I didn’t really realize that art had become my refuge, my mental and physical escape.
I had a very long and hard time with learning to read. Many years later, I found out that I have a mild form of dyslexia which means, in essence, that I didn’t and wasn’t able to learn to read the usual ways taught in school. Because of my family’s situation, after I had attended four elementary public schools, in the sixth grade I had to take a reading and comprehensive test and it revealed that I was reading at a third grade level. I had to repeat the sixth grade instead of passing me on.
That was devastating to me, but that was my reality. It was during that time that I found art books at the public library. At first, I just looked at the pictures, but I wanted to know more so there was my dilemma. The essence of art that I wanted was locked up in the words that were around and under the pictures, and I wanted to know all about that art.
The struggle was very slow and even mentally painful but the desire to learn about art was literally overpowering my own disability with reading. The next year after repeating the sixth grade, my reading and test score was 11th grade. This is what an obsession can do to a disability. I realize that few people become so inspired by a subject that it becomes an obsession with them.
This obsession carried me into places and circumstances I would have never been. In education, while my grades weren’t all that great, my skill as a young artist helped me to get in to a good college that I shouldn’t have been able to enter the front door, but several miracles happened and I was admitted. I was already married and my wife became my main inspiration and cheerleader. You see, she gave up her remaining three years of college education to help me get mine. Even at that, it was not an easy road for us.
Now, it’s over 50 years later. The delay that I suffered through by having to repeat the sixth grade put me on a different time schedule that allowed me to meet my wife which changed everything in my life. After college graduation, I spent a few years in the business world at various types of employment which all helped when, at a most inopportune time, we started my own art business.
We had no capital except my last weekly paycheck because I had just been laid off from an advertising company as an account executive because they said the economy was slow. No severance pay or anything like that. When I came home, my wife had a note for me. It said, in essence, “Thank you Jack. This will be one of the best day of our lives.” So with $200 to pay mortgage, car and feed two small children, we took $25 of it and rented a typewriter and wrote letters to companies we thought might be interested in our services. I then followed up those letters with telephone calls. The next 35-plus years is now history.
Art went from a refuge to a full-time business to a retirement of teaching, writing, and personal painting. I made a transition from a successful commercial business back to fine arts and teaching art so that others can enjoy this refuge that became so very important to me.
I teach classes at the Madison County Senior Citizens Center on each Friday morning from 9 to 11 a.m. The classes are free to the public and adults of all ages are welcome. On occasion I teach painting at the London Visual Arts Guild and at some retirement homes in the area. I have also taught classes at the library in West Jefferson for children and adults and at Matco working with the disabled. I also have been having classes at the Madison Correctional Facility. I have taken a leave of absence for a short while to see how my wife adapts to her new chemo medicine. Once that is on the right track, I hope to continue with the prison program.
My refuge has become much more than a personal refuge. It’s become my public refuge and I enjoy it very much. As you can see, my life has been based on small and large miracles. I see the Hand of God even in my failures which He has turned into successes.
Harry Croghan is an artist, photographer, writer and teacher. He can be reached at 740-852-4906 or by e-mail at [email protected]