On Friday, the University of Akron Myers School of Art will hold a free closing reception for Never Not Working: The Art and Influence of John Puglia, which has filled Emily Davis Gallery for much of the summer.
From 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, the gallery will host a lecture, silent auction and reception to honor Puglia, who died of cancer at age 48 in 2013. The proceeds of the silent auction will support a scholarship in Puglia’s memory for UA art students to travel to New York City.
John Sokol, Don Harvey, Michael Loderstedt, Andrew Borowiec, Arnold Tunstall, Jay Croft and Puglia’s sons, Sam and Jonathan, are among the artists who have contributed works for the auction. Tunstall curated, designed and installed the exhibition as part of a “team effort” involving some of the other contributors, Puglia’s family and his former employer, WhiteSpace Creative.
“I met him when he took my Photo II class,” said Borowiec, a photographer and UA distinguished professor emeritus. Borowiec recalled that Puglia had gone on “a class trip to New York City when he was a student here at UA, and it had a profound and lasting influence on his life and art.”
Moreover, said Robert Huff, director of UA’s Myers School of Art, the auction is not only a way to contribute toward keeping John’s legacy alive, but “to acquire artwork by some of our region’s most accomplished artists.”
Puglia, who earned a B.A. in mass media-communication at UA in 1988, was well known in the region for his own art and his collaborations with other artists through the magazines, gallery spaces and often elaborate events that he created. In the last year of his life, Puglia was particularly prolific, with two gallery shows of new work in Akron.
“John touched many lives,” said Tunstall, Akron Art Museum collections manager.
The two met in art school at UA in the mid-1980s. “He was a few years younger than me, but he was ahead of most of his peers in a lot of ways — he was creating installation pieces in the school hallways and doing things the rest of us wouldn’t have dreamed of,” Tunstall said. “He loved introducing his friends to art, music, food — anything that inspired him, he shared.”
Tunstall and Puglia reconnected when Puglia was at Roadway and Tunstall at the museum. “He had a family and still made time to make his art. His energy always inspired me, and I know I am not alone in that.”
His openings were orchestrated events, Tunstall said: “Art, live music, food and all of his collaborators in attendance. He would brand each endeavor — design a poster, make a rubber stamp, create a film and a soundtrack.”
Showcasing Puglia’s work as well as that of his friends, classmates, teachers and protégés, Never Not Working is likely the last chance to see all of the late artist’s work in one place.
The show occupies both floors of Emily Davis Gallery, with a career retrospective of Puglia’s art on the lower level, displaying his work as a UA student through the ambitious paintings and collages he created near the end of his life that focused on Akron’s factory culture and Akron-born heavyweight boxing champion Michael Dokes.
The upper level is dedicated to works by artists whom Puglia influenced and supported.
“It’s a kind of overview of his collaborations and people he influenced,” said David Giffels, author of The Hard Way on Purpose (Scribner, 2014), a collection of linked essays about the quirky, hard-bitten cultural landscape of America’s Rust Belt that is dedicated to Puglia.
An assistant professor of English at the University of Akron and a former columnist for the Beacon Journal, Giffels knew Puglia most of his life.
“John liked to put people together and see how they interacted — a real Warhol Factory approach,” Giffels said.
Also featured are copies of M-80, a publication Puglia launched and published from the 1990s through the early years of this decade. The magazine featured images and writing by new and established local artists as well as nationally prominent artists, including Mark Mothersbaugh, Gary Baseman, Cindy Greene and Dick Tappan.
Puglia worked 19 years at Roadway Express (later YRC), rising to the position of director of corporate communications. While there, he organized a Roadway-sponsored traveling Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and launched one of the first successful corporate websites. His Roadway site is now in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Museum.
From 2009 until his death, Puglia was creative director for WhiteSpace Creative in Akron.
He also founded the Millworks Galleries, which opened in 1990 in the formerly abandoned B.F. Goodrich factory space in downtown Akron.
“John was the guy to did all the work to open Millworks,” said Borowiec, adding, “he got the Projects Gallery started here at the school.
“He found an unused supply or janitor’s closet and asked if it could be used for student shows. The administration at first refused to allow it, so he organized a student protest. Then they agreed. It’s the one you see across from Emily Davis Gallery. We use it all the time now for student shows.
“He was really good at making things happen by bringing people together,” Borowiec recalled. “He was a kind of impresario of art.”
As part of the closing reception, a lecture by Mary Street Alinder, former chief assistant to iconic photographer Ansel Adams, will be held at 6 p.m. in Folk Hall Auditorium. Author of several books on Adams, Alinder’s lecture will complement the Fragile Waters exhibition showcasing Adams’ work displayed at the Massillon Museum through Sept. 14.
Following Alinder’s lecture, the silent auction of work by artists in the Puglia exhibit will be held.
“I know from the experience of working on this exhibition over the last year with his friends, colleagues and family that his generosity and influence is wide and very deeply felt by many,” Tunstall said. “That is a gift not many people have.”
Dorothy Shinn writes about art and architecture for the Akron Beacon Journal. Send information to her at the Akron Beacon Journal, P.O. Box 640, Akron, OH 44309-0640 or firstname.lastname@example.org.