Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club. Because No News is Bad News.

Factory Faces 

At We Gallery

John Puglia was witness to what may have been the last great gasp of American manufacturing. His new show at Akron's We Gallery — Pipefitters, Porn & P.B.R. — memorializes the mostly nameless blue-collar workers of the 1970s and 1980s in paintings and prints. These are the men behind the rubber of Rubber City.

Now a creative director for WhiteSpace Creative, the artist spent four years in factories while working his way through the University of Akron. Since then, Puglia has been assembling an oral and pictorial history of his hometown's blue-collar lives.

Everything about Puglia's work is meant to honor the heyday he remembers — especially his choice of materials. The sumi ink that dominates the series' black, white, and red palette is intended to recall the fine black industrial dust that permeated Akron throughout Puglia's childhood.

Many of the images in We's show are painted from photographs snapped by Puglia himself or recovered from bars and abandoned work benches. Some of the characters are recognizable as types. The six husky men raising a toast in "Midnight Poker at the Tip Top" could belong to any time or culture where men bond over booze. But the figures are dated by their striped sweaters, thick-rimmed glasses, and stacked cans of PBR.

Other pieces are as intimate as gossip. "Earl's Mercury," for example, depicts a mason jar of quicksilver, a salute of sorts to a fellow worker with the eccentric habit of hoarding mercury — at least until his death, at which time his collection was confiscated by a hazmat-suited sterilization team.

"Kevin," shown above, packs a wallop with or without knowledge of its subject's circumstances. Shown crowded into a small space between factory parts, Puglia's subject operates a machine that dominates his surroundings. His mouth gapes open and his dark eyes bulge as if pleading or in pain. It's no surprise to hear Puglia say the painting is based on a photo of a young man who eventually committed suicide.

Yet Puglia remains even-handed, neither pitying nor romanticizing his subjects. He shows us not just the hardship of the workplace, but also the joys, vices, and mercury-hoarding eccentricities of the workers. It's less an homage than a revival in living ink.

An opening reception, featuring a performance by post-rock instrumental band If These Trees Could Talk, will be held Saturday, August 4, from 7 to 10 p.m. at 20 North High St. in Akron. Call 330-252-0988 or go to for more info.

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Cleveland Scene. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Cleveland Scene, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at

Cleveland Scene works for you, and your support is essential.

Our small but mighty local team works tirelessly to bring you high-quality, uncensored news and cultural coverage of Cleveland and beyond.

Unlike many newspapers, ours is free – and we'd like to keep it that way, because we believe, now more than ever, everyone deserves access to accurate, independent coverage of their community.

Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing pledge, your support helps keep Cleveland's true free press free.

Latest in Visual Art

Read the Digital Print Issue

September 9, 2020

View more issues

Most Popular

No recently-read stories.

Visit the archives…


Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.


Staff Pick Events

  • 78th Street Studios Third Friday Art Walk @ 78th Street Studios

© 2020 Cleveland Scene: 737 Bolivar Rd., Suite 4100, Cleveland, OH 44115, (216) 241-7550
Logos and trademarks on this site are property of their respective owners.

Website powered by Foundation