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A Passion For Portraits

November 14, 2007|By DAVE THOMPSON

At an age when many girls are playing with dolls, Marjorie Tressler was dabbling in the fine arts.

"I fell in love with art from the age of 5," the 60-year-old Hagerstown native and South High graduate said in her home and studio in Waynesboro, Pa.

Now an artist with a well-established reputation in the Tri-State area for portraits and other works, she credits the color and beauty of the art collection in one of her hometown's cultural treasures, the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, with sparking her interest.

"I was inspired by the Museum of Fine Arts. I particularly liked the Singer room," she said. "After I saw what was there, I took any chance I had to take classes at the museum."

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Tressler's reaction undoubtedly would have been music to the ears of the late Anna Brugh Singer, who founded the museum along with her artist husband, William Singer Jr. Originally from Hagerstown, Anna Singer wanted to share her love of art by building a cultural center in her hometown.

While Tressler maintained her enthusiasm for art throughout her childhood, her pursuit of painting as a vocation was a long time in developing. After high school, she married and settled into a family life that included the births of two children, David and Lisa. Several years passed before her husband, Roy, decided to give her a surprise one night. Knowing of his wife's passion for the arts, he brought home an unexpected gift of painting supplies.

That was enough to rekindle her enthusiasm.

"I started taking classes at Hagerstown Junior College and also at Wilson College," she said. She got involved with local art groups, such as the former Wednesday Morning group at the Hagerstown YMCA and began studies with local artists active at the time, including Lester Stone of Chambersburg, Pa., and Ed Fenimore of Blue Ridge Summit, Pa.

As her skill developed and her work began to get notice, Tressler started doing work for payment.

"I started doing portraits sometime around the early to mid '80s and started doing portraits for business in the late '80s or so," she said. "In the beginning, it was kind of overwhelming, but I learned to manage it. At times, I still can get kind of overwhelmed, especially when I have a big project."

A one-woman exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in 1993 featured 24 of her portraits (12 commissioned) and brought further recognition.

"That was very enjoyable. It was attended by 600 persons on opening day," Tressler said.

For the past eight years Tressler has studied with Ann Schuler at the Schuler School for Fine Arts in Baltimore. She makes the long commute once a week and stays there for the day.

"It's a sort of master school where you work in the school with a master artist, painting and studying with them," she said. Subjects have included oil painting, still lifes, sculpture and landscapes.

"I've also studied anatomy there, especially the anatomy of the head, to help with portraiture," she said.

Her attention has turned to the landscape genre in the last several years.

"And I also enjoy painting children being children. That's inspired some of my religious paintings, and I've done many paintings of children at the beach or at a park," she said. "Hagerstown City Park has been the background for many of my commissioned works."

She was pleased when one of her "everyday" paintings depicting a white child and a black child playing together was accepted into the Museum of Fine Arts' permanent collection during the museum's 75th anniversary celebration. The painting is titled "Innocent Freedom."

Tressler makes it clear, however, that she isn't giving up on portraits.

"I will always be fascinated with a good face. I start many of them (portraits) up and finish them later," she said.

Indeed, if you walk through the crowded studio in Tressler's home, you'll find a wide variety of portraits in various stages of completion. Some are commissions, and others are paintings of models. There also are still lifes and landscapes she is readying for shows.

"The shows get your work in front of the public," she said.

Once she gets a commission to paint a family portrait, she's often called upon to complete others. After she finished a portrait of one family's children, the clients decided they wanted each child painted separately later as they graduated from high school.

"You get a lot of repeat business from grandparents," she said with a laugh.

Occasionally, Tressler works on larger products. One of her works, "All of God's Children Come to Me," is a 5-by-7-foot oil painting that hangs in St. Andrew's United Methodist Church on Maryland Avenue. She was baptized and married in the church and remembers attending services in its former building on Howard Street, which is depicted in the painting. Dominating the painting is Jesus surrounded by children in modern-day garb. Her child models included neighbors' children and her grandson, Chris.

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