Did you know the woman in this painting was a real person? I didn’t. I saw the painting Christina’s World by Andrew Wyeth when I visited the Museum of Modern Art in New York. But I learned about the real woman in the painting this last week when I read the book A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline. Although the book is fictional it is based on many true facts about both Anna Christina Olson and artist Andrew Wyeth. Andrew spent nearly three decades using the upper story of Anna Christina’s house in Maine as a studio for painting. Christina and her brother Alvaro who maintained the family home were frequent subjects of his paintings. Christina suffered from a muscular degenerative disease and author Christina Baker Kline describes in heart wrenching detail how she coped with that in a stubborn and determined way. Christina’s life was marked by disappointment and bitterness and rejection, some of it of her own making.
This book is rather a sad read. Christina is bright and poetic and her teachers note her academic promise. All of that potential seems to go unfulfilled and unexplored. Despite this Christina Olson has been immortalized in Andrew Wyeth’s painting and so has the small piece of the world in rural Maine where she made her home.