Yard Sale Finds: The Painting That Inspired the Texas Chain Saw Massacre

Tobe Hooper Christina's World

Here in New York, the weather is starting to warm up and summer has unofficially begun, which means that yard sale season is in full swing. There are few things I enjoy doing more than digging through dirty personal belongings on the lawns of my neighbors, and so needless to say I’m pretty damn happy that those colorful signs are once again adorning every telephone pole in my town.

The fun of yard sales is all about the thrill of the hunt, as you never know what you’re going to find tucked away in a musty box that’s been sitting in someone’s garage for the past decade. Sure, you mostly come across complete crap that you wouldn’t even want to display in your garbage can, but my experiences have taught me that patience and determination inevitably yields treasure.

This past weekend was my third major yard sale outing of the year, and thanks in large part to Memorial Day, my town was full of folks desperate to part with their unwanted crap. Early in the day I picked up a used DVD copy of Mulholland Drive for a mere 50 cents, but it wasn’t until I made my final stop that I stumbled upon the day’s real treasure – and this one is going to be hard to top.

One of the yard sale tips I’ve picked up on over the years is to NEVER pass up a sale, no matter how lame it may appear as you drive past. This particular yard sale indeed looked very lame from afar, with tables mostly full of old glassware, and I hesitated in even stopping. But I took my own advice and decided to give it a shot, and I couldn’t believe my eyes as I walked up the driveway.

Propped up against a tattered old reclining chair, which was presumably also for sale, was a painting. Now I’m not much of an art collector, nor am I familiar with many artists aside from the ones working within the confines of the horror community, but I immediately recognized this particular painting. I didn’t know what it was called or who the artist was, but I knew I was meant to have it.

Allow me to explain.

It’s pretty much common knowledge at this point that one of director Tobe Hooper’s big inspirations for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, aside from real-life killer Ed Gein, was a trip to the hardware store, where he imagined picking up a chainsaw and slicing through the hordes of customers. But Hooper recently revealed another major influence on the film: the very same painting propped against that tattered old chair.

My buddy Rob Galluzzo attended a Q&A with Hooper in California last summer, and he wrote up an event report for horror site Icons of Fright when he returned home. In the post, he relayed some of the info that Hooper divulged at the event, and I remembered from reading the article just about one year ago that the painting I had randomly stumbled across was the one Hooper cited as an influence on Chain Saw.

Unveiled in 1948, the painting was made by Andrew Wyeth, and it’s called ‘Christina’s World.’ Wyeth was inspired by a young girl in his town who suffered from Polio, which forced her to crawl from place to place, but it’s easy to see how Hooper drew his own inspiration from it. If you changed the girl’s hair from brown to blonde, the painting could quite frankly pass as a poster for Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

Now I’m not suggesting that this painting is obscure by any means, as it’s fairly iconic and the original is in fact housed in the Museum of Modern Art, but I got a huge kick out of the fact that I happened to stumble across a reproduction on the lawn of a stranger in my town. And that’s the beauty of yard sales: you just never know what you’re going to find, or where you’re going to find it.

The seller originally wanted $15 for the sun-faded painting but once I told him the story, he insisted that I be the person to take it off his hands and graciously lowered the price to $10. As I walked back to my car, painting under my arm, I couldn’t help but feel that I was precisely where I was supposed to be at that point in time, and that I was meant to inherit that painting on that day.

‘Christina’s World’ now proudly hangs in my office, serving as both a cool little piece of horror history as well as a source of inspiration – much the same way it inspired Tobe Hooper, all those years ago. To me, the painting is symbolic of the way that one piece of art can directly inspire another, and given its influence on one of the genre’s best films, I find myself inspired every time I look at it.

Happy hunting out there this summer, fellow yard sale aficionados. May you find many epic treasures!

Texas Chainsaw Massacre

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