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C-317 (His Loneliness Was Not A Game - In Memory of James Dallas Egbert lll)

C-317 (His Lon

20-January - February 2002

  watercolor, graphite pencil, gouache, ink, collage on 3 pieces of joined paper, 27"x 58"

On 25 August, 1980 while reading the Milwaukee Journal, my home newspaper, I was struck by an article titled “His loneliness was not a game", detailing the disappearance and eventual death of a 17 year old college student on16 August 1980.

His name was James Dallas Egbert lll.

Egbert was a computer science child prodigy in Ohio, who was pressured by his parents to attend Michigan State University at the age of 16. He disappeared from campus after his roommate, upon discovering that he was homosexual, moved out. According to a private detective hired by his parents, Egbert, unable to make friends on campus, briefly drifted into the mix of Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) players as a way to connect. His parents feared (wrongly) that he’d gotten caught up and lost in a live-action D&D session, a new phenomenon, provoking a nation-wide scare about the game.

The Milwaukee Journal Monday, August 25th, 1980
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The reality was that Egbert went down to the campus steam tunnels to take an overdose of Quaaludes. Unwillingly to publicly air the fact that their son was gay, the Egberts encouraged the false narrative of D&D and its effect on teenagers.

Feeling rejected, isolated from his peers, and unable to meld with a gay group, he dropped out of university and ran away to the gay party scene in New Orleans. He had contacted no one about his whereabouts. He tried once more to kill himself, this time with cyanide.

Again unsuccessful, he traveled to Southern Louisiana to take a job as an oil field laborer. While there, easily acquiring a gun, he took his own life.  James Dallas Egbert III was 17.

I had a visceral and totally personal connection to Egbert’s story.

If  my father had not been who he was, I could have gone to him while I was in middle school asking him if I could transfer to another school.  No such luck.  I still know the names of the 4 male classmates from middle school that remain with me to this day.  I could easily have been Egbert if it weren’t for my resilience and a deep need to paint.

The painting I began after reading the article would be titled “C-317(His Loneliness Was Not A Game - In Memory of James Dallas Egbert lll).

This canvas is first and foremost a political statement - of defiance, and loss, and ultimately of remembrance.  Egbert’s life ended in 1980 but his story speaks volumes to the horrible facts of how extraordinarily difficult a young person’s life was if he or she was gay at that time. 

If a young person is fortunate to be living in a blue state today they can’t imagine the daily pain and fear it was like for a young person in the 1980’s, but not all young people live in blue states.  Sadly, I think even now, Egbert’s life story is still not a thing of the past.

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Oil, graphite pencil, on canvas

33 5/8" x 42 3/8"

C-317 was preceded by 2 canvases - C-315 and C-316 - that laid the foundation for C-317.  However unlike the previous 2 paintings that were on single sheets of canvas, C-317 would be composed of individually stretched 6”x 6” hexagonal stretchers.

Initially I had planned for the canvas to be 8 hexagons wide (48”) as was C-316. However after having glued and stretched the 136 hexagons together and placing Egbert’s face onto one of the 4 lozenges, I knew the 48” wide canvas was too small.  His face was too readily apparent.  I wanted him to disappear into a vast field.  So the canvas became 96” wide.


I was thinking about Jasper John’s great canvas titled “Scent” (1973-74) while working on C-317.  And still I was not satisfied.  I had Egbert’s face floating in a wide expanse and still the work didn’t “add up”.  At this point I was reading articles about how each ceramic tile on the Space shuttles was unique. It triggered my final idea in order to resolve C-317.


I would put the entire newspaper article on 2 flanking canvases, each 4 hexagons wide (24”).  I was thinking about how the dimensions reminded me of coffins and soil. I used pâpier-maché, and encaustic to create a terrain onto which I applied the articles.  At 67 ½” x 195” (4 panels) it remains one of my most reflective and  personal works.


Werner Thomas

C-317 (His Loneliness Was Not A Game – In Memory of James Dallas Egbert III)

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1981-1987, 67 ½” x 195”, 5’ 5/8” x 16’ 3” on canvas (4 panels), Oil, encaustic, acrylic, enamel, graphite pencil, collage, wood-ash, pâpier maché on

408 individually stretched hexagonal canvases

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3-24 December 2001

Watercolor, graphite pencil, gouache, ink, on paper.

Sheet 17 3/8"x 20 3/4"

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