Albert Wagner was born on January 22, 1924 in Crittenden County, Arkansas. He lived with his three brothers and his deeply religious mother, who supported them by working in the cotton fields. When he was five he used to make airplanes and cars from mud on his back porch. He recalls his mother saying, “Son, if I could send you to art school you could be somebody.” However, by the age of 13, Albert was appointed the head of his household and had to begin supporting his family.
In 1941, when Albert was 17 and in search of more lucrative work, he moved his family to Cleveland. The following year he met and quickly married the “love of his life,” Magnolia. Within three years, Albert had created a furniture moving company and started a family. Over the next fifteen years his business flourished and his family grew, yet he abandoned many of his religious beliefs and became a slave to sex, wine and women. “Sex had me bound and chained. I was like the Wolfman. The moment that the trick of lust allured my nostrils, it was like I had fangs. My body went back to the beast.” Albert began secretly supporting three families, which resulted in 20 children. His wife Magnolia, who bore 15 of those children, found out about the other families and left him after 20 years of marriage. Albert has never recovered from this loss.
Albert’s life continued its downward spiral as his complicated web of lies and sin began to fall apart. Shortly before he turned fifty he committed an act so heinous that he felt his soul was truly lost. However, on the night of his birthday his life changed dramatically. “I was preparing for my party and I go into the basement. There was this old board on the floor with drips of paint on it. That old hunk of wood just started talkin' to me.” This was the moment of his first spiritual revelation. God “spoke” to Albert through that board and told him that painting would offer him salvation. That night he began working with the images that appeared in the wood and the result was a furiously expressionistic piece called, “Miracle At Midnight”. Albert’s been painting religiously ever since. “All my life I wanted to paint. I just didn’t know how. God gives directions and you have to follow them.” In the wake of this epiphany he made a new life for himself, gave up his business, stopped tomcatting, became an ordained minister, and devoted himself as a full-time artist and family man.
Albert lived on a tiny street in a rough, crack-infested neighborhood of East Cleveland, Ohio. People living on the street referred to his striking home as the “Voodoo House” due the religious and cryptic imagery that adorned the exterior. Emblazoned on the purple façade of the multicolored home were the phrases, “Come Home Ethiopia” and “Jesus Love You.” A broken orange totem pole stood planted in the front yard and sculptures of bowling bowls, tree trunks, and mannequin heads adorned the front porch. The house served as both a museum for his artwork and a sanctuary for his ministry. Albert worked in his home studio creating over 3,000 paintings and sculptures for 32 years, until his death on September 1, 2006 at age 82.