It was a rainy Saturday morning and I had planned to complete my writing for a Sunday morning speaking engagement. Slow rainy Saturday mornings make well for writing to a backdrop of classical and operatic solos on the radio. In the early afternoon, I paused for lunch and while washing the dishes, I heard the radio voice talking about an exhibition of the work of William T. Trego at the Michener Museum in Doylestown, PA. He painted Civil War scenes. While that sounded dull to me, I continued to listen to what the biographer had to say about his Life and work. Trego was virtually a master at depicting military scenes on canvas and his short Life was wrought with struggles that would be insurmountable to many.
While the Civil War began when he was 2 ½ years old, shortly after that, he suffered an illness, now believed to be polio. It deformed his fingers, hand, torso, and feet. I found myself listening intently while the water ran from the faucet. I put the silverware down and while imagining what the biographer was describing, I contorted my wet hand and wrist, squeezing the fingers shut, and folding the wrist out and backwards. The biographer said that as a young boy, Trego began to paint (his father, Jonathan Trego, was a renowned artist) and in order to do it, he would work at grasping the brush between two fingers of his left hand, then labor at forcing the brush between his contorted right hand. He held the right hand somehow with his left and guided it, laboriously, to the canvas.
I picked up the wet spoon trying to simulate what I heard and slowly moved it over to my right hand. Then I tried to force it between two closed fingers. As water swirled around the basin, I guided the spoon in mid air to my imaginary canvas. I became exhausted from the workout I gave my arm muscles. The biographer continued to describe Trego’s training at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, and L’Académie Julian in Paris. On his way home from Paris, he was jilted by his fiancée en route over the sea, and a suicide watch was imposed on him by the ship’s captain. After the return home, he never quite recovered the artistic success he once had.
My Sunday talk went well and in the afternoon I decided to take a drive to Doylestown to walk around and perhaps to visit the museum if its hours accommodated my visit. I did see the exhibit and it was extraordinary. The sketch of his deformed hand at the start of the exhibit revealed a hand bent in the other direction from what I had imagined. It was more deformed, as well. His masterpieces followed and each had incredible intricate detail, vibrant deep tones, and mesmerizing facial expressions. Conversations I overheard were of patrons exclaiming their amazement at the skilled ability he had to depict terror in the eyes of the cavalry horses. His best known ability was to capture cavalry movement: the sense of horses with galloping legs and hooves in mid air. I marveled that the quality of the vivid detail and sharp coloration was like a 21st century digital photo, done in oil and canvas. Amazing!
By the first painting I was in quiet awe. The woman standing next to me could not contain herself. She came closer to me and said that she had come down from Wilkes Barre (2+ hours away). She burst out, “I have no excuse!” to which I said, “That’s exactly what I was thinking.” She went on to say how she put off so many things in her Life, especially creating art and that there was no longer any reason for her to do so, because she clearly had full use of her body and all of her faculties.
The show motivated me to go full steam at manifesting my dreams and to reclaim my creative abilities. It also inspired me to fully enjoy every experience I have. I stood in the middle of the museum floor, and before I left, I gazed full circle around all of the walls and asked myself, “What are you waiting for?”
© Dr. Drayton-Craig, 2011