As a child growing up in Butler, Pennsylvania, Ronald M. Zaccari spent hours cultivating his passion for the arts.
“My mother felt that the arts were important and the foundation of my education,” said Zaccari, who had a career as a public school art teacher, art professor, and higher education administrator. “She gave me all the drawing materials that I needed from paper, pens, and paint. I would spend hours in the basement mixing plaster or carving something out of wood.”
Though he has retired from his professional career in education, Zaccari’s passion for art and the creative process has not slowed down.
As part of his largest art exhibit—Faces, Vases, and Places: A Retrospective—Zaccari provides a glimpse of his work that spans five decades. The exhibit includes more than 310 pieces of sculptures, paintings, drawings, and an extensive collection of giclée collages.
The exhibit, which is on display in Valdosta at the Turner Center for the Arts through Oct. 31, represents Zaccari’s art from 1968 to present.
“The exhibit is not just my past work, there are a lot of pieces that I have never exhibited and those that I created the last two years,” Zaccari said. “There are also some construction pieces from a culmination of different materials like copper and wood. I have done some of these in the past, probably 20 years ago, so not new but more of revisiting.”
A focal point of the exhibit includes a 7-foot aluminum painted sculpture titled “Head of a Woman.” With the large sculptures, Zaccari starts with an initial drawing and then creates a maquette, which is a small preliminary model. “The maquette is built to scale,” he explained. “This gives me a working model to use as I have the actual pieces cut and welded together.”
Known for his steel and aluminum sculptures displayed in private homes and businesses throughout the region, Zaccari’s largest sculpture, which weighs nearly a half ton, is on public display in Jennett Hall on the campus of Valdosta State University. The 13-foot steel piece of art was commissioned by Jerry and Kay Jennett and is titled “Woman with a Multi-colored Hat.”
Zaccari wants the exhibit to represent more than a display of his work.
“I want this exhibit to be didactic,” he said. “I will teach the art process, using the pieces as a visual representation. I will have some of my preliminary drawings that will be exhibited to show the process leading up to the finished work.”
“As artists, we use different techniques and imagery to achieve different end results. A retrospective is presented to the viewer as a way to demonstrate or show change.”
A Healing Process
Zaccari explained that a retrospective exhibit represents how an artist’s aesthetics has changed over time.
“As artists, we use different techniques and imagery to achieve different end results,” said Zaccari, who served as president of Valdosta State University from 2002 to 2008. “A retrospective is presented to the viewer as a way to demonstrate or show change.”
Often artists consider a retrospective exhibit as a signal that they are no longer producing new works of art; however, Zaccari believes his exhibit is an awakening, an opportunity to introduce new art forms.
“I have several landscape paintings in the exhibit, which is new for me,” he said. “The paintings are of the Georgia Highlands and are created using a technique of painting with acrylic over tissue paper. The crinkling of the paper allows the texture to appear.”
Zaccari began planning for the retrospective exhibit in early 2017. At the time, he was battling non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, an aggressive form of cancer that required nine months of chemotherapy and radiation.
“During the time I was undergoing the cancer treatment, I was isolated at home,” Zaccari said. “My doctors encouraged me not to go out a lot in public, especially while I had this very toxic fusion of chemotherapy that zapped my energy.”
While the cancer treatments may have diminished Zaccari’s physical stamina, it energized his creativity.
“Art began to take on a new meaning,” he said. “I have always had a passion for art; it is a big part of my life. During the cancer treatment, being able to go to my studio and have an important day of feeling sustained, in terms of creative energy, the art became part of my healing process.”
Zaccari credits his wife, Nancy, as being the true champion through the entire cancer recovery.
“We have been married 54 years, and I can honestly say we are closer now than we have ever been,” Zaccari said. “She understands what it means to me to be in my studio for six or seven hours a day.”
Zaccari said had it not been for cancer he is not sure if the retrospective exhibit would have taken place.
“I know that I wouldn’t have spent the time going through my old portfolios and stretching the day with something positive,” he said. “I knew that I wasn’t going to let cancer define me.”
For Zaccari, the creative process involves more than his art. He is a nationally recognized leader in assisting institutions of higher education, corporations, and nonprofit organizations in identifying and establishing purpose driven strategic goals. He also currently works in community relations with Guardian Bank.
“My background in art, along with the innovative process of strategic planning both helped me through my career as a university president and brought me through a tough time battling cancer,” said Zaccari, who assisted the Turner Center for the Arts with completing its strategic plan in 2015. “I enjoy strategic planning, the process of working with a business or organization to build a plan that has some creativity and structural function. My art background allows me to help others create a vision for their organization.”
Zaccari said it might seem odd for some people to understand that art and strategic planning process works to balance each other.
“If you look at my bookshelf you will see books focused on anthropology, structuralism, and functionalism,” said Zaccari, who earned a Doctor of Education at Pennsylvania State University. “In graduate school, I began to look at anthropological methods in the study of the artistic process. Just like an anthropologist goes into a different culture and looks at how the people get their food, symbolism, ceremonies, all of these aspects are what an anthropologist examines. In much the same way, I look at the artistic process of people and start to pull out all these pieces. This is structuralism, and it is how I became involved with examining things the way an anthropologist views a group of people or a culture.”
Zaccari said preparing for the retrospective exhibit has allowed him to not only reflect on the past but to also look at the present and future with a more defined focus.