News Column

Artist overcomes sight difficulties, launches solo show

May 18, 2014

By Nathan Payne, The Record-Eagle, Traverse City, Mich.



May 18--TRAVERSE CITY -- Peggy McNew was labeled legally blind years before she picked up her first paintbrush.

Yet this month, through a combination of grit and positive attitude, the watercolor artist launched her work in three shows simultaneously.

McNew, a retired Glen Lake teacher, first learned she suffers from Cone Dystrophy when she was in her 30s.

She had previously struggled through school and college, knowing something wasn't right. Then the disease progressed.

"There was a time I couldn't read even though I was teaching first graders to read," she said.

The progressive eye disease now obstructs most of the painter's central vision. McNew describes what she can see as two C-shaped rims of peripheral vision with some color blindness mixed in. Yet, shortly after her retirement three years ago, McNew decided to try her hand a painting.

She signed up for one of renowned painter Charles Murphy's classes. Murphy offers his courses a few days each week throughout the year at the Traverse City Senior Center.

"She works very close up," Murphy said.

He has worked with a handful of painters with limited vision during his teaching career, some of them with worse vision than McNew.

"She works with her shortcomings by being more descriptive of what's going on."

McNew contends she doesn't really have her own style yet. She continues to learn new techniques and experiment. Most days, she rides a BATA bus from her home near Glen Arbor to Traverse City where she attends classes.

Other times she works in her home studio.

"I never had expected to do this, but why not," McNew said. "I always liked to draw."

She completed a total of 60 paintings that now are on display at the City Opera House, the Dennos Museum Center and the Woodmere Branch of the Traverse Area District Library. The biggest display is her solo exhibit at the library which will be on display through the end of May.

She also makes custom hand-painted greeting cards for friends and acquaintances.

McNew enjoys to paint barns and other old buildings as well as flowers. She creates her works from photographs and by looking through her thick glasses with her face a short distance from her paper.

"They're thicker than bottles," she said grabbing the ever-present glasses hanging from her neck.

The technique means McNew only can see a small portion of her work at once. It also gives her a unique style.

Some painters intentionally distort their works because of a personal vision, while McNew's work is influenced by her actual vision.

"With Peggy, it's an honest approach and has a sort of charm," Murphy said.

If you'd like to see McNew's work, it will be on display through the end of May in the McGuire Community room at the Woodmere Branch of TADL, 610 Woodmere Ave., during the library's regular business hours.

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Source: Record-Eagle, The (Traverse City, MI)