A Story from The National Arts Program’s® History: Founder Leonard E. B. Andrews and the purchase that changed the art world forever

Andrew Wyeth's 'Helga' Time Magazine Cover

One cannot begin to tell the story of Leonard E. B. Andrews, American entrepreneur and publisher, without also speaking of the Helga collection that gained him notoriety as an art collector; nor can one study Andrew Wyeth, one of the most famous American artists of the 20th century, without also acknowledging the friend to whom Wyeth chose to finally reveal and sell his paintings.  The two men’s legacies are inextricably linked, though many of the details surrounding their relationship remain unclear.  What is apparent to all, however, is that Leonard’s immediate recognition of the Helga collection as a “national treasure” and his decision to purchase the paintings mark him as one of the shrewdest and most enlightened art lovers of his time.

Why Wyeth finally decided to reveal the existence of the paintings to Leonard remains a mystery.  However, even a brief survey of Leonard’s life suggests that Wyeth found in him a kindred spirit with whom he felt he could trust his most treasured work.  Both men were trailblazers in their own right; while Wyeth’s hyper realism inspired copycats in the art world, Leonard founded an extremely popular newsletter, The New York Standard, during the bankruptcy of the Penn Central Transportation Company that outsold his competition tenfold.  And, of course, both men nurtured a deep love for art.  While not a creator himself, Leonard had a particular passion for sponsoring amateur artists, one he developed while watching his own mother struggle to make a name for herself in the art community.  The founding of the National Arts Program® in 1982 allowed Leonard the opportunity to foster the artistic dreams of those to whom opportunities to display work was scarce.
Leonard E. B. Andrews (left) pictured here with artist Andrew Wyeth
Leonard’s 1986 purchase of the previously secret Helga collection rocked the art world and established Leonard as a major collector.  A private man by nature, a quality the reclusive Wyeth no doubt admired in his friend, Leonard remained rather tightlipped about the exchange, revealing merely that he recognized the collection as a “national treasure” and felt strongly that the paintings needed to be bought and exhibited. 
And exhibited they were.  In 1987 the paintings were shown on a nationwide tour in the National Gallery of Art.  Wyeth’s critics, whom jealousy had been conspiring to tear apart the artist since the fifties, lambasted both the artist and the collector for what they claimed as a crude display completely dependent on shock value. However, in the years since the collection’s initial reveal, many art lovers have come to see the paintings as Leonard and Wyeth viewed them from the start: an examination of the intricacies of human relationships, both romantic and not.  Leonard Andrews paid tribute to his friend’s dearest treasure by exhibiting it as the artistic jewel that it was, and patiently waited for the rest of the world to follow suit.
Written by Annina Black, NAP Summer Intern
About the author:
Annina is a sophomore in the Fordham University Honors Program and plans to declare as an English major this winter.  At Fordham she participates in the Theatrical Outreach Program and is a tutor for young girls at the Rosedale Center.  Annina grew up riding competitively for Gwyn Meadows Farm.