Nison A. Tregor (1904-1972)
The renowned sculptor Nison Tregor was responsible for the sculpted busts of three U.S. Presidents as well as multiple foreign leaders and numerous U.S. Army generals.
Treger was born in Vilnius, the much-contested city that repeatedly changed hands between Poland, Lithuania, and the Soviet Union. Today, Vilnius is the capital of Lithuania.
Treger studied sculpture at Wilno University in Vilnius and Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, Poland. From 1919 to 1921 he served as an officer in the Russian Army.
It was a chance encounter with Leo J. Kenna, the American Consul General in Warsaw, Poland, that led to Treger’s big break. Taking special interest in the young artist, Kenna helped Treger immigrate to the United States by writing a letter of recommendation to U.S. Senator Henry Morgenthau. In April 1922, he arrived in the United States to begin his formal education under famous sculptors Herman Atkins McNeil and Malvina Hoffman, a former student of the famed French sculptor Auguste Rodin. In 1925, he decided to anglicize his name from “Treger” to “Tregor.” Additionally, he became an American citizen upon marriage to his first wife Helen in 1931.
During the 1920s and 1930s, Tregor received commissions for sculpted portraits from many high-profile Americans including the Kennedy family. In 1933, he modeled President Franklin D. Roosevelt at his home in Hyde Park, New York. The resulting bust was the first made of the President after his inauguration. Pleased with Tregor’s work, the Roosevelt Administration appointed him to be its unofficial sculptor, and he relocated to his own house in Washington, D.C. By the time the United States entered World War II, Tregor had sculpted the likenesses of General Douglas MacArthur, General Hugh Johnson, and the composer Ignace Paderewshki.
Tregor enlisted in the U.S. Army Medical Corps in 1943. As a liaison officer at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C., he reconstructed in clay the shattered faces of soldiers to be used as models for plastic surgeons. His wealth of experience in sculpture, combined with his fluency in German, Russian, Polish, Czech, and Serbian, qualified Tregor for service with the MFAA. In April 1943, he was transferred to SHAEF, General Eisenhower’s headquarters, where he worked as an aide to General Walter Bedell Smith. In early 1945, Tregor was assigned to the headquarters of 12th U.S. Army Group as an MFAA liaison officer with the Reparation, Deliveries, and Restitution Division of the U.S. Group Control Council. In addition to his work at the Wiesbaden Central Collecting Point, he was sent on many special assignments within the U.S. Zone of Occupation to advise on the rehabilitation and restitution of sculptures. In 1945, he delivered to the Wiesbaden Central Collecting Point Auguste Rodin‘s stolen bronze L’age d’ Airain as well as Champagne’s Portrait of a Young Man after it was found in the Berlin home of Joseph Goebbels. Tregor also interviewed Arno Breker, favorite sculptor of the Nazi Party, regarding the whereabouts of Nazi looted art. The two men reportedly became friends.
At the end of the war, General Eisenhower posed for Tregor in a studio near Wiesbaden, Germany. Generals George C. Marshall, Omar Bradley, Walter Bedell Smith and George Patton soon followed. In 1947, rather than returning to the U.S., Tregor and his second wife Else travelled throughout South America accepting commissions from prestigious foreign patrons. In Argentina, he modeled the heads of Juan and Evita Peron. In Chile, he received a commission from President Gabriel Gonzales Videla.
In the following years, he travelled widely across Europe, working from a studio in Forte dei Marmi in Italy beginning in 1951, Paris in 1956, and Monte Carlo in 1962. By the end of his impressive career, he had modelled President Harry Truman, Winston Churchill, Henry Ford II, the Hollywood executive Jack Warner, and Greek shipping magnate Stavros Niarchos.
Nison Tregor died in Monte Carlo in 1972.
Photo courtesy of the Harry S Truman Library and Museum.