Wednesday, December 30, 2020




By Tom Wachunas


“Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and may not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”  - Genesis 11:4

“…Come, make us gods who will go before us…”  - Exodus 32:1


   #goldencalf? is the fourth piece in my series of altered -or altared - computer servers. This “found sculpture” is more of a 3D painting than the previous three (Deus ex Machina nos. 1, 2, and 3).

   I’m fascinated by the common use of the term tower in reference to these computer devices. It brings to mind the astonishing, indeed towering capabilities, the ubiquitous, ever-growing impacts of digital technology on living in this world.

   Think for a moment on the Genesis account known of the Tower of Babel. A hopelessly proud and self-possessed people set out to construct a ziggurat. It was intended to be a spiraled stairway to the clouds, a man-made mountain topped by a temple to an invented god. And more, it was a shrine to their own ingenuity and bloated ambition, an emboldened declaration of human autonomy and sovereignty over all creation.

   Or think about the Exodus account of The Golden Calf – a manmade proxy for God. An idol for worship.

   I see #goldencalf? as a cautionary tale of ensnarement. It’s a gilt (or even guilt) inquiry. Have we made a god of our digital technology? Is our willful dependence on it - our eager embrace of its programs, protocols and procedures, its scrupulous rules and rituals – in effect a form of adoration? Of worship? Of religion? Navigating a sea of algorithms, can my desktop ziggurat be my stairway to heaven?

   Wait! I know…I’ll just Google it.       

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Untroubled, Unafraid


Untroubled, Unafraid


   Painted meditations. Shown here are three small (8 ½” x 11”) paintings from my ongoing series of annual Christmas cards. The series began in 2002 with a Nativity scene - the birth of The Lamb of God. I also include this year’s offering of Jesus embracing our planet, along with the one I made in 2012, called “Mens Christi (Mind of Christ).”

   I hope that they prompt you in some grateful measure, be it great or small, to find light and comfort in the Faith and Peace of Christ, now and forever.

   May all of you have a Blessed Christmas.

   From John 3:16 - “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

   From John 14:27 – “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

   From Psalm 95:3-7 – “For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land. Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.”

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

In Memoriam: John W. Carlson

In Memoriam: John W. Carlson

                                                             by Tom Wachunas

  “I want to show definitions by gesture, slant and color that might be seen and held in small or large hands, feelings, emotions, pains, anguish, anger, love, pleasures, and irregularities, battles and tranquilities.

 I want to paint Pure Forms knowing I will never succeed at it, — you need a godliness for that — to consider Silence and Emptiness as they were at that very moment before the Big Bang — can you even imagine it? — waiting there trembling, and then intervals of violence and peace, as in a man’s history.

 But most of all I want to show — Simplicity — a man, one at a time, himself rubbed into his body by gesture, slant and color, if that be possible.” - from John’s beautiful website, at  

 My very recent Facebook surfing (where I found the above photos) has brought me to tears. The outpouring of response to the sudden passing of artist John W. Carlson is both utterly heartrending and inspiring. 

 We weren’t “close personal friends” in the way most people understand such relationships to be. And yet, and yet… During and ever since my first meeting with the man - at the opening of his 2017 solo exhibit at Massillon Museum’s Studio M – I felt as if we were true old friends picking up where we’d left off from a previous conversation. He simply had that enlivening way about him…genuinely open, approachable and grateful, generous with his time, and sincerely interested in and encouraging of my own journey as a writer and maker of art. That meeting remains, like his art, unforgettable. Here’s a link to my 2017 review of that first encounter:  

 Thank you, John W. Carlson, for the bountiful giving of your creative passion, the affirmative power of your articulated aliveness. You will always be present to me and the innumerable artists whose lives you touched. And may we all continue to be moved to join ourselves, indeed to “rub” ourselves, into the body of this world - in all its smallness and enormity, in all its fragility and vitality. Thank you, John W. Carlson, for showing us how through art, such “gesture, slant and color” is not only possible, but necessary.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

A Delectable Feast of Presents


A Delectable Feast of Presents

By Tom Wachunas

A woman's place was in the home, by Judi Krew

Shared Desires (A Cup of Coffee), by Patricia Zinsmeister Parker

(Not) Our Bodies Ourselves, by Priscilla Roggenkamp

Dancing Cirrus Clouds, (photography) by Charity Hockenberry

Imminent Storm, (oil) by Gerald Fox

Ormond Beach VI, (oil pastel) by Diane Belfiglio

Transitions, (encaustic) by Therese Cook

“When I think of art I think of beauty. Beauty is the mystery of life. It is not in the eye it is in the mind. In our minds there is awareness of perfection.” – Agnes Martin

“Art is restoration: the idea is to repair the damages that are inflicted in life, to make something that is fragmented – which is what fear and anxiety do to a person – into something whole.” – Louise Bourgeois

“…If art doesn't make us better, then what on earth is it for?”― Alice Walker

   EXHIBIT:  Annual STARK COUNTY ARTISTS EXHIBITION, at Massillon Museum, 121 Lincoln Way East, downtown Massillon, Ohio / THROUGH JANUARY 17, 2021 / Phone: 330-833-4061 / The Massillon Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday 9:30am - 5:00pm, Sunday 2:00pm – 5pm  

   The bad news is that it’s time once again for my annual complaint against the practice of designating special awards in juried art exhibitions (Best in Show, Second Place, Third Place, and Honorable Mentions). The good news is that I’ve decided to do something unprecedented (oh how I’ve come to hate that word!) this year by sparing you the trouble of trudging through more of my griping about a dated, silly ritual.  

   That said, I am elated to have a mixed media piece in this show called Writes of Passage, which I wrote about here on June 5 (and which you can find in the ARTWACH archive if you care to read more about it).  I congratulate this year’s top awardees, and my aforementioned objection to the awards process in general is certainly not intended to question the excellence of their works. I encourage you to listen to their statements by clicking on this video link: 

    Additionally, I commend all 40 artists on view here for their engaging contributions to this diverse and delectable feast for the eyes. It’s a remarkable assembly of 57 works selected out of 164 entries from 66 artists. This year’s jurors were Nolan Beck-Rivera, a Cleveland-based designer and founder of Heyhey Studio; Alexandria Couch, an Akron-based painter and printmaker; and Bellamy Printz, a Cleveland-based printmaker and owner of Deep Dive Art Projects and Editions. Their decisions must have been difficult.

   One compelling aspect of this exhibit is that slightly more than half of the exhibitors are women. Not that I’m surprised, mind you. Far from it. Stark county has been notably rich with accomplished women artists for a long time. There was even a point when I seriously considered titling this post “Hommage aux femmes artistes.”  However, my purpose in that case was never to imply that the jurors were somehow acting on a peremptory or exclusionary agenda, or that the exhibiting menfolk didn’t merit our careful attentions.

   Speaking of careful attention, consider Imminent Storm, a stunning oil painting by Gerald Fox (Honorable Mention). There’s a dramatic tension at work between the dreamy, glowing green field receding to a quiet, low horizon, and the looming storm above - verdant peace about to be engulfed by monstrous supernal forces. A fitting metaphor for the current turbulence of our sociocultural landscape?

   Turbulent indeed. In these contentious and traumatic times, many voices of women have risen with renewed passion and intensity as they speak to issues of female aspirations, empowerment, and identity. There’s an intriguing dichotomy conveyed in (Not) Our Bodies Ourselves, a dyed fabric work by Priscilla Roggenkamp (Third Place Winner). The four hanging,  camesole forms are somewhat suggestive of uterine anatomies. At once autonomous forms and yet tied together, are they united, or entangled?  I wonder: Is that loose-looking knot a symbol of solidarity, or an imminent act of subjugation?

 Patricia Zinsmeister Parker has three mixed media paintings in this exhibit. Her Shared Desires (A Cup of Coffee) was awarded Second Place. It seems like a still-life, though there’s nothing static about it at all. Parker  doesn’t paint scenic pictures in the strictest sense of the word. She paints attitudes, really, and with a thoughtful swagger. Call it mindful playtime. Her picture planes aren’t illusionistic windows but rather like dance floors, where bold shapes and textures pop and pulse, push and pull, all vigorously swaying in sassy saturated hues. Thoroughly electrifying.

   Best in Show was awarded to Judi Krew for her exquisite A woman’s place was in the home.  It’s a 1950s-style dress that Krew fashioned from vintage pieces of embroidery and tatting work made by Krew’s husband’s grandmother, Anna Drottleff, circa 1930s-1950s. This work - a collaboration of sorts - is an altogether bedazzling adventure in fibrous storytelling on Krew’s part. You could consider it a loving dialogue between two women spanning generations. Here’s a tactile conversation, then, about wondrously dexterous hands transcending time as they reconfigured pieces of old dresser and chair scarves, tablecloths, pillowcases and the like, into something far more than a domestic utilitarian craft.

   These days (and maybe more than ever before in our lifetime?), viewing an actual art object – up close, in real time - can be an efficacious salve for the myriad vexations inflicted by “social distancing.” Art always makes tangible the voices of the makers’ innermost musings and ideations, in effect transmitting an intimate narrative of their aliveness. Their presence.  Better yet, their presents. Which is to say…gifts. Looking at them, long and slowly, is to open them, to unwrap them. And when you do, here’s hoping it’s with eyes wide open, an alert mind, and thankful heart.

   So savor this feast. Be filled. And have a Merry Christmas.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Virtual Rebelrousing


Virtual Rebelrousing

Julia Wiseman (Narrator)

Emma Wiseman (Clover / The Cat)

Alaina Smith (Mollie/ Muriel)

Christian Sanko (center) / (Boxer/Pilkington)

Josof Ruttig (Squealer / Moses)

Tyler Kirker (Snowball / Benjamin)

Keon Dalziel (center) / (Major / Napoleon)

By Tom Wachunas


   “…Is it not crystal clear, then, comrades, that all the evils of this life of ours spring from the tyranny of human beings?...Man serves the interests of no creature except himself…”   - from the pig named Major, in his speech to the animals from Chapter 1 of Animal Farm, by George Orwell 

  PERFORMANCE: Theatre At Malone University, and Malone University Department of Communication, Visual, and Performing Arts, present ANIMAL FARM: A Fable in Two Acts, adapted by Nelson Bond from George Orwell's classic novel, and directed by Craig Joseph.

   The production features Malone University students Keon Dalziel, Tyler Kirker, Julia Robinson, Josof Ruttig, Christian Sanko, Alaina Smith, and Emma Wiseman, all playing multiple roles. ANIMAL FARM is a readers' theatre piece, adapted for the film medium during the COVID-19 pandemic. The students' performances are supplemented by music, sound effects, video clips, and original artwork by artists from around the country (featured in the exhibit currently on view at Stark Library Main Branch until December 5) to create an "illustrated radio play" of sorts, designed for online viewing.

    Remaining performance dates are Friday and Saturday, November 20th-21st. Tickets are $5 and can be purchased at

 Once your ticket is purchased, on the day of your selected performance, you'll receive a link at your e-mail address at 12:01 AM; this link will enable you to watch the production at any point during that 24-hour period.


   One viral casualty of this protracted time of social distancing is the art of live theatre. With local playhouses empty and their stages dark, where can an ardent theatre enthusiast go? Why, to digital technology, of course – that ubiquitous deliverer of virtual (though not always virtuous) life. Zoom is in the room, effectively making my desktop monitor a compact stage in itself, even if it is only a flattened, albeit inventive facsimile of 3D theatrical reality. An illusion of an illusion, if you will.

   Still, this project nevertheless delivers a skillfully crafted portrait and an otherwise deeply probing manifestation of the characters and their circumstances. So for the moment, you might consider putting aside any expectations you may have of seeing a conventional-looking stage production.

   There aren’t the traditional stage accoutrements here such as the elaborate artifice of costumes, variable lighting, or constructed sets. That said, and with thanks to the excellent camera work and editing by Josh Branch Productions, the incorporation of 46 artworks by various artists in the concurrent Animal Farm exhibit at Stark Library - like so many quotation marks or exclamation points - greatly enhances the dimensionality of the on-camera oral narrative. The proceedings unfold in a found environment, an actual farm, bathed throughout in natural light. It’s a bright, sunny day for a dark, satirical allegory.

    The seven student actors, directed by Craig Joseph, deliver this unusual presentation with an intense, emotive clarity that is truly riveting from beginning to end. They’re not simply reading Orwell’s words back to us, vivid as those words certainly are. Often looking directly into the camera, they perform the words with earnest credibility, actualizing them in the same way eyewitnesses to a revolution might look us in the eye as they report what they have experienced. And interestingly enough, beyond the specific events being described in Orwell’s narrative, the most compelling, tangible actions in this entire production are to be found in the sharply honed authenticity of facial expressions and mesmerizing vocal inflections from each these gifted performers as they confidently trot, canter, and gallop through the story.  

   Here’s hoping that in the not- too- distant future, we’ll see them again, electrifying our local stages.         

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

2020 Hindsight: An Old Story Still Unfolding

 2020 Hindsight: An Old Story Still Unfolding 

Pigs Drink Whiskey, by Bobby Rosenstock

Indoctrination: The Leash of Loyalty, by Michele Waalkes

Jones and Farmers Drink, Gossip, by Aimee Lambes

Squealer Spins, by Shane and Kelly Roach

Men are Pigs and Pigs are Men, by BZTAT

Napoleon Takes Power, by Patrick Buckhor

The Evening Speech, by Erin Mulligan

By Tom Wachunas


EXHIBIT: ANIMAL FARM: A 75th ANNIVERSARY APPRECIATION / curated by Craig Joseph / On view at Stark Library, Main Branch, 715 Market Avenue North, Canton, Ohio / on view Through Sat. Dec 5, 2020 during regular library hours.

   “It's with great excitement that I invite you all to ANIMAL FARM: A 75th Anniversary Appreciation… I've revived the Translations Art Gallery brand and partnered with Stark Library to host an exhibit of 52 scenes from the book, created by artists from Stark County, Ohio, and around the nation. These are people whose work I treasure and admire and I'm so honored to have them all creating and exhibiting under one roof.”   - Craig Joseph, curator

Click on this link for digital catalog of entire exhibit, and purchase information:

 Sign up here to attend a Zoom Panel Discussion with several of the participating artists on Thursday, Nov. 12, 7 to 8 p.m.:


    First, let me repeat what I wrote here in my post from Oct 19. “I’m thrilled and grateful that Craig invited me to exhibit a new work for this show. In my re-reading of George Orwell’s classic tale about a rebellion of farm animals against their human keepers, I was startled at how the vivid narrative seemed to literally pop off the pages and invade my consciousness, my sense of place in time. While Orwell’s novel was a bitterly satirical allegory of the Russian Revolution and its tumultuous aftermath, I felt the story explode beyond the confines of its time. An ignoble ethos of tyranny and corrupted ideals, the story still lives today, outside the book. A then has become a now.”

   The exhibit is among the most riveting thematic group shows I’ve ever seen in Canton. With 54 works by 53 artists, it’s a megadose of remarkable creativity and an otherwise a spectacular panoply of aesthetic styles and media.

   Craig Joseph’s curatorial prowess is in full force here, reminding me that superb curating is a performative act in itself. He mounted the individual artworks as numbered episodes, each with an accompanying brief synopsis, retracing the order of the story’s events as they unfolded in the novel. So even if you’ve never read the book, or forgotten it, you can still follow the narrative. He has also provided a complete digital catalog of the artworks (click on the hyperlink above). For the duration of the show, his vigilance goes further still with his very astute comments via live Facebook posts wherein he provides a closer look at two pieces every day (except Sundays).

   Much more than a collection of storybook “illustrations” in the conventional graphics sense, the artworks here form an altogether stunning, multi-dimensional translation of Orwell’s novel. Maybe you could think of this gathering of artists as a singular entity on task to not simply retell an old story, but to illuminate, enhance, and intensify it with a new sense of immediacy – even urgency. Many of these fervent creators have articulated uncanny parallels between Orwell’s descriptions of sociopolitical chaos and depravity, and the distressing conditions of our own time. A wild journey, to be sure, and one that yields truly compelling art.

One more note: be sure to check out ANIMAL FARM: A FABLE IN TWO ACTS, an online theatrical production by Malone University Theatre, adapted by Nelson Bond and directed by Craig Joseph,

Fridays and Saturdays, November 13th and 14th / November 20th and 21st

Tickets $5.00 at

Friday, November 6, 2020

Description and De-scription


Description and De-scription

By Tom Wachunas


“…Cursive, after all, remains for me the most urgent if not earnest form of drawing.”  -from my Oct. 19 ARTWACH post


    My hypergraphia is acting up again, prompting yet another response to this protracted season of national trauma. These are turgid times. Caught up in a torturous maelstrom of manic anxiety and sociopolitical tensions, we writhe, blurting our pledges and prayers through gritted teeth, desperate for deliverance from our disease and dissension.

   My most recent artwork (which I have tentatively titled Politics and Religion) was sparked by watching a TV news report on the presidential election as I simultaneously flipped through one of my art history books. Something ignited in me when I saw a photograph of Lacoön and His Sons. It’s a magnificent, life-sized Greek marble sculpture from the 1st century BCE. The sculpture illustrates a moment from the Trojan war when the priest Lacoön warned Troy not to let the giant wooden horse, “gifted” by the Greeks, inside the city walls. The gods were angered, and sent serpents from the sea to kill the priest and his two sons.

   My graphite rendering (along with some altered photo-transfers) of the statue is not, however, intended as a remembrance of the mythological narrative per se. Nor is it necessarily a commentary on divine wrath. It’s more a metaphorical springboard into my concerns about the current spiritual state of our country - the gripping drama of a society in the painful throes of a tragic identity crisis.

   And so it is that my piece does include a written (in cursive) narrative of sorts. It’s drawn from a phrase in the American pledge of allegiance: “…one nation, under God, indivisible…” My written script is a series of repeated re-arrangements of the phrase’s original word order. Call it a serpentine, run-on scrawl, creating other meanings, questions, and emphases suggesting a troubled society adrift in its dividedness. InoneGodundernationdivisible.underonegodgodnationonedivisiblenationingodunderinonegoddivisiblenationinonenationunderdivisiblegodinonedivisiblegodundernationonenationgodindivisibleunder Etc., etc.

   One nation? Under God? Indivisible? Really? What have we wrought?  

Monday, October 19, 2020

A Timely Revival


A Timely Revival

By Tom Wachunas


EXHIBIT: ANIMAL FARM: A 75th ANNIVERSARY APPRECIATION / On view at Stark Library, Main Branch, 715 Market Avenue North, Canton, Ohio / Sat. November 7 through Sat. Dec 5 during regular library hours / For those wishing to attend a socially distanced  PRIVATE OPENING (masks required) on Friday November 6 from 5 to 8p.m.,  sign up for a slot at  


 First, please read this announcement from Craig Joseph:

“Though a more relaxed schedule has been a blessing, one of the things I've missed during the pandemic is having the opportunity to shape and champion the work of other artists - both on stage and through visual art.

So it's with great excitement that I invite you all to ANIMAL FARM: A 75th Anniversary Appreciation. In celebration of this classic novel, I've revived the Translations Art Gallery brand and partnered with Stark Library to host an exhibit of 52 scenes from the book, created by artists from Stark County, Ohio, and around the nation. These are people whose work I treasure and admire and I'm so honored to have them all creating and exhibiting under one roof.

Additionally, I've cherished my opportunity to work with students at Malone University and specifically through Theatre At Malone University, where we'll be presenting an online production of ANIMAL FARM: A Fable in Two Acts, by Nelson Bond. These students have worked incredibly hard to create a "visual radio play" of sorts that you can view online, and I think you'll be impressed by their creativity and skill in still making theatre happen during a pandemic.

Details about all of these events - along with a few more - can be found at

 I hope you'll take the opportunity during the month of November to engage with the arts and support the work of these talented folks.”


   I’m thrilled and grateful that Craig invited me to exhibit a new work for this show. In my re-reading of George Orwell’s classic tale about a rebellion of farm animals against their human keepers, I was startled at how the vivid narrative seemed to literally pop off the pages and invade my consciousness, my sense of place in time. While Orwell’s novel was a bitterly satirical allegory of the Russian Revolution and its tumultuous aftermath, I felt the story explode beyond the confines of its time. An ignoble ethos of tyranny and corrupted ideals, the story still lives today, outside the book. A then has become a now.

   My wall piece is an assemblage of found objects (a hardcover book, stones, and plastic toy farm animals). Call it a 3D drawing which I’ve titled, “The fruit of all their struggles.” It addresses the episode in chapter 6 wherein the windmill being constructed by the animals was destroyed. The ferocious leader of the animal community, a boar named Napoleon, blames another banished pig, Snowball, for this treacherous act.

   Here are Orwell’s words describing the scene: 

    “…A terrible sight had met their eyes. The windmill was in ruins.

    With one accord they rushed down to the spot. Napoleon, who seldom moved out of a walk, raced ahead of them all. Yes, there it lay, the fruit of all their struggles, levelled to its foundations, the stones they had broken and carried so laboriously scattered all around. Unable at first to speak, they stood gazing mournfully at the litter of fallen stone. Napoleon paced to and fro in silence, occasionally snuffing at the ground. His tail had grown rigid and twitched sharply from side to side, a sign in him of intense mental activit. Suddenly he halted as though his mind were made up.

’Comrades,’ he said quietly, ‘do you know who is responsible for this? Do you know the enemy who has come in the night and overthrown our windmill? SNOWBALL!’ he suddenly roared in a voice of thunder, ‘Snowball has done this thing!...”

   And so it is that I excerpted some words from this passage for my piece. I wrote them in cursive, quickly. As if writing on a page in a journal, or like a student taking notes. Cursive, after all, remains for me the most urgent if not earnest form of drawing.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

A Reverent Replay


A Reverent Replay

By Tom Wachunas

   Another major casualty in this distressed time of Covidemic distancing are the always marvelous live concerts by the Canton Symphony Orchestra (CSO). I will always remember 2020 as the MasterWorks  season that wasn’t.

   Yet I’m happy to report that the CSO has been active in other contexts, including its ConverZations, a free monthly (now virtual) series of lectures. I’m happier still to invite you to attend a particularly special session on Monday, October 12 at noon, on Zoom, featuring CSO Music Director/Conductor Gerhardt Zimmermann on the 40th anniversary of his very first concert in Canton. You’ll hear what being a conductor means to Gerhardt and get the chance to ask him questions.

 Register to attend at  or

   MEANWHILE, in honor of the man and the anniversary, I thought it apropos to revisit and share again with you what I wrote here ten years ago. Beyond the many pleasures of watching him through the years make magic from the podium, my lunch with Gerhardt remains among my most thrilling memories. ENJOY.


Right Times, Right Places (ARTWACH post from October 11, 2010)

   In the Canton Symphony Orchestra’s 2010 – 2011 Season brochure, Gerhardt Zimmermann is quoted, “This piece literally saved my life…” He was referring to his passion for Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, one of the program selections that opens the season celebrating his 30 years with the orchestra. During a conversation over a leisurely lunch in downtown Canton last April, I asked him to elaborate.

  He explained that prior to his studies at Bowling Green State University (begun in the fall of 1963, and where he earned a Bachelor of Music Education degree), he saw himself simply as a band conductor, had never listened to classical music per se, and didn’t even own a record player. “The music department chairman said that would be a nice Christmas present,” he recalled, “and so my parents went into a furniture store and bought me this little baby-blue Voice of America record player, and along with it came five free records.”

   One of the recordings, which Zimmermann still owns, was of Toscanini conducting Beethoven’s seventh symphony. Zimmermann was clearly moved by the memory as he spoke in slow, measured words, “And I took that sucker to bed with me every night for a month and played it. It was, ahhh… I mean the rhythm and the intensity and everything.” With an infectious, hearty laugh he added, “So when I sat in an orchestra after that I was primed and ready to bite the bullet, so to speak.”

   What preceded – and certainly followed - such an inspiring epiphany is, on the face of it, a study in serendipity. Born and raised in Van Wert, Ohio, Zimmermann’s earliest aspirations were anything but musical. “My dream was always to be second baseman for the Cincinnati Reds, because I loved Johnny Temple,” he recalled. “I had Polio when I was seven, but I thought I could get over it all the way until I was in junior high school. I was stubborn about it, even though the doctors said I would never walk again.”

   In the fourth grade, after satisfactorily learning to play the Tonette (at that time a requirement for all elementary school students), he was asked if he’d like to be in band. He was discouraged from taking up his first choice - drums. “You know, you should really take a real instrument first,” he remembered the band director telling him. And here came that infectious laugh again, with just a bit of mischief, as Zimmermann shared an afterthought, “Now, I use that against my percussionists when I need it.”

   As it was, he chose the trumpet, and envisioned himself becoming a band director someday. Fast forward to his audition on second trumpet during a rehearsal with the Bowling Green orchestra. He had never previously heard an orchestra in a live setting – only a handful of recordings. “After that rehearsal, that did it,” he said. “All the colors that you hear with the strings and the winds. That was it. I didn’t want to be a band director anymore. I just fell in love with the string sound.”

   From this point onward, the interview became something of an autobiographical marathon as Zimmermann recalled, with astonishing detail, all the faces and places (too numerous to list completely here) along the winding road that ultimately brought him to Canton. “I guess the reason I say all this,” he explained, “is that I tell my students that finding a conducting job is 90 percent luck. You need to be in the right place at the right time. Once you find that break, then you’d better have that extra ten percent to prove yourself.”

   His college days were peppered with various teaching jobs in elementary and junior high school music programs. In one bewildering and unusual situation (student teaching), he was required to teach elementary school violin while learning it at the same time. “I had to sit on those silly little chairs that the fifth graders sit on. Well, you learn by fire.”

   Zimmermann earned his MFA in Orchestral Conducting at the University of Iowa in May of 1972. Several months later he began teaching at Western Illinois University. In his first year there he tied for second place in a conductor competition in Chicago, overseen by Georg Solti of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He remembers Solti saying, “It is unfortunate that you are a conductor. You will not be able to get enough power out of the orchestra.” A year later, Zimmermann learned that Solti’s comment was meant to convey that his (Zimmermann’s) physical condition would undermine his ability to withstand the rigors of the conductor’s life. One need only peruse his bio on the Canton Symphony website to see vigorous evidence to the contrary. Reflecting on Solti’s assessment, Zimmermann said, “That’s when you learn about prejudices. Not skin-color prejudices, but other kinds of assumptions.”

   During the summer after his first year at Western Illinois he actually turned down an offer to be assistant conductor of the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra. “I didn’t have the guts to go into the head of the music department at Western and say I’m resigning, since I was the fourth conductor in four years, and the school year would begin in six weeks” he mused. But several months later he was persuaded to reconsider. He went to St. Louis to hear a concert and discuss the job, accompanied by his fiancée, Sharon. The story prompted another observation about his life journey. “She’s still my wife, which is another unusual thing for a conductor,” he said proudly. “I’ve been married for 36 years to the same woman.”

   Zimmerman’s eight-year tenure as assistant conductor of the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra began in the summer season of 1974 and was comprised of one year under Walter Susskind, three years under Jerzy Semkow, and four years as associate conductor under Leonard Slatkin. During his seventh year, 1979, his manager found out that Canton was looking for a conductor and was interested in hiring Zimmermann. Reluctant at first, Zimmermann came here to hear the orchestra. After the concert he went out with Linda Morehouse and Bill Blair (who had gone to St. Louis to hear a concert that Zimmermann conducted), talked until 2 a.m., and accepted the job.

   Looking back at that time, Zimmermann observed, “I needed to make the next step from being an associate. I needed to have an orchestra of my own. They wanted the best orchestra they could have and I felt there wasn’t any of the board politics that can muddy up the works. It was a good fit. I think this orchestra, like the North Carolina orchestra when I went there in 1982 (where, concurrent with his position in Canton, he was Music Director and Conductor for 21 years), was hungry. They were hungry to play well and they wanted someone to demand that they play well.”

   Is there a philosophy behind the chemistry between conductor and orchestra? Zimmermann has told every orchestra he’s ever worked with, “The better you get, the more I’m going to demand from you. There’s only one sound I have in mind, and that’s the sound of the Cleveland Orchestra, the sound of the Vienna Philharmonic… I don’t care whether you’re students or not. That’s the ideal you should always work toward.”

   The Maestro acknowledges that in pure technique, there are orchestras that give “cleaner performances” than he might offer. But he’s not willing to settle for technical excellence alone. “I would hope my performances at least bring some excitement to the table,” he said. “So most of the time in rehearsal, I work a lot on musical ideas – the sound. I have found that if you start there, fifty percent of the technical problems will take care of themselves, instead of wasting too much of your time on just that (technique), and then you don’t bring it up to that higher level.”

   He added that beyond the remarkably disciplined and gifted individuals who actually perform the music, there is another vital component to the healthy working atmosphere of the Canton Symphony Orchestra. “It’s amazing how much an orchestra depends not only on who’s sitting in those chairs, but the leadership from the board and the management.”

   So, really, how is it that a boy with Polio goes from dreaming of playing professional baseball in Cincinnati to showering Canton with the glorious music of the masters for 30 years? Only serendipity? Just the random vagaries of luck? Or something of a higher order? Late in our talk, Zimmermann at one point paused and, with a look of genuine wonderment, said, “My career has been very unorthodox. Someone somewhere helped me, was taking care of me.” And for all of that, we’re blessed that he had his extra ten percent well in hand, proved and multiplied now beyond measure, as he continues to regale us with the rhythm and the intensity and…everything.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Grateful Again to be Included


Grateful Again to be Included 

By Tom Wachunas


   I’m thrilled and grateful that one of the fruits of my Covidian labors will soon be available for your in-person tasting. Writes of Passage, a mixed-media assemblage/collage I completed in May, was accepted into the upcoming annual Stark County Artists Exhibition. I originally wrote about this piece in an early June post at


    Here’s the shorter statement I submitted with my entry:

I’m feeling battered by media images of urban crowds on the march, waving protest signs scrawled across chunks of corrugated cardboard, brandishing angry words like so many swords raised high.

   Amidst such verbal chaos, I savor the transfixing experience of reading the Bible. The book of all books, God’s words. Books are codified rites of passage through time - accumulations of 2D planes imprinted with symbols of the writer’s intentions, desires, perceptions.

    In Writes of Passage, my appropriation of four of Michelangelo’s Sibyls  – females  from the Classical world who were thought to prophesy the coming of Christ – presents the figures in varying states of clarity. My incorporation of Biblical texts (in English and Greek) is a meditation on the  immutability of Scripture, and a consideration of Jesus’ words spoken in the book of Matthew, “Heaven and Earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”


   And here’s the info (submitted by Massillon Museum) about the exhibit:

The Massillon Museum, 121 Lincoln Way E, will display the Stark County Artists Exhibition from Sept. 26, 2020, through Jan. 17, 2021, in the Aultman Health Foundation Gallery.

The exhibition will be displayed during regular museum hours from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and from 2 to 5 p.m. Sundays.

Stark County residents whose artwork will be exhibited include Seth Adam, Rodney Atwood, Diane Belfiglio, Jess Bennett, Todd Bergert, William Bogdan, Chris Borello, Lindsey Bryan, Heather Bullach, Therese Cook, Ann Cranor, Frank Dale, David Dingwell, Laura Donnelly, Drew Dudek, Kathleen Gray Farthing, Gerald Fox, Sharon Frank Mazgaj, Pamela Freday, Rob Gallik, Charity Hockenberry, Bruce Humbert, Judi Krew, Timothy Londeree, Priscilla Sally Lytle, Nicole Malcolm, Tina Myers, Patricia Zinsmeister Parker, Mark Pitocco, Kathy Pugh, Sydney Richardson, Priscilla Roggenkamp, Sari Sponhour, Mischief Tish, Stephen Tornero, Christopher Triner, Tom Wachunas, Jo Westfall, Gail Wetherell-Sack and Dyanne Williams.

A VIRTUAL RECEPTION will be held at 7 p.m. Sept. 26 via Facebook Live. Exhibition award winners, including Best in Show, second place, third place and honorable mentions, will be announced during the event. The People’s Choice Award will be announced at the end of the exhibition.

Artwork submitted for consideration must have been created within the last two years. The panel of independent jurors selected 57 works by 40 artists from 164 works submitted by 66 artists.

The Stark County Artists Exhibition has been held at the museum since 1934.

For information: 330-833-4061