Purchased by Akron Art Museum, 1991
2015 - 2018: Haslinger Galleries, 4/15/15 - 5/15/18, Akron Art Museum
2007 - 2011: "Opening exhibition, Haslinger galleries" 7/7/07 - 11/6/11, Akron Art Museum
1997 - 1998: "A 75th Anniversary Celebration of the Collection" 11/15/97 - 1/11/98, Akron Art Museum
1993: "W. D. 'Crazy Mac' McCaffrey" 4/24/93 -10/10/93, Akron Art Museum
1991: "Current Events: Recent Acquisitions on Social Issues" 4/20/91 - 7/14/91, Akron Art Museum
Verso: "Transition W. D. McCaffrey, Religious, Akron, OH, Jan 15, 1991"
Wayne D. ("Crazy Mac" or "Mad Mac") McCaffrey
Collection of the Akron Art Museum
Wayne McCaffrey, who at various times identified himself as "Crazy Mac," “Mad Mac,” “Avatar Marsa,” “God in Spirit, Plain Mac in the Flesh," and "Gadfly of the City," was a thin man with a huge grin who could talk a mile a minute about himself and his art, cracking jokes, and amusing (and bemusing) all those around him.1
McCaffrey earned his living as a house painter, doing remodeling and other jobs, finally working as a truck driver until his retirement in 1981. He had been building things all his life—from a soapbox derby racer to a house in the woods—but it was not until around 1970 that he started making artworks out of wire as a hobby. Though self-trained in art, McCaffrey was not really an “outsider” artist. He became well acquainted with mainstream art through regular visits to the Akron Art Museum, even making pieces in homage to its exhibiting artists. In 1985 he began to receive formal recognition for his work through exhibits in the Akron Art Museum, in regional art galleries, and in New York.
His earliest wire creations were vases and models of antique automobiles and airplanes, but because McCaffrey was a person of strong and highly individual opinions, it seemed inevitable that his subject matter would expand. He had long been sending written missives to area newspaper editors and politicians. Eventually he began to incorporate that commentary in some of his sculptures, using them to express his political views, social critiques and interpretations of the tenets of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).
AA, which was founded in Akron, became of central importance in McCaffrey’s life in 1971. Transition, of which McCaffrey made four versions,2 is a landscape illustrating his view of some of the organization's principles. According to the artist, the central figure, both flower and butterfly, signifies the blossoming which takes place in the individual as a result of the AA process; a letter "A" tops the tip of each wing. Above and below the butterfly are symbols of the two religions from which AA draws many of its tenets, Judaism and Christianity.
Flanking the flower are two alternative states of existence. The right side presents the virtues of what McCaffrey called "God Power": justice, life everlasting, love, purity, and truth. It is topped by a large star representing St. Francis (a personal hero of McCaffrey's). The left shows the "Weaknesses of Satan Pride," in McCaffrey’s words, including alcohol, drugs, and bigotry, as well as the traditional deadly sins. These are suspended between "Cloud 9" (perhaps a state of intoxication?) and a volcano representing Hell.
Dotting the blue evening sky in the background are stars, each containing a plastic, commercially made eyeball representing the omnipresent eye of God. Although prefabricated eyes had long been a feature of McCaffrey's animals and portraits, the eyes' prevalence here is the influence of a painting by Cleveland artist Scott Miller that McCaffrey saw at the Akron Art Museum and much admired.
According to McCaffrey, Transition has a message for all of us, alcoholic or not: the struggle between good and evil is a simple choice, a battle that can be won. After spending most of his life dependent on alcohol, McCaffrey triumphed over his addiction and also over numerous family tragedies and financial problems to make a name for himself in the city, not only as a gadfly but also as one of its valued artists.
- Barbara Tannenbaum, 2001
1. Most of the information in this article comes from the author's interviews with the artist. Information was also supplied by Charles Auerbach, an Akron folk art dealer who was one of the artist's early supporters.
2. According to the artist, the museum's collage is the first of four versions. The second is owned by Charles Auerbach; the third is with Father Sam Ciccolini of the Interval Brotherhood Home in Akron and is entitled Tools of Choice. The fourth is in an Akron private collection.
Cooper, David B. "Postscript: The Artistic Soul of 'Crazy Mac.'" Akron Beacon Journal, Thursday, July 29, 1993, A14.
Haferd, Laura. "The Madness of Mac." Beacon Magazine, Akron Beacon Journal, June 2, 1981, 6–8, 10, 14.
Sellen, Betty-Carol. 20th Century American Folk, Self Taught, and Outsider Art. New York: Neal-Schuman, 1993.