Monday, October 25, 2021

A sentimental crusade

An epic of hubris and humiliation.

An epic of hubris and humiliation.

by Tara O’Neill

I know where a tiny gem has been secreted on Marco Island for decades. Okay, not so tiny, It measures-over 16 feet long; and okay, not so secret, it’s at the Library. Right next to Mystery H-Z

The diorama of Napoleon’s Retreat is a plexi-enclosed frozen micro-world of Cossacks, Sappers, the Emporer himself with attending staff, Chasseurs, Lancers, Imperial Guardsmen, bedraggled stragglers, horses, dogs, and all the accoutrements of 19th century warfare – including death. It’s comprised of over a thousand hand-painted metal pieces.

The diorama was constructed in the late sixties by a man named Paul Buckley in his garage workshop. I know this because he was my Dad’s best friend and he absolutely fascinated me. I wish I could tell you more about the talented and immensely charming Mr. Buckley, but all I have are a younggirl’s memories.

In the late`60’s, Mr. Buckley lived around the corner from us on Goldcoast Court, in a Mackle-built Polynesia-model home identical to ours. I was maybe 11 years old, and he was a twinkly-eyed old man with a brush of white hair and a disarming sense of humor. Whether you were eight or eighty, he looked at you when he spoke to you, and listened when you spoke to him.

Fade back, MARCO ISLAND, 1969…

Nerd that I was, I used to fib to my beach-bound friends that I was unable to accompany them due to homework, chores, whatever excuse I could think of, then I would peddle my trusty Schwinn to Mr. Buckley’s, whose garage resembled something akin to Santa’s workshop, only maybe a touch more macabre. There was magic here.

At the time I had no clue as to the magnitude of his project; I was, however, entranced by the many tables and shelves COVERED with teenie metal sculptures, tiny pots of paints, and teenie-tiny brushes. In the middle, would sit Mr. Buckley, painting each piece individually, tenderly, with the aid of one of those giant magnifying glasses clamped to his worktable. I must have been a terrible pest, but I was truly awed, and he

450, 000 troops marched into Russia in June 1812. 10,000 would survive the retreat 6 months later. Submitted

450, 000 troops marched into Russia in June 1812. 10,000 would survive the retreat 6 months later. Submitted

was terribly kind.

One day, after weeks, maybe months, of stalking this dear man, he offered me a brush and one of his figurines (okay, I’m pretty sure it was a shrub.) My heart trembled, but my hands were never so steady. To be even a small part of something truly fantastic is to touch the sky.

Eventually, as nature would have it, I did become a teenager and Mr. Buckley did pass away. It was years later when I discovered he had donated his remarkable time-capsule, that epic of hubris and humility, to our own Library, and it thrilled my heart. I visit it often, practically pressing my nose to the case, taking the time to look closely.

Fast Forward, TODAY:

Today, the Marco Library also hosts a revolving exhibition of original artworks by members of the Art League of Marco Island. This is delightfully fitting because one other thing I can tell you about Paul Buckley is that back in 1970 he was part of the founding Board of Marco’s Art League. Pretty cool.

Footnote: I suppose I wrote this column as a sort of sentimental crusade. I‘m worried that so few Islanders know the origins of Mr. Buckley‘s gift. The original plexi-glass case is looking a bit dodgey and I noticed a fallen tree in the first case. What‘s more, the historical details and map of the Retreat are presented in beautiful ,yet fading, calligraphy on parchment above the display. It’s curling at the edges, and taped where it’s torn. I think we may be in need of a little preservative action – in case any such experts are reading this.

It is my understanding that there is another, larger diorama at West Point Academy (he was a Navy man.) I hope they’re taking care of it.

Tara O’Neill, a lifelong artist, has been an area resident since 1967. She holds Bachelors Degrees in both Fine Arts and English from the University of South Florida, Tampa, and currently has a studio-gallery at the Artist Colony at the Esplanade on Marco Island. She can be contacted through her web site

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