Saturday, January 5, 2013

To George, With Love

You're never really prepared for it, no matter when it happens.

Even so, when I got the word that an ex had died, it rocked my world.

Yes, he was decidedly older, but still too young to be gone.

Today a memorial was held for him at the VMFA, where he worked for a quarter of a century in the publications department.

He was an excellent writer and editor, with a true gift for putting words together and excising the unnecessary ones.

But his contribution to the museum went so much deeper than the catalogs and annual reports and other things he wrote for them.

He had a passion for photography, both the taking and collecting of photographs and, back in the early '70s, he approached the museum's director, suggesting that it was time to start collecting photographs for the collection.

Mind you, most museums at this time were still disdainful of photography as a fine art.

But he was persuasive enough to eke out a small allotted budget and assiduously began collecting important pieces.

And when I say important, I mean the big names, names like Steichen, Cartier-Bresson, Man Ray, Weegee.

The man had an uncanny ability to foresee which artists would eventually be considered the major forces.

But he also acquired the work of local photographers because, after all, we are a state museum.

All the while, he was amassing his own collection, a passion he relished and one made even easier with the advent of the Internet.

After he left the museum, we worked together for years at a local publishing company before our relationship took root.

I hired him as an editor because of his witty repartee during the interview and the fact that he lived on Floyd Avenue, also my home street.

Our shared love of Floyd Avenue bored many a co-worker, but I appreciated someone who got my devotion to the quirky street that was the red-headed cousin to mighty Grove and Hanover.

But I was attracted to him because of a shared love of art, books, music and conversation.

When we first started dating, he compared his life before to being with me as "the shock of the new."

What he had to explain to me was that the phrase was a book title.

Robert Hughes' "The Shock of the New" looked at the development of art post-Impressionism but written in a witty and insightful way that made it accessible even to non-art geeks.

Despite already being just that, I immediately went out, bought and read all 425 pages as quickly as possible.

His music roots obviously went back much further than mine, including a memory of seeing Dave Brubeck when he was in college.

Even so, I wasn't the least bit surprised to check out his CD collection in 2000 and find grunge, namely Pearl Jam's first two albums from the early '90s.

Or the low rock of Morphine.

And our conversations ranged from his long-ago days as a college athlete to shows he'd curated to how he'd earned his nickname at the VMFA, "the loose cannon."

He was an enthusiastic gardener who'd go out back and pull radishes from the ground, serving them to me simply washed and next to a bowl of sea salt.

An avid baker, he'd bake me a loaf of bread of varying kinds every Sunday during the cold months and bring it over in a brown paper bag.

He must have tried ten variations on rye because it was a favorite of mine.

Appalled at my ancient and dull bread knife, he promptly bought me a good one, which I still use today.

He joined me on my daily walks, complaining sometimes about my faster pace, accusing me of "putting the after-burners on," but keeping up anyway.

A hand-thrown green bowl he gave me for my birthday still sits on a pedestal in my hallway, the daily recipient of my keys and gloves.

And while the relationship eventually ended, my respect and admiration for him did not.

It was clear that many, many people felt the same when I saw the huge crowd that came out to the memorial at the museum today.

They had to bring in extra chairs the crowd grew so large.

And yet, if you'd asked him who would come to his service, he'd have self-effacingly expected his long-time drinking/fishing/art buddies and his kids.

And they were there, sure, but so were scads of other people.

One of the best tributes came from curator Sarah Eckhardt, who showed a variety of the superb photographs he had presciently acquired all those decades ago.

Which brings me to what should be the best part about the loss of a man who changed Richmond's art scene for the better.

Now that the renovated VMFA has a dedicated photography gallery, I would like to suggest to the powers-that-be that it be named the George Albert Cruger Gallery.

It only makes sense and I can't imagine a more fitting tribute for a man who followed his passion for photography his entire life.

VMFA, are you listening?


  1. Nice piece, Karen. Good to see you today.

  2. Sympathie Karen
    "a man who followed his passion his entire life"
    we all need to learn and remember man like this Live an intense life for your passion!
    Isn't that the definition for Artist, a passionate person with talent...
    VMFA please listen