In Search Of…Albert Schmiege

MAUSTON, Wis. — One Juneau County man is following his heart and his passion after being given some devastating news. Mauston resident Albert Schmiege is in his usual spot on the basement floor, ready to create his latest masterpiece. “This is my passion right here.”

“It goes back as far as I can remember. Even as a child, drawing and coloring and painting was always in my make up.”

As an artist, Albert has always seen the world through a different set eyes. But you have no idea just how different the world appears to him. “I’m looking to the left to see what I’m doing down to the right.”

It was 25 years ago that life as he knew it, literally started to fade away. “It was 1985 so I was about 24 years old.” “The first thing I noticed was the bumper of the car in front of me was on an angle. I knew something was wrong.”

A short time later, a doctor confirmed Alberts worst fears. He was diagnosed with Starguardts Macular Dystrophy. “Little by little, it was starting to deteriorate my central vision.”

“I couldn’t see license plates. Nothing looked like it was in an even line.” “I was devastated to the point where my children were little and the hardest part for me was not being able to see their facial expressions.”

He had to stop working, had to stop driving. One by one, so many of the things that defined him were lost. “Everything I knew up until that point totally changed.”

“You don’t realize how much you take for granted until it isn’t there anymore. It basically turned my life upside down.” But sometimes when things are turned upside down, you gain a new perspective. “I was always taught…if you say ‘I can’t’ it means ‘I won’t.'”

“When someone tells me, ‘you can’t do that,’ I have this automatic reaction…’let me be the judge of that!'”

So Albert decided to go back to the one thing that always made him happy. “Vision isn’t 100% needed to create a piece of art.”

“This was something that I could do by myself. No limitations. I paint in my basement, I don’t have to go anywhere. Materials brought to my home. And it gives me a lot of the independence that I lost.”

Although Albert is considered legally blind, he still has some sight. “When I look directly at something, my central vision is gone and I have to use my peripheral vision to see what’s in front of me.”

He also has trouble identifying colors, which for a painter can be a real problem. But Albert has found a way around that as well. “I use paper plates here and I mark the colors. Like right now, this is blue and black. To me they both look back.”

“People say sink or swim. Well I’m not a person to sink. So I’ll find a way to swim…”

Since he started painting full time in 2005, he’s created hundreds and hundreds of paintings. He’s been a part of dozens of art shows and has even had his work displayed in the state capitol.

“I’m very lucky to be able to do that even with everything I’m not able to do. I can’t even put into words the little bit of eyesight I have left is so precious to me.”

“It’s so weird to think this happened for a reason. I’m not sure what it is…but I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing if it didn’t happen. For every door that closes, there’s always one or two windows that open up.”

“Where will I be 10 years from now…I don’t know. I didn’t realize 10 years ago where I’d be today.”

“I’m thrilled at what I’ve been able to accomplish.”

There’s a little irony in Albert Schmiege’s blindness because his vision loss is helping the rest of us see things a little more clearly.

“I’m blessed in a lot of ways to be doing what I’m doing.”