RIP Michael Mazur, 1935 – 2009

In 1976, I went to the Brockton Art Center. I don’t remember what the specific occasion was, but my then-husband, a musician, was playing there that evening, and I remember being excited to go with him. We had a baby and I didn’t get out much at the time.

I wandered around alone looking at the exhibit, Michael Mazur, Visions of a Draughtsman and remember being struck by the dark, powerful prints and studies from his Closed Ward series. And when I say struck, I don’t mean I thought “oh, how interesting.” I mean I was dumbfounded, shocked, dismayed, fascinated. These prints and drawings were based on Mazur’s observations of patients when he volunteered at a state mental institution, as I had done at Worcester State Hospital when I was in high school. His works brought back the emotions I had felt there: fear, sorrow, helplessness and just a little pride for forcing myself to come back week after week and act like it didn’t bother me. Looking at the patients in Mazur’s prints, I experienced the same surprising sense of tenderness toward these fragile, vulnerable men and women, and felt myself torn between not wanting to look at them, but being unable to look away. I bought the exhibition catalogue that night, and and have looked through it many times through the years. I still see the sorrow but also the humanity in the patients whose images he captured.

Since that night, I have followed Michael Mazur’s career through books, articles and exhibits, feeling connected to him by what I rather illogically think of as our shared experience. Michael Mazur died on August 18, and though I never met him, he touched my life, and I’ll miss him.

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