Joseph Hertzi’s Grand Adventure
By Tom Wachunas
I have to smile when I still hear some people affectionately refer to the Canton Museum of Art (CMA) as “The Institute.” While the CMA assumed that name on its 60th anniversary in 1995, these folks also remember its earlier designation, the Canton Art Institute, which traces its beginnings to 1935 and the Little Civic Art Gallery in the Canton Public Library. In 1941, the Institute moved to the renovated Case Mansion at 1717 Market Avenue N., once listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, but demolished in the early 1990s. By that time, the Institute had long before moved to the newly built Cultural Center for the Arts, which officially opened in December, 1970.
Any appreciation of the Institute/Museum would be woefully deficient without considering – indeed savoring – the very remarkable contributions and accomplishments of Joseph R. Hertzi (whom I will henceforth occasionally refer to as Joe). During its Annual Meeting on September 25, the CMA Board of Trustees conferred on him the title “Director Emeritus” in recognition of his 38 years of service.
‘Service?’ Quite so. But after my delightful two hour visit with Joe at his North Canton home on October 7, and receiving a hefty pile of collected newspaper articles, photos, catalogues and annual reports to peruse, I think we should add another descriptor to our appreciation of his truly distinguished tenure: legacy.
He and his wife-to-be, Judith (who passed away in 2011), were two of only three students to graduate from the Akron Art Institute School of Design in 1954. When Joe spoke of his wife of 54 years during our talk, his visage took on a palpable glow as he tenderly recalled her artistry and their passionately shared commitment to art education. Helen Carringer wrote in an article for the Canton Repository in 1963 that “Judith and Joe Hertzi go together something like salt and pepper or bread and butter.”
After graduating, and during their courtship, Judith began teaching at the Canton Art Institute while Joe worked at Goodyear. At her suggestion he entered a painting in the Institute’s 1955 juried Fall Show of Ohio artists. And here, it’s fair to say, is where Mr. Hertzi’s art career began in earnest. The painting - an abstract called Orchestration in Jazz and inspired by Stan Kenton’s music - won a prize and was bought by Institute Director Joseph Hutchinson, becoming the first of several Hertzi originals to be purchased over the years for the Institute’s permanent collection.
Hutchinson (who was to become Best Man at the Joe and Judith’s wedding) invited Joe to join the staff in 1956 as Director of Education. Then, in 1961, Joe was named Institute Director, commencing a ten-year period during which, according to the Institute’s 50th Anniversary Commemorative publication in 1985, he “…almost single handedly ran the Institute. Many of the traditions and practices of the Institute observed to this day began under his direction, and there was a dramatic increase in the number of exhibitions with special emphasis on local and regional artists, growth in membership, more and varied educational programs, and attendance at Institute art classes went well over the 1,000 mark.”
Additionally, he was highly instrumental in the years-long planning stages of the new Cultural Center for the Arts. With eyes widening as he recalled those days and the many that would follow, and with a broad, wistful smile, he nodded and said, “There were just so many adventures we had.”
More adventures would ensue after 1971, when for six years Joe shared directorship with two interim directors before being reappointed to full control from 1977 to 1988. His accomplishments during this time included the All Ohio Biennial Exhibition (an event that was eventually discontinued after Hertzi’s directorship), significant additions to the permanent collection, great improvements in the scope and professional quality of exhibitions, and substantial growth in community and corporate support.
Among the particularly high points were two exhibitions in 1985. For the first time since its founding in 1866, the prestigious American Watercolor Society (AWS) premiered its 118th annual juried show outside New York City. The Institute was already dedicated to showing Ohio watercolorists as well as eager to show touring versions of AWS exhibits. But this time, Hertzi had succeeded in prompting AWS president Mario Cooper to bring the original exhibit here, and more than 11,000 visitors converged on the Institute to view it. And certainly even more celebrated that same year was “Andrew Wyeth: Works from Public and Private Collections.” Hertzi and Donald Getz designed the catalogue that contained an essay on the artist and his work written by M.J. Albacete, who had become the Institute’s first Associate Director in 1979.
Through it all, Joe continued to be an active artist, pursuing a variety of media and styles. He and Judith raised two daughters, Lisa and Emily, avidly instilling in them their own artistic passions. Joe continued working with the Museum until his retirement in 1994.
And with that, I will end by going back to the opening moment of our invigorating meeting. Call it a welcoming ritual, or an intriguing peace offering. All visitors to the Joseph Hertzi household are quickly invited to select one of his original artworks in the form of a column of transparent colored resin beads mounted on a metal rod, called a Beadsicle. The simple, charming name originally came from Joe’s eight year-old grandson, Benjamin Cornelius.
I regard my newly acquired Beadsicle with a great degree of reverence and gratitude. It does everything Joe hoped it might do, such as, in his words “…provide spiritual sensibility and healing qualities,” and perhaps much more. It’s a kind of magic wand, actually. For when I recently hung it outdoors, it caught the breeze, and the western sun, and began twirling in a tantalizing dance of multicolored glimmerings all in a vertical row. I thought of Joe’s years of dedication, the accumulated years, one-by-one, and vicariously embraced his hopes, goals, dreams, successes. So many adventures. The marvelous cadence of a life in art.
PHOTOS (from top): Joe Hertzi in his studio; Orchestration for Jazz, oil on board, 1955, courtesy Canton Museum of Art; some collected documentation; my Beadsicle, made by Joe Hertzi