Akron artist Puglia, ‘creative force,’ dies of cancer

By Jim Carney
Beacon Journal staff writer

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John Puglia, 48, of Akron, who died Sunday. (WhiteSpace Creative photo)

John M. Puglia saw beauty everywhere, then created art from what he saw.

From old factories to backstreet bars to boxers, Mr. Puglia was always moved by whatever came into his field of vision and continuously inspired others with his art.

“John saw interest and beauty in common and ordinary things,” said Keeven White, President/CEO of WhiteSpace Creative, in Akron, where Mr. Puglia served as creative director.

Mr. Puglia, 48, died Sunday of cancer.

When Mr. Puglia met former heavyweight boxing champion Michael Dokes by chance at an Akron restaurant in 2010, the two men became friends. That friendship inspired Mr. Puglia to make art of Dokes.

After Dokes’ death last August, Mr. Puglia put together an art exhibit Dokes helped to inspire.

Before the Dokes exhibit, Mr. Puglia also had an exhibit of his art titled Pipefitters, Porn & P.B.R., which focused on the Akron he got to know in the late 1970s and 1980s in factories, bars and other places.

“Life through his eyes was vibrant and expressive,” White said. “His love of Akron was contagious. His passion for art and music was enviable.”

An Akron native, Mr. Puglia was a graduate of St. Vincent-St. Mary High School and the University of Akron. He served in various positions at YRC Worldwide Inc., including director of corporate communications and manager of marketing communications.

Longtime friend David Giffels, a former Beacon Journal columnist and now an assistant professor of English at UA, called Mr. Puglia his best friend.

“John lived an inspired life, and he inspired all of us who lived it alongside him,” Giffels said. “His own incessant curiosity and creativity led us into places we never would have gone. He took me into abandoned factories and dive bars and odd corners of the cities we explored together. He introduced me to art and music and literature I wouldn’t have found otherwise.”

But, Giffels said, “mostly he inspired us by his example. Despite all the burdens and responsibilities of adult life, he never stopped making art and drawing others into his projects.”

Giffels called Mr. Puglia the most generous person he has ever known.

“He absorbed so much of life — art and film and music and literature and wine and spicy food and big ideas and silly jokes — and he gave back in equal measure. He shared everything he had.”

Kevin Dokes, brother of boxer Michael Dokes, praised Mr. Puglia for his artistry.

“He did so much for our family,” Kevin Dokes said. “He was a phenomenal artist and a great individual. ... He kept my brother’s memory alive.”

Andrew Borowiec, distinguished professor of art at UA, taught Mr. Puglia in a photo class there.

“Although he wasn’t a photography major, he brought to the class more enthusiasm, curiosity and imagination than almost any student I’ve known in over 30 years of teaching,” Borowiec said.

“At at time when factories were shutting down all over Akron, John persuaded the Art Department to let him clean out a storage room and use it for a mixed-media installation in which he combined photographs, drawings, sculpture and sound recordings to re-create a factory environment. Almost 30 years later, our students continue to use that room for individual projects without realizing that it was all possible thanks to John.”

Borowiec said Mr. Puglia “moved freely from one medium to another, blurring their boundaries and working effortlessly in painting, drawing, photography, film, and video and various forms of print-making.”

Borowiec said he is setting up a John Puglia Memorial Fund through the University of Akron Foundation.

When Mr. Puglia was a student, Borowiec said, “we took him on a field trip to New York City that turned out to be a pivotal event in his life.” To provide a similar experience to future art students, the fund will be set up in Mr. Puglia’s memory, he said.

Mr. Puglia is survived by his parents, Carol and Gino Puglia, sons Jonathan and Sam, brother Anthony (Jennifer) Puglia, sister Sue (Bill) Hagey, ex-wife Lori Puglia and other family members.

Calling hours are scheduled for 4 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at Hennessy Funeral Home, 522 N. Main St., Akron. Mass of Christian Burial will be 9:30 a.m. Thursday at St. Anthony of Padua Parish, 83 Mosser Place, followed by burial at Holy Cross Cemetery in Akron.

Jim Carney can be reached at 330-996-3576 or jcarney@thebeaconjournal.com.

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