After spending An Evening with Christina Baker Kline on March 28 at the Carroll Arts Center in Westminster, I knew I had to write something about her recent novel, A Piece of the World. I felt as if I had visited Christina’s World, as well as that of Christina Baker Kline.
This historical fiction is about the relationship between the artist Andrew Wyeth and Christina Olson, the subject of the famous painting Christina’s World. Kline used slides to let us see and understand more about the book and her connection, the famous painter, his masterpiece and the real life subject of the painting.
After moving to Bangor, Maine in the 1970s, Kline’s parents wanted their children to know Maine. They took field trips, and had a picnic on the grass where Christina was lying in the painting. The author’s mother and grandmother both were also named Christina. Her grandmother was around the same age as Christina Olson and was raised in similar conditions.
Kline was thinking of another book topic, when a friend told her she looked like the woman in the Andrew Wyeth painting Christina’s World. The painting depicts life in the early to mid 20th century America. Kline realized this was the subject she had been looking for and began to immerse herself in Christina Olson’s world.
As part of her research, she visited the Olson home and received help from tour guides and docents. They know their subject and are happy to share information, she said.
Christina Olson’s ancestors included a judge of the Salem Witch trials who never recanted his decisions. Gradually, most of his family moved away from that area to get away from the name, including Nathaniel Hawthorne. Christina’s family settled in Cushing, Maine, on a hill by the sea, named Hawthorne’s Point.
She showed sketches by Wyeth as the painting progressed. The painting shows Christina Olson alone in a sea of dry grass, looking toward the old, sad house.
Wyeth became good friends with Christina and her brother Alvaro. He used their eggs for his tempura paints and painted in the second floor of their house. She was 46 and he was 22 when they met, but seemed to have much in common. Both liked good conversation and silence. He added to their lives, Kline said. Wyeth is buried in the family graveyard beside Christina, instead of with his family.
Interestingly Kline talked about how much a teacher or someone else can influence someone, during a Q&A session at the end of the talk. I also remember a teacher who put a large A+ and comments “short, concise and to the point,” on my paper. I felt as Kline did. Someone thinks my writing is good and like Kline, writing became a major part of my life.
She felt a responsibility to get the book right, because she was writing about real people; people who are famous and some who are still alive.
She drew on connections with her grandmother and the strength of Christina’s relationship with Andrew Wyeth. “He could see her in a way no one else had done,” she said. Reading this book could change the way someone looks at the painting. A woman, who didn’t let her light shine, became immortal through the painting.
In her book, Orphan Train, Kline used information she had researched, but she created her characters. Also there was literally a train that helped keep the novel moving forward. In this novel, the movement is internal.
When asked what she hopes readers will take-away from the novel, Kline said that even an anonymous life has meaning.
What I learned at this author talk let me see so much more in Wyeth’s painting than I had previously. Still curious later, I found an article online by Jacqueline Weaver for the EllsworthAmerican.com, Arts & Living Lifestyle. She included the quote, “When you write a literary novel you start with character and from character comes motivation. Motivation leads to action and action leads to consequences.”
My friends who attended with me, Betty Houck and Lois Halley, also were impressed with the presentation. We had our books signed and enjoyed cake, decorated with an edible copy of the painting.
Lynn Wheeler, Executive Director of the Carroll County Public Library, said the event was possible thanks to Harper Collins Publishers and members of the Artworld Bound Book Club of Carroll County Arts Council.
Kline’s 2013 novel, Orphan Train, spent more than two years on the New York Times bestseller list. She also wrote four other novels – The Way Life Should Be, Sweet Water, Bird in Hand and Desire Lines and several non-fiction works.
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