlett) Hathorn. Records indicate Alexander arrived in Maine from Salem, Massachusetts in 1743 with his father William and either his uncle or brother Samuel. Each man was granted a 100-acre plot of land (lots #59, 60 and 61) in the Plantation of Lower Saint George, now Cushing Maine from Samuel Waldo. When William wrote his will in 1755, he only notes his wife Jean, son Alexander and granddaughter Jane Bird. What happened to brother/uncle Samuel is unknown. If he was a son of William, he is not mentioned in his will may indicate he had died. It is not known if Samuel remained in Maine or returned to Salem, if was married or had children or when he died, as he did not leave a will. Vital records from Salem do not mention this branch of the Hathorn family. The baptisms of Col John Hathorn’s sons William (1686) and Samuel (1690) are in Salem’s records, but not a marriage for either of these sons or the births of their children. However the 1737 marriage of Alexander Hathorn to Mercy Bartlett is recorded in Boston. Soon after the Hathorn men arrived in Maine they each built a log cabin to house their families, around 1780, Alexander’s son Samuel razed one of the cabins and built a frame house, which was enlarged by future Hathorn generations. Today that house is owned by the Farnsworth Art Museum and is known as the Olson House. The house was the subject of many paintings and studies done by Andrew Wyeth between the years 1939 and 1968, perhaps the most famous painting of the house is Christina’s World.
Andrew Newell Wyeth, was born in Chadds Ford, PA in 1917. He was the youngest of five children born to illustrator Newell Convers “NC” Wyeth and his wife Carolyn Bockius. Being a sickly child, Andrew was home schooled by his father, who not only taught him general educational studies, but also was his art teacher. It is said Andrew was a draftsman before he could read. The Wyeth family began summering in Mid-Coast Maine when Andrew was just a boy. It was in Maine, where Andrew met his wife Betsy James, whom he married in 1940. She had been coming to Cushing, Maine ever since she was a little girl. Betsy (James) Wyeth had known the Olsen family for years, as her summer home was nearby, and it was she who introduced her husband to the family on their first date. This meeting started a thirty-year friendship between Andrew and the Olson family. The Olson family were direct descendants of Samuel Hathorn, as their mother was Kate Hathorn. Over the years the Olsons allowed Andrew to maintain a studio in their home, and ultimately, the house and the family became the subject for over 300 pieces of art. In researching Andrew Wyeth, his middle name and his father’s first name of Newell jumped out, as well as the fact that NC Wyeth and his father were both born in Needham, Massachusetts. George Bird married into the Newell family of Needham. This turns out to be just an odd coincidence, as the Wyeth family does not seem to have any Newell ancestors and the family was originally from Cambridge, Massachusetts.
George Bird lived with his grandparents, he most definitely would have had visited the Olson house many times as a little boy. It is also possible this is the house he lived in with his grandparents. Often parents gave the family farm to their eldest son in exchange for life care. Alexander Hathorn does not appear to have left a will, which could give credence to this notion, however, the 1790 census indicates Alexander and his son Samuel did not live near one another. One thing is for sure, the Olson House on Hathorn Point in Cushing Maine is tied to George Bird of East Walpole/South Dedham, Massachusetts.
To view original, link to MOMA – Christina’s World: https://www.moma.org/collection/works/78455
“The Olson House,” Farnsworth Art Museum. farnsworthmuseum.org, (Rockland, ME: Farnsworth Art Museum) 2021
“A Brief History of the Hathorn/Olson House,” maine.gov. (Maine, 2020)
“Michael Komanecky, Wyeth” Andrew Wyeth/Olsen House Interview. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). Oct. 2, 2017. Accessed 25 Jun 2021. pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/946.