CANTON –Tom Wachunas' life as a successful abstract artist could be likened to the story of the prodigal son in the Book of Luke, in which a wayward son goes his own way, only to realize that what he was seeking was the very thing he left behind.
His newest show, "Signs and Wonderings – A Disciple's Journey," can be seen now through July 24 at the Patina Arts Centre at 324 Cleveland Ave. NW.
Wachanus – who uses everything from paint to graphite to fabric – describes his pieces as "mixed-media-assemblages."
In a blog post, Wachanus described his work as, "A continuing realization and loving embrace of biblical and Christocentric content."
"Other times, I've called them 3-D paintings," he said. "In the last several years, I've incorporated a lot of fabric to bring depth and dimension."
A native of Alliance, Wachunas was raised a devout Catholic. He said he's also been serious and passionate about art since he was a 10-year-old boy.
"I was in the first first-grade class at Regina Coeli School, and I was in one of the earliest classes at St. Thomas Aquinas (High School)," he said.
The priesthood, or art?
Wachunas was so devoted to his faith that he seriously considered the priesthood. After two years at St. Thomas Aquinas, he completed high school at St. Gregory's, a seminary high school in Cincinnati, but decided against entering the seminary.
"I was always passionate about art," he said. "I could no longer see myself in that life as a priest. By any standard, I would be considered a fallen-away Catholic."
Wachunas graduated from Ohio State in 1973 with a bachelor's degree in fine arts, followed by master's in expanded arts in 1975.
"In grad school, I got connected with a community of what was known then as born-again Christians." he said. "My sense of God and my Christian faith was set fire again. Then, as life would have it, I kind of drifted."
Wachunas said he then followed a flock of friends, "long-haired, hippie types who were into art," to Miami. But in 1977, he heeded the call from other artist friends living in New York City, where he worked and lived as an artist for 14 years before returning to Ohio in 1991.
"My faith got rekindled in a really intense way when I came back to Ohio," he said.
'He's still calling me'
Wachunas admits that his faith went dormant while living in New York.
"I didn't go to church but I do remember praying," he said. "I was frankly more intent on being acknowledged in the art world rather than the Christian world. I was living a lifestyle that was anything but Christian. But my sense of Christ and Christianity never outright died. It was always there. He never let me go. I had seasons of sensing 'He's still calling me.'"
Noting that his first wife was Jewish, Wachunas said they often had profound discussions about faith.
"It would spark my memory," he said. "I think it was God's way of keeping me in reach."
Wachunas said it's not his intention to club people over the head.
"I don't intend these pieces to preach or teach outright," he said. "My hope is that they plant questions, and keep people arrested enough to at least look."
Wachunas and his second wife have been members of RiverTree Christian Church in Jackson Township for more than 20 years.
"I think Christianity is mislabled, misunderstood, unappreciated and under-celebrated," he said. "People have confused messages about what it means ... I think Christians are increasingly lumped together as the enemies of peace and love, which is what all of us seek."
Gallery volunteer Kim Kinghoff is a fan.
"I love the uniqueness and the stories," she said. "One of my favorite pieces is the golden calf."
Wachunas admits having concerns about his Christocentric works being understood but says he needs to be true to himself.
"I needed to be honest," he said. "God gave me the courage to stand up. If people walk away with more questions about God and Jesus, that for me is significant."
Gallery hours are noon to 8 p.m. Thursdays, noon to 9 p.m. Saturdays, and noon to 4 p.m. on Sundays.
The gallery also is open from 5 to 9 p.m. on First Fridays. New gallery openings are every last Friday of the month from 5 to 9 p.m.
Learn more at https://www.facebook.com/patinaartscentre/ or on Wachunas' blog at www.artwach.blogspot.com.
Reach Charita at 330-580-8313 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @cgoshayREP.
This article originally appeared on The Repository: A new exhibit by Canton artist Tom Wachanus explores his faith