A Scholar and Artist of Remarkable Passion
By Tom Wachunas
“The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding.”
-Leonardo da Vinci
For those of you who missed the recent Repository articles regarding the retirement of M.J. Albacete, executive director at the Canton Museum of Art (CMA) since 1988, I include here the links:
Particularly thrilling was Gary Brown’s piece that started on the front page of the April 20 issue, and continued to occupy ALL of page A-6. I can’t recall reading a heftier or more warmly written Repository profile of a local citizen than this. And the fact that it speaks so comprehensively of one man’s astonishing impact on the local arts milieu is all the more gratifying.
So while there’s no need here to recap his curriculum vitae or an inventory of the commanding CMA exhibitions presented during his tenure, I feel moved to offer some thoughts along more personal lines.
I returned to Canton in late 1991 after living as an artist/ journalist in New York City for 14 years. It was to be at first a temporary geographic change - a critical crossroads as I needed to rethink the trajectory of my life. I don’t mind telling you that during my first several weeks here, I feared I had entered a cultural wasteland, devoid of a vibrant arts community or contemporary “gallery scene.”
But it was in fact my earliest visits to the CMA in 1992 that greatly swayed my decision in favor of settling in Canton, and soon I was regularly reviewing its captivating exhibits for two regional arts publications. For the remainder of the 1990s and well beyond, I’ve had countless opportunities to speak with Mr. Albacete (whom I will henceforth refer to as Al) about the exhibits I was addressing. I remain wholly impressed by the depth of his analyses and his gift for articulating them beautifully, both in written and spoken form – something I consider to be a fine art in itself.
From the beginning of our professional relationship, it was clear to me that his sage observations and assessments are predicated on a firm grasp of art history, which is in turn a manifestation of his very real passion for grasping and expressing essences. Through the years I’ve personally found that passion to be increasingly contagious, and I can’t be grateful enough.
Long before Canton’s downtown arts scene became a reality, Al’s tenure was already distinguished by an astute attention to the highest standards of aesthetic quality as seen in CMA exhibitions. More than an “executive” in the administrative sense, he is an inspired/ inspiring custodian and proponent of cultural excellence. And while the museum has been billed “First Stop” for the popular First Friday events downtown, I think it’s fair to say that the CMA has always been first in the minds of those who consider visual arts presentation as a vital component of Canton’s cultural profile. Thanks to Al’s tireless dedication to overseeing the presentation of truly edifying art, I also think it right, now more than ever before, to call the CMA “Gateway to the Canton Arts District.”
Now, thinking about his immanent retirement and possible pursuits to come, I recall a few past Repository articles wherein some local leaders expressed their hopes for Canton to become a viable cultural destination beyond just a football mania Mecca. So here are a few questions – challenges, actually - to Repository policy makers: Do you share the same hopes? Is it unreasonable to think that your newspaper itself could be a relevant cultural destination? Then why not elevate public awareness and include the voice of Albacete in truly educating your readership through his writing on the arts?
On a lighter note, if there’s anything even vaguely resembling a dowdy side to Al’s myriad intellectual and artistic interests, it may well be his love for limericks. These are humorous poems usually associated with naughty (some might say “dirty”) content, comprised of five anapestic verses in a rhyme scheme of aabba. [Note: an anapest is a metrical foot consisting generally of two short syllables followed by one long syllable, or of two unstressed syllables followed by one stressed syllable.]
A few years ago we were exchanging thoughts, albeit somewhat jokingly, about the efficacy of writing “clean” limericks, even though the idea does seem antithetical to their traditional nature. Still, in fond remembrance of all our exhilarating exchanges over the years (and certainly in anticipation of more to come), I offer this closing shot to Al and all my readers:
This is my work anapestic,
only a little majestic.
I labored last night
to get these rhymes right,
so here’s a poem antiseptic.