The Magnificent Miles Avenue Menagerieum (and other collected thoughts)
By Tom Wachunas
Two current exhibits – “The Odditorium” at the Massillon Museum, and “The Creative Spirit” at the Canton Museum of Art – have each inspired a mood to have some fun with the notion of collecting. While I do plan to post something on both museum shows sometime soon, I’m lately on a vacation from “serious” critique writing, instead spending some down time ruminating (roominating?) on all the stuff stuffed into my studio over the past ten years and otherwise on to the walls of my modest but cozy Canton home.
For ‘stuff’ here, read ‘my art works.’ One of the hats I where is that of Curator of Collections at The Miles Avenue Menagerieum, located in the spectacular Northern reaches of Perry Township, which boasts the world’s largest collection of Tom Wachunas originals. I suspect there are more than a few artists in our midst who hold similar positions related to their own accumulated works, no doubt situated in somewhat fancier locales.
I also suspect that more than being disappointed owners of the unsold (or unsellable) labors of our passions, we are simply caretakers, unwilling to part with the lovingly wrought evidence of those passions. When pressed, some of us might admit the gushy but poignant cliché that these things which occupy the floors, shelves, or walls of our domiciles are somehow our ‘children.’ Other than stealthily abandoning any of them (with urgent “please give my child a good home” letter attached) at the entrance of a legitimate art museum, trashing them outright would be tantamount to murder. Looking at some of my more sordid practices of the 1980s, I guess that makes me something of a serial killer.
Aside from the aforementioned artworks of the past ten years, the only other seriously collected objects in my life were vinyl recordings. Five thousand-plus of them. That was at last count, which was toward the end of 1991, when I sold the entire collection to a decidedly thrilled but stingy record dealer in Greenwich Village. I was jobless, recently divorced, in debt, on the verge of being homeless, and desperate for cash. Rows upon rows of meticulously organized rock, jazz, classical, and international folk recordings, amassed over 20 years, stacked majestically upright across long and sturdy wooden shelves, were gone in an instant, sold by the foot for a pittance. For a considerably long time I was heartbroken by the void of silence that ensued in my life. The music had always spoken to me in one fashion or another.
No such void exists for me today. What I call my studio, ridiculously tiny by many standards, is really a haven for hearing what these strangely evolved aesthetic contrivances have to say to me. They spoke to me when I made them, telling me exactly what they wanted to be, and they continue to speak even as they gather dust. Sometimes I imagine them conversing among themselves, rehearsing the critiques and admonishments they will impart next time I’m in their presence. If they’re children, then I’m eternally grateful I don’t have to feed them. In fact they nourish me. And they often speak of how I should go about engineering the next generation of their siblings.
I think it joyously ironic that the once long shadow cast by the loss of my beloved audio collection has progressively faded into the light of my current visual collection. Cluttered and disorganized to be sure, it is a collection that nonetheless teaches me how to listen.
Photos: From the studio wing of the Miles Avenue Menagerieum