Local artist and teacher Greg Telthorster was inspired by the Tuscan landscape, but his journey with a serious disease has inspired those who know him. His works are currently featured in the ArtWalk at Doylestown Hospital.
Greg Telthorster was born to be an artist and teacher. "Mr. T" taught in the Hatboro-Horsham School District for some 30 years at just about every grade level, but mostly at the middle school. While he was teaching his pupils about art, Greg created art, too. He brought beauty to life through oil paints, selecting rich colors and real-life subjects.
Several years ago, Greg and his wife, Marcia, traveled to Italy to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. It was the start of a "painting spree," as Marcia calls it. For the next five years, Greg would create dozens of paintings of the Tuscan landscape, iconic stone doorways and colorful meadows.
His work would stop only after a devastating diagnosis in 2005. Greg started to experience weakness in his right hand and was later diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig's disease. ALS is a rapidly progressive, neurological disease that attacks the nerve cells responsible for controlling voluntary muscles.
According to the ALS Association, as many as 30,000 Americans have the disease, and about 5,600 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with ALS each year. ALS commonly strikes people between 40 and 60 years of age, but younger and older people can also develop the disease. With voluntary muscle action progressively affected, patients in the later stages of the disease may become totally paralyzed.
Following the diagnosis, Greg continued to paint, but his right arm was failing. Mixing oil paints was a struggle. That's when three friends – who hadn't painted before – stepped in to help. They would become known as the "Painting Angels." At first Greg could apply the paint; later the "angels" would follow his directions and execute the brush strokes for him.
No longer able to create original works, Greg worked with a printer to make high-quality canvas reproductions called giclée prints of his oil paintings; available for sale on Greg's website.
Despite using a wheelchair for the last seven years, Greg has continued his artistic pursuits, which include showing his work. He has participated in Doylestown's Arts Festival in the fall, and over this past winter he had a show at Kathy Davis Studios in Horsham.
"Greg was so happy he got to show his art in the community where he taught the kids," says Marcia.
Since shortly after Greg's diagnosis, both he and Marcia have been very active in promoting awareness of ALS and raising funds for research. They've helped with the ALS bike ride in June and been enthusiast participants for several years in the Walk to Defeat ALS in Philadelphia and Bucks County. Last November, Greg wasn't going to go to the walk, so his friend Patti Stover decided to bring the walk to him.
"There were 200 people on the street in our neighborhood doing the walk and there was a band in our family room," remembers Marcia. "It was a remarkable day."
Patti is the Senior Executive Director of Nursing Services at Doylestown Hospital. She and Marcia became friends during Marcia's nearly 20-year career at Doylestown during which she served as Director of Volunteer Services and Director of Human Resources.
The team "Legs for Greg" composed of family and friends has helped to raise more than $200,000 for ALS research over the years. "We are always so touched by the support we receive," Marcia says.
Technology has allowed Greg to continue pursuing his artistic interests. He uses a Jouse, or jaw mouse, to navigate a computer screen. Since his voice is failing, he uses a system called the Eyegaze to move his eyes over a computer screen to 'talk.' Greg is currently working on a sort of virtual museum that can be used as an educational tool.
Marcia describes her husband as the "most amazing man ever."
"Greg never complains. He decided early on how he was going to handle this, that he would take the high road. He is a really wonderful person to be around. Greg is very inspiring to the rest of us. He handles everything with grace. And he does have a great sense of humor."
Greg's work can be seen in the Doylestown Hospital ArtWalk through the end of August.
"We are so touched that more people get to see the work Greg did," says Marcia. "The opportunity to display at Doylestown Hospital is very special."
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