Alfred Moore, Akron artist, 1950 – 2009

September 30, 2009 at 5:07 pm Leave a comment

Akron artist Alfred McMoore dies; cried for people he never met

By Jim Carney
Beacon Journal staff writer

This April 23, 2000 photo of Alfred McMoore shows the artist, who typically wore suits, with some of his work in the background.

There was no way to resist Alfred McMoore.

The man who started out as the subject of an article for Beacon Magazine nearly a decade ago became much more than an eclectic artist who attended countless strangers’ funerals.

There was something so deep and essential to this ”outsider” artist, who spent many years hospitalized and who drew incredibly complicated pictures, that Mr. McMoore became my friend and entered my heart.

I am not alone in mourning Mr. McMoore, who died Friday at age 59.

A wake tentatively is scheduled for 10 a.m. Monday, followed by a funeral service, at Stewart & Calhoun Funeral Home on West Thornton Street, where Mr. McMoore attended thousands of funerals — nearly every one for a person he had never met.

I met Mr. McMoore through neighbor Chuck Auerbach, an art collector who helped him sell his pictures. After I wrote about him in April 2000, Mr. McMoore became a fixture in my life.

Occasionally I gave him pipe tobacco, crayons or the 5-foot-wide scroll paper on which he produced rambling, movie-like pencil and crayon drawings — some 50 yards long — of the characters in his world.

He drew male sheriff’s deputies wearing fancy earrings and high heels. He drew female nurses with large linebacker arms.

Mr. McMoore loved drawing elaborate lamps, people in caskets with huge flower arrangements, Jesus playing electric guitar and long funeral trains.

His work is owned by a museum in France and has been on display at a New York City gallery. He is listed in the Art in Context database athttp://www.artincontext.org.

As a self-trained artist, his works fall into the ”outsider” category — a term used to describe nontraditional art created outside the scope of official training, often by someone who has been institutionalized.

Mr. McMoore traveled around town on the bus or on his bike and loved to call people on the telephone. Often, there would be 20, 40 or more messages from him on our home phone.

”This is Alfred McMoore,” he would say into the machine. ”Your black key is taking too long.”

The term ”black key” was something he used often.

When my son, Patrick, and Chuck Auerbach’s son, Dan Auerbach, formed a band in 2001, they thought of Mr. McMoore and came up with the name the Black Keys.

When the two later formed a publishing company for their music, they called it McMoore McLesst Publishing, a tribute to a term he often used to describe himself.

Drawing posture

Mr. McMoore drew his scrolls while lying on the floor, curled in a fetal-like position, with part of his body on the paper.

He bought paper from Ruppel’s Art & Paint Supply for at least the past 20 years, store owner Harold ”Harry” Ruppel said. He got it at a discount.

”He was part of the family,” Ruppel said.

Barbara Tannenbaum, curator of the Akron Art Museum, called his work amazing and astonishing.

”It is wonderful work about his highly personal version of people and things and business and life in Akron,” she said.

The museum owns a McMoore scroll and a drawing of a sheriff’s deputy.

Mr. McMoore’s niece, Ora Walker, said he began drawing as a child — chalk pictures on the streets in East Akron.

Drivers got to know Alfred and learned to give him room to draw, she said.

Barbara Robinson, his caseworker at Community Support Services, an Akron mental health agency, remembers walking to elementary school and seeing him drawing beautiful castles on the sidewalks and streets.

Even though he spent more than 13 years in state hospitals, for the past 20 years Mr. McMoore had not been hospitalized and had been living independently while under Community Support Services’ treatment.

Isatou Sagnia, director of regional services for CSS, said a photograph of Mr. McMoore and one of his drawings are on display at CSS offices.

”It is not going be the same without him around,” said Sagnia, who had worked with Mr. McMoore since he was 19.

She does not understand his fixation on funerals, but said the highest tribute he could pay to people was to place them in one of his drawings.

”If he likes you, he will draw you and put you in a coffin,” she said.

Dressed for success

Whenever I showed up at his apartment building to visit, he was waiting outside, usually wearing two, three or four coats and often with a cross around his neck.

He always wore a suit and tie and owned scores of suits that he bought at area thrift stores.

”Ain’t it a blessing?” he often said whenever he was happy. And every encounter started and ended with a hug.

Preston Stewart, the funeral director at Stewart & Calhoun, said Alfred was like a ”professional mourner,” in that he always cried at calling hours for strangers.

Alfred often called Stewart to ask about an upcoming funeral.

”Is it going to be a big one?” he would ask, Stewart said.

Because of Mr. McMoore’s large circle of friends — from social workers and police officers to bus drivers and people he met on the streets of Akron — his funeral could be ”a big one” too, Stewart said.

The funeral home is giving Mr. McMoore a discounted price of about $2,500 for services.

McMoore had no insurance and had no money to pay for the funeral, his niece said.

Donations for the service can be made to Stewart & Calhoun Funeral Home, 529 W. Thornton St., Akron, OH 44307.

The Black Keys plan to sponsor a showing of his work in Akron this fall. Details will be announced.


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

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