BRATTLEBORO—Tom Scheidler’s upcoming one-man art show, “Of Two Minds,” will be his fourth in the last 18 months.
While this is a laudable accomplishment for nearly any artist, that Scheidler has been drawing for just under two years — at least for this round — makes the show, at Vermont Artisan Designs on Main Street, even more remarkable.
Scheidler’s introduction to drawing came when he was a fifth-grade student in parochial school, where, he says, “not much art was taught.”
A new boy at school was assigned to the desk next to his and shared some of his drawings of life studies and cartoon characters.
Scheidler, impressed, asked his friend for a quick art lesson.
“Just as he was going to show me, the teacher came back with a ruler and hit him on the knuckles... so that dampened my enthusiasm because I didn’t want to get the same thing he had got.”
“I put my artistic life on hold... on ‘zero,’” Scheidler explains, “because art was something the girls did while the boys were in gym... [Later in life] I didn’t think of art as anything other than a time-waster.”
Eighteen months ago — more than 60 years later — Tom Scheidler and his wife, Andrea, were going through old boxes, preparing to sell their house in Putney. He found some old art pieces, and art supplies and asked her what her stuff was doing in his box.
“That must be you, because I can’t do that,” she said, reminding him that he had created the cache of drawings, carvings, and sculptures in the 1980s.
Back in the early 1980s, Tom’s second attempt at creating art was interrupted by his and Andrea’s founding of the Greenwood School. Located in Putney, the boarding and day school aims to maximize the learning potential of boys with learning difficulties such as dyslexia and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
With Tom’s background in applied psychology and Andrea’s in education, they combined the two to create an approach to teaching that used art and the spoken word as major drivers of the core curriculum.
The Scheidlers retired from active roles at The Greenwood School in 1999 but they have continued participating in the local art and theater scene.
Andrea’s response convinced Tom that he had been able to draw. She is “always being incredibly honest with me,” he says, so he knew he could trust her opinion of his abilities.
Once his artistic interest was reawakened, he picked up his art materials for another try. Since then, he has drawn every day.
“I’ve become addicted, in a way,” he says.
Tom’s ambition led him to seek out a venue for his art almost as soon as he started drawing again.
He approached Stephen Coronella, director of the Putney Public Library, who granted him a one-man exhibit, featuring 13 works. He recalls Coronella saying his pieces were his “first stop” when he came to work.
Shortly thereafter, Tom showed his work in a one-man exhibit in a studio next to High Street Painters in downtown Brattleboro. Andrea remarks that “even with having to go up all those stairs,”it was well-attended and enthusiastically received by students there, and by local and visiting art enthusiasts.
Up the street a bit from the painting studio is where Tom Scheidler calls home these days: A few years ago, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, and he recently moved to Holton Home.
Andrea describes Tom’s assisted-living space as a room where he engages with the future, not as a repository of memories, stuck in the past.
“At 74 years old... Tom is very active,” she says. “We turned his room [at Holton Home] into a studio.”
His art is also displayed in Holton Home’s hallways.
Cathy Osman, Marlboro College associate professor of art, was visiting the home and saw Tom’s drawings. She invited him to exhibit his third one-man show in the vast lobby and hallway of the college’s Whittemore Theater this past winter.
The show, with 50 of his works, lasted for more than two months. The college presented two artist’s receptions for Tom. One was for the public, including residents of Holton Home, who showed up in great numbers.
The other reception was for the college’s art and psychology students. Art students attending an art opening might be expected, but students attending specifically as part of a psychology curriculum is unusual.
Tom’s studies of the workings of the human mind — he has a Master’s in psychology — inform his art.
“The psychology students were there because my art reaches into the unconscious,” he explains: “‘What’s the line asking for? Which way does this line want to go?’... [But] I goose it along a little bit.”
More specifically, his background in psychosynthesis — a therapeutic technique including such approaches as Gestalt and guided imagery, designed to achieve self-awareness and social integration in the individual — is a major inspiration to his creative process and his intentions for his art.
“Now I’m interested in the right-brain and how it works,” he says, referring to the hemisphere that controls one’s abstract and creative cognitive processes. “[It’s been] neglected for so long. I want to explore and legitimize it.”
‘As you draw a line, it becomes alive’
Acknowledging the contradictions in the art he creates, which mostly consist of a multitude of lines, drawn in ink on paper, Tom reminds the viewer of the reality that a one-dimensional line is a physical impossibility. Nothing in our universe has one dimension. Geometry teaches us a line in the abstract is a distance between two points, and a line drawn on paper has three dimensions — height, length, and width.
Thus, imagination steps in, and the artist develops a relationship with the line.
Tom explains: “The idea of a line, is invisible and therefore spiritual. As you draw a line, it becomes alive. Life manifests itself at the tip of the line. There is a starting point and an ending point.”
“In a drawing, there are millions of lines possible. Any time a line begins, or crosses a point, there is a connection there that happens that gives it meaning.”
He hopes that viewers appreciate the purpose inherent in his art.
“Take one more look before making a decision. [If you] take a second look, you might get a different answer. We’re making decisions all the time, [so] just be a little more conscious about it.”
He says it’s fine if people don’t like his art. But “just look at it,” he urges.
Art can separate the “glance from the gaze,” according to Tom.
“A glance is ‘eh.’ A gaze leads to a meditative view. If [my art] is not interesting enough for a second look, I haven’t done my job.”