|10||Cleveland Art and History Curriculum Website|
|11||Cigarette tax for arts and culture has generated $65 million at halfway point (Plain Dealer 11/5/11)|
|12||Elegant Cleveland from the Plain Dealer|
In Cleveland’s ‘second downtown,’ jazz once filled the air: Elegant Cleveland
CLEVELAND, Ohio — These days, University Circle is a hive of construction, filled with cranes and workers building a new Museum of Contemporary Art, a pedestrian plaza and two residential buildings.
But underneath all this new energy in what has long been the cultural center of Cleveland, there’s almost a sense of deja vu.
Starting about 80 years ago, this section of the city, known then as Doan’s Corners, throbbed with a different kind of activity.
Several movie houses (at the Keith, you could watch two features and a vaudeville show), a huge indoor ice rink, shops and delis drew throngs. Cleveland, then the sixth-largest city in the United States, was vibrant enough that it could support what was widely known as its “second downtown,” several miles east of PlayhouseSquare.
Evenings, the streets near East 105th Street and Euclid Avenue shimmered with flashes of neon — signs beckoned the well-dressed (and who wasn’t back then, when fedoras were de rigueur?) to jazz bars, nightclubs and ballrooms that featured the finest musicians and big bands in the country.
Over the decades, the long list of artists would include Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Art Tatum, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie and Harry Belafonte.
“This was the city’s entertainment district,” says jazz saxophonist Ernie Krivda, who started playing the clubs here at age 17. “The Esquire Lounge, the Club 100, the Alhambra Lanes — and you had the Majestic Ballroom, the Circle, the Trianon — the scene was tremendous.”
And it ran late; men who worked at White Motors or the city’s steel mills would show up after they got off the second shift, so the neighborhood pulsed till dawn.
“I thought it was Broadway,” says Bonnie Dolin, a Cleveland artist whose parents owned one of the premier jazz clubs, Lindsay’s Sky Bar, from 1934 to ’52.
Her mom, Rickie Bash, was a petite, blue-eyed blonde who looked like a movie star — the perfect hostess for the club. Bash and her sister and brother-in-law, Martha and Earon Rein who co-owned the club, would go on scouting trips to New York to book the best acts. Lindsay’s was the first jazz club in Cleveland to regularly feature national performers.
When Dolin was a young girl, she lived with her parents — her dad’s name was Philip — at the Doanbrooke Hotel, at East 105th Street and Chester Avenue. “I remember visiting the pond in front of the art museum and drinking from the bronze water fountains,” she says.
The Doanbrooke was one of a plethora of hotels in the area. Beginning in the mid-1920s, there was a flurry of building what were known as residential hotels in Cleveland, and most of them radiated from the University Circle area. They included the Commodore, the Park Lane, the Tudor Arms and, most luxurious of all, the Wade Park Manor on East 107th Street.
Fenway Hall was another, and its Congo Room became the place where pianist Bobby Short entertained as a very young man, long before he got his standing gig at New York’s Cafe Carlyle.
Clubs most popular after World War II
Doan’s Corners hummed along through the Depression and the early 1940s, but its heyday was in the postwar years. Entertainment wasn’t too expensive, either for club owners or club-goers. If you didn’t have a date, you could easily find one.
Dolin got to hear lots of stories about the singers and musicians who played Lindsay’s.
“I remember my father complaining about Billie Holiday, because she didn’t mix with the customers between her gigs,” she says. “She would ‘retire.’ ”
Other singers were more sociable and would even attend post-show cocktail parties at her parents’ home (they moved to the up-and-coming suburb of University Heights).
Dolin’s favorite was a singer and pianist named Rose Murphy. “She was very kind to me, just a doll,” says Dolin.
Murphy was also a favorite of Winsor French, the Cleveland night-life columnist from the ’30s to the mid- ’60s and the subject of the recent book “Out & About With Winsor French,” by Cleveland author James M. Wood.
Murphy, wrote French, would often sit on a stack of telephone books as she played the piano and sang, “in a tiny, flute like voice” that enthralled her listeners. She had a special technique, too, of “suddenly removing both hands from the keyboard and continuing the rhythm, tune and all, with her feet.”
According to Wood, French himself often visited another storied joint in Doan’s Corners, the Alhambra, owned by mobster Alex “Shondor” Birns. (Dolin’s parents were friendly with Birns, too, so she also met him. Birns was killed in a 1975 car-bomb explosion.)
Getting together at the Alhambra
The Alhambra at East 105th and Euclid, whose exterior wasn’t as exotic as its name implied, was nevertheless one of the neighborhood’s jewels. The complex housed not only a restaurant but also a 1,600-seat movie theater — considered one of the “prettiest” — a bowling alley, a pool room and apartments. (As a young man, comedian Bob Hope hustled in the pool room here.)
On many evenings, just after midnight when another hangout — Gruber’s restaurant in Shaker Heights — closed, French would join its owners, Ruthie and Max Gruber, Indians owner Bill Veeck, general manager Hank Greenberg and his wife, the Press and Plain Dealer sports editors (and maybe pitcher Bob Feller and his first wife) at the Alhambra. It was an after-hours joint, or “cheat spot,” in the parlance of the day.
“They’d all bop down to the Alhambra to celebrate at the notorious mobster’s plushy nightclub, because Ruthie and Max needed a break,” says Wood. “Ruthie was known for taking over the microphone and doing an imitation of the nightclub singer Mindy Carson, which Winsor didn’t think was very good.”
Joe Mosbrook, a former Cleveland television reporter and a jazz historian, has done a lot of research on the “second downtown,” much of which is detailed in his 1993 book, “Cleveland Jazz History.”
“Frankie Laine told me he worked at Lindsay’s Sky Bar, when he was still struggling as a performer,” says Mosbrook. “He went and auditioned and got a job there.”
Mosbrook recalls a conversation with Kenny Davis, a trumpet player with Duke Ellington’s band.
“He told me that still in the early 1960s, you could park your car near East 105th and Euclid, and walk to 10 or 12 clubs that featured people like Miles Davis or Oscar Peterson — any big-name artist you can think of. They all played here.”
At first, in the ’20s and ’30s, says Mosbrook, “jazz was essentially dance music, and they’d play it in ballrooms like the Circle, which was above Zimmerman’s Drug Store.” Later, jazz began to be played in more intimate, club settings, such as Lindsay’s or the Tia Juana, among many others. The Tia Juana was cleverly designed in the shape of a four-leaf clover, with a separate bartender in each leaf — and featured singers such as Dinah Washington, Carmen McRae and Nat “King” Cole.
The decline of the scene
How and why did it all end?
“It used to be that even the top jazz people would play for low fees, but during the 1960s, those fees climbed enormously as they became more popular,” says Mosbrook. After a time, “local clubs couldn’t afford it — instead of a couple of hundred dollars a week, it was a few thousand.”
And times were changing. The ’60s brought civil unrest. Bomb threats began to be called into clubs where audiences were racially mixed. Eventually, a bomb went off at a popular club known as the Jazz Temple.
Students from nearby colleges began to seek out something different, too — folk music at La Cave, which was also in the neighborhood and featured such performers as Judy Collins and Peter, Paul and Mary.
“For a long time in this neighborhood, you had the students, the traffic, girls, prostitutes — there was never any friction,” recalls Krivda. “You had exploding black consciousness, white students, mavericks like me, and no police issues.
“Then, the police started seeing trouble. They stepped in, and it wasn’t so much fun anymore.”
The late ’60s brought riots, and subsequent decades created desolation in a once-thriving area. Driving through University Circle in the years after — and even today — it’s hard to picture an area packed with nightspots. Most of the buildings were leveled to allow construction by the Cleveland Clinic, and of the W.O. Walker building.
Only recently has a renaissance begun, but it’s more arts than music and nightclubs (Severance Hall and the Cleveland Museum of Art had, of course, been in University Circle all along.)
But for people like Krivda, the jazz notes linger.
“To me, starting out, it was the most amazing place, where someone starting out in music could work,” says Krivda. “You hear about Cleveland and rock, but not about this.
“This is the real musical heritage of the city.”
A look back at the finest elements of Cleveland’s stylish history, as shown by its people, architecture, fashion and other cultural touchstones. Go to tinyurl.com/3s65re9 to read other entries.
Steven Litt, a native of New York, has been the art and architecture critic of The Plain Dealer in Cleveland since 1991. He lives in Shaker Heights with his family.
UTILITY VERSUS INNOVATION
A POLEMIC ON ART, ARCHITECTURE, AND CULTURAL CONSERVATISM IN CLEVELAND
by Steven Litt
Archibald Willard had no way of knowing it at the time, but when he completed his eight-by-ten foot painting, The Spirit of ’76 for the 1876 Centennial celebration in Philadelphia, he launched what would become the single most famous artistic image produced in Cleveland in the city’s history. Reproduced and copied, celebrated or lampooned in illustrations, cartoons, or parodies by other artists, Willard’s brainchild entered the national mainstream in the 19th century a manner that anticipated Norman Rockwell’s highly popular magazine covers for Saturday Evening Post in the mid 20th century.
Based on memories of a parade witnessed by the artist when he was a child, Willard painted two grizzled men playing the part of veterans of the War of Independence, marching alongside a young boy in a Revolutionary War outfit. While the image is famous, it is less widely known that it originated in Cleveland and arose out of purely commercial impulses. The concept grew out of a commission from publisher James F. Ryder, who realized that the centennial of the Declaration of Independence in 1876 represented a fantastic opportunity to sell chromolithographs as patriotic souvenirs in Philadelphia, the site of a major national celebration.
In 1875, Ryder recruited Willard, then supporting himself as a carriage painter and a part-time maker of fine-art easel paintings in rural Wellington, Ohio, to move to Cleveland to work on the assignment. Following the success of the lithograph and the original painting, Willard spent the rest of his career creating subsequent versions, one of which now hangs in Cleveland’s City Hall, where an adjacent park at the northwest corner of Lakeside Avenue and East Ninth Street bears the artist’s name.
The success of Willard’s painting, described in detail in the catalog of a 1996 exhibition on the history of Cleveland art at the Cleveland Museum of Art, would appear to be little more than an odd historical footnote. From a larger perspective, however, its prominence is not accidental. It embodies the practical, moneymaking role often assigned to artists in Cleveland, an industrial city in which art has often been closely linked to commerce. The Cleveland Institute of Art, the city’s four-year independent art college, crystallized this utilitarian, business-oriented view of art memorably in its catchy, longtime motto: “Making Art Work.” Embedded in the motto is the notion that Cleveland is a place where no one should be squeamish about exploring connections between creativity and commerce. The motto also conveys a fundamental skepticism about the value of art for art’s sake, or about art as a way to express innovative new ideas. In other words, the motto is unintentionally revealing as a description of less than positive aspects of the city’s artistic and intellectual climate.
Today, public and private philanthropic support for the arts in Cleveland is stronger than ever, and the arts are being called upon to perform a truly big job: to help revive the city’s struggling economy and to make it a more attractive place to live. The question arts supporters and audience members should be asking is whether success in the arts should be evaluated primarily in quantitative economic terms, or according to the more subjective, qualitative benchmarks such as quality, originality, and critical and scholarly esteem. Put in a different way, if economic impact is the primary measure of artistic success and importance, we can all be proud of Archibald Willard and his Spirit of ’76. If, on the other hand, artistic quality is the truer measure of the impact of a city’s cultural contributions, it should be cause for at least mild concern that the author of the most famous artistic image in the city’s history is an obscure 19th-century painter whose work borders on kitsch and whose name is all but forgotten outside Cleveland.
Such concerns are worth discussing, now that the arts are being asked to play a bigger role than ever in the city’s economy. Cleveland’s urban predicament as a shrinking industrial city in a troubled region is widely known. Its population is hovering just over 400,000, roughly sixty percent lower than it was in 1950. The old industrial base is fading rapidly, but new industries, such as health care and biotechnology, are not growing fast enough to reverse decline. Decades-old tensions over race and poverty have caused an exodus of middle-class residents, both black and white. Meanwhile, low-density residential subdivisions in the suburbs consume more and more open land every year, creating a pattern of sprawl without growth.
Within this urban context, the arts, measured by activity levels at major and minor institutions, are certainly working hard. The cultural calendar in Cleveland is packed; venues across the city offer a range and quantity of plays, concerts, exhibitions, and recitals that far exceeds what one might expect for a metropolitan area of Cleveland’s size. Cleveland still compares well in cultural terms with fast-growing cities in states such as Florida, Arizona, Texas, and California. For example, the Cleveland Museum of Art ranks as one of the top 10 institutions of its kind, as measured by endowment wealth. The Cleveland Orchestra is regularly touted as one of the top five in the nation. Playhouse Square, which draws a million visitors a year to Broadway touring shows and local productions, is the second largest unified arts complex in the nation after Lincoln Center in New York. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum steadily attracts a half million visitors a year.
Financial support for the arts in Cleveland is at an all-time high. Evidence of this enthusiastic backing includes the Cleveland Museum of Art’s ongoing $350 million expansion and renovation, described as the largest single cultural project in Ohio history. Other indicators include the 10-year, 1.5 cents per cigarette tax approved by Cuyahoga County voters in 2006 to create a $15 million annual fund to support arts and culture. The fund is the first of its kind in county history. Across the city, developers and planners tout local arts districts as key tools in the fight to preserve struggling neighborhoods. What’s problematic here is that arts funding is based primarily on a utilitarian view of cultural activity as a lifestyle amenity and as a generator of economic activity, not as an expression of the city’s ability to foster original creative thinking of global significance.
Artists and architects in Cleveland rarely attract much notice outside the city. In architecture, local firms rarely win the biggest and most prestigious assignments. Instead, clients prefer to hire prestigious out-of-town firms, which often do less than their best in Cleveland. In painting and sculpture, most of the most famous artists associated with the city have left to pursue their ambitions elsewhere, a telling example of a creative brain drain.
In this context, it’s haunting to consider that Cleveland’s conservative views on the arts have at least until now paralleled the city’s economic decline. This doesn’t necessarily mean that, if Cleveland had been a hotbed of artistic radicalism throughout the past century, it would be in far better economic shape today. But it is true that throughout history, artistic breakthroughs have occurred most often in vibrant and growing cities where innovation and originality in the arts are related to breakthroughs in business, science, and technology. This makes it worth considering whether new and different approaches to the arts could help reverse Cleveland’s decline by making it a place more open to fresh and innovative ideas it has traditionally disregarded or even shunned.
No city is entirely homogeneous in its cultural outlook, and this is certainly true of Cleveland. At any one time, the city has had its share of mavericks in art, architecture, and other branches of the visual arts. Perhaps most important among them is Peter B. Lewis, the chairman and former longtime CEO of Progressive Corp. in Mayfield. Starting in the 1980s, Lewis built one of the largest and most dynamic corporate collections of contemporary art in the country. Curated for more than 20 years by his ex-wife and friend, Toby Lewis, the collection had the explicit goal of dynamic intellectual climate in the workplace as a way to challenge complacency among employees. The Lewises hung multi-colored portraits of Mao Zedong by Andy Warhol in the boardroom. They displayed a racially charged painting by the black Chicago artist Kerry James Marshall outside a cafeteria. Elaborate chandeliers made of dripped wax, by Petah Coyne, graced a stairwell.
The idea was to irritate, provoke and remind employees that they lived in a world of constant change, and that they had better grapple with it. The ultimate goal, of course, was to make Progressive a stronger company. Apparently, it worked. While building the collection, Lewis also guided Progressive’s growth from a tiny company with 100 employees in the mid-1960s to its current ranking as the nation’s third largest auto insurer, with 26,000 employees. Lewis also made himself a billionaire in the process. The company’s success certainly derives from as much from Lewis’s leadership and management practices, but cutting-edge art is a strong part of the corporate culture. It could be argued that Lewis’s use of art as a motivational tool is a utilitarian approach to art, but what makes it different from the norm in Cleveland is its profound emphasis on embracing innovation, change, and new ideas.
As the Lewis example shows, a “progressive” approach to culture just might change the city’s traditionally conservative mindset. There’s ample room for similar efforts. These could include rebuilding the region as a center for industrial and product design, based on the rich legacy of creativity left behind by the greatest visual thinker in the city’s history, industrial designer Viktor Schreckengost. Equally important would be a revolution in the city’s architectural and urban design culture, signaled by improvements in the design of buildings, streets, parks, and public places of all kinds. The Cleveland Museum of Art, whose conservative tastes have had a chilling effect on the city’s artistic community, could take a bolder approach. Greater financial support could flow to the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland, which has done an outstanding if under-appreciated job of championing the cause of progressive thinking in the visual arts.
THE ROOTS OF CONSERVATISM
Before considering the city’s future, it’s important to understand the strengths and weaknesses of its legacy in the visual arts. Cleveland has certainly played a role in the history of modern and contemporary art and architecture, but not a big one, and it’s important to understand why. The 20th century unleashed a concatenation of new ideas, movements, and artistic breakthroughs across Europe, but emanating primarily in the early decades from Paris, Berlin, Vienna, and other cities. These ideas, ranging from a plethora of art movements such as Cubism and Fauvism, to modernist architecture and design, were introduced to America first in the New York Armory Show of 1913, and the Museum of Modern Art’s first exhibition on modern architecture, in 1932. Following the Depression and World War II, New York replaced Paris as the global center of the art world. Modernist architecture spread across the country, producing vibrant results, especially in Los Angeles and Chicago, but also in New York, Detroit, Philadelphia, and other cities. The same was not as true in Cleveland.
While it’s obvious that Cleveland has had a fairly conservative artistic climate for decades, scholarly work on local art history is fairly thin, which indicates a lack of interest among art historians—a negative comment in and of itself. There exists no large, single-volume historical survey providing a broad overview of local developments in the visual arts in Cleveland and relating them to political, social, and economic trends. Nor does there exist any large study relating the city’s creative output with that of other cities in America and Europe. Such a study would create a clearer understanding of the place Cleveland truly occupies as an artistic and cultural center.
Mostly, the city’s art history is revealed through narrowly focused monographic books on individual artists. The Cleveland Artists Foundation, a small non-profit organization devoted to the visual arts of Northeast Ohio, has published many of these studies.
Though valuable, they don’t provide the bigger picture. The Cleveland Museum of Art attempted a larger overview in 1996 with its exhibition Transformations in Cleveland Art, 1796–1946. Valuable as it was, the exhibition only covered the first 150 years of the city’s artistic history, leaving the rest of the story for a future show. Organized by curators David Steinberg and William H. Robinson, the 1996 exhibition was accompanied by a catalog with an essay that said, “almost nothing has been written about how economic, social, and political events affected the character of Cleveland art.”
Nevertheless, historical and anecdotal information suggests strongly that the city’s cultural conservatism has several roots. One is ethnic heritage. After its initial settlement in the early 19th century, Cleveland’s population grew quickly as waves of immigrants arrived from New England and, later, from countries across Europe. Often, immigrant communities wanted to preserve traditions from their homelands. “Whatever was brought over in the late 19th century stayed that way,” scholar Holly Rarick Witchey, author of The Fine Arts in Cleveland told The Plain Dealer in an interview in 1996.“ When Greeks look for historical folk dances, they come to the U.S., where you are not allowed to innovate. You are preserving the homeland tradition.”
Elite taste also remained conservative throughout the city’s rise to industrial prominence, from 1890 to 1930, and in the decades following. For much of the city’s history, powerful backers of the arts were primarily members of the city’s wealthy and white Anglo-Saxon families. Members of this group included the Severances, the Hannas, and the Mathers. They and others were extremely interested in art and culture, and were extremely generous. Through donations and bequests, they built a large collection of cultural institutions in the early 20th century, starting with the Music School Settlement in 1912, Karamu and the Cleveland Play House in 1915, the Cleveland Museum of Art in 1916, the Cleveland Orchestra in 1918, and the Cleveland Institute of Music in 1920.
The cultural largesse of the city’s leading industrial families was motivated by noblesse oblige, a desire to acculturate immigrants newly arrived from poor countries in central and Eastern Europe, and the impulse to compete in terms of prestige with other growing cities. Unlike arts patrons across the industrial Midwest, Cleveland’s wealthy appointed professional managers to guide major institutions, especially the museum and orchestra, to ensure high standards of performance and achievement. Even so, the museum, for example, largely pursued a conservative approach to art history, thereby honoring the tastes and preferences of trustees, who actively discouraged directors and curators from investing in modern and contemporary art.
CONSERVATISM AT THE CLEVELAND MUSEUM OF ART
Conservatism in culture isn’t necessarily a negative value. In the best sense, it means conserving the finest expressions of the past, maintaining high standards of excellence, and focusing on appreciation of the best of the past, rather than exploring the more risky and unsettled field of contemporary art. In essence, this was the core philosophy of Sherman Lee, the highly influential director of the Cleveland Museum of Art from 1958 to 1983, a period in which the museum rose to international prominence but also gave short shrift to new art.
A serious, sober, deep-voiced authority with an imposing personal presence, Lee was considered during his tenure the opposite of the flamboyant director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Thomas Hoving, who first made popular the notion that art museums should cater to a broad public with blockbuster exhibitions and glamorous social events.
When Lee became the third director of the Cleveland museum in 1958, the institution received a massive bequest of $34 million from the estate of industrialist Leonard C. Hanna, Jr., worth roughly $250 million in 2010 dollars. The gift, the single largest in the museum’s history, made it for a time the wealthiest art museum in America, in terms of endowment wealth. Following his mission of conserving the best of the past for the future, Lee used the bequest systematically to build up the museum’s collection of European Old Master paintings, acquiring important works by Francisco Zurbaran, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, Nicolas Poussin, Antonio Canova, and Jacques-Louis David. Simultaneously, he built a world-renowned collection of Asian art.
Meanwhile, the museum spent relatively little on modern and contemporary art made after the first decade of the 20th century. The museum assembled a strong collection of Blue, Rose, and Cubist paintings by Pablo Picasso, but satisfied itself mainly with works of secondary importance by such important contemporaries as Arshile Gorky, Willem de Kooning, or Jackson Pollock. To this day, the seminal art movements of the 1950s and ’60s, including Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art, remain under-represented in the museum’s permanent collection, or are represented by works of secondary quality. Other significant gaps exist throughout the 20th-century collection, which is noticeably weaker than the museum’s highly respected holdings in everything from ancient Greek and Roman art, through Medieval European and Asian art to 19th-century American paintings.
Lee is often pigeonholed as an archenemy of new art, but his story is more complex. He realized in the 1960s and ’70s that prices for modern and contemporary art were rising, and he tried on occasion to persuade trustees to become more open-minded, but he faced heavy opposition. In an oral history interview after his retirement, he recalled a meeting with museum trustees in which he described how a Cubist painting by Picasso had enormously increased in value after the museum bought it. In response, a trustee jokingly shot back: “Sell!” In another instance, Lee recalled how a trustee donated a sculpture by Henri Matisse to the museum after having received the work as a gift from a friend.
The trustee thought so little of the bronze, which depicts a pair of lesbians embracing, that he used it as a doorstop. Such negative attitudes, made manifest subtly through art acquisitions and exhibitions that focused primarily on pre-modern art, communicated a powerful disdain for the 20th century and had a dampening effect on contemporary art in Cleveland. To counteract this tendency and provide encouragement to local artists, the museum started an annual series of juried exhibitions on Cleveland art in 1919, called the May Show, which stimulated the competitive spirits of local artists and inspired local collectors to acquire works selected for display. As popular as it was, however, the May Show failed to place local art in a broader national or international context and in that sense contributed to a prevailing sense of cultural isolation. The museum underscored the message by rarely exhibiting works it purchased from the May Show among other works in the collection. It wasn’t until the opening of the museum’s new East Wing in the summer of 2009 that it created special galleries dedicated to the art of Northeast Ohio.
Nevertheless, artists, collectors, and architects in Cleveland battled local orthodoxy and fought to introduce fresh ideas from abroad. Recent scholarship by William Robinson, the museum’s curator of Modern European Art, has shown that leading Cleveland artists in the 1910s, ’20s and ’30s, including William Sommer, Frederick Gottwald, August Biehle, and Carl Gaertner, drew direct inspiration from trips to Europe, particularly Germany. The post-Impressionist and Social Realist paintings work of these “Cleveland School” artists is fascinating, in that it illuminates the history of Cleveland and evokes an extraordinary sense of place. A 1908 painting of a fire tug on the Cuyahoga River, painted by Biehle, exhibited in the 1996 exhibition on Cleveland art, conveys a sense of the smoke-shrouded Flats during the city’s industrial heyday in broad strokes of sooty browns and beiges. Gaertner’s 1926 Pie Wagon, purchased by the museum, shows steel workers gathered outside a soot-shrouded factory on a patch of blinding snow, eating snacks sold by vendors.
Such paintings offer vivid impressions of the city’s industrial heyday. In purely artistic terms, however, they don’t qualify either Biehle or Gaertner as leaders of the 20th-century American vanguard. A powerful local exception was the immensely gifted Charles Burchfield, whose Expressionist-inspired landscape paintings throb with ecstatic energy. One of the most important American artists of the time, Burchfield left Cleveland for Buffalo in 1921 to support himself as a wallpaper designer, and later, starting in 1929, as a full-time painter. Cleveland can claim him only partially.
VIKTOR SCHRECKENGOST AND HIS LEGACY
By focusing primarily on the fine arts, the Cleveland museum’s 1996 exhibition inadvertently made the point that the most important artistic contributions from the city in the early to middle decades of the 20th century lay in ceramics and industrial design. Examples in the show included a silver tea and coffee service created by designer Louis Rorimer and an Art Deco decorative screen fashioned by Rose Iron Works. The best works in the show were a handful of ceramics produced by the great industrial designer Viktor Schreckengost, then still living.
In 2000, the museum gave Schreckengost the long overdue recognition he deserved with a major retrospective exhibition called Viktor Schreckengost and 20th Century Design. The show was incidentally the first major solo exhibition in the museum’s history devoted to a living Cleveland artist—another telling comment on the subtle disdain with which the museum had long viewed local art. Born in Sebring, Ohio, in 1906, Schreckengost was the son of a potter who worked at the French China Company. After studying at the Cleveland Institute of Art with leading Cleveland artists, such as Frank Wilcox and Paul Travis, he won a scholarship and attended the Vienna Kunstgewerbe School for a year, gaining direct exposure to one of the most artistically fertile cities in Europe. After returning to Cleveland, Schreckengost worked for Cowan Pottery and joined the faculty at the art institute, where he soon founded the Department of Industrial Design.
It was around this time that Schreckengost completed what may have been his most famous assignment. Without realizing who the client was, he created a design for a large punch bowl glazed in black and a rich faience blue, based on Art Deco themes related to jazz clubs in New York. Covered with images of skyscrapers, martini glasses, streetlights, stairs, and musical instruments, the bowl brims with the energy of Schreckengost’s upbeat personality. It was only after completing the assignment that he found out that the client was Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of the then-governor of New York State and future president, FDR.
In his work as an industrial designer, Schreckengost combined artistic and functional brilliance in designs for everything from trucks to bicycles, furniture, industrial equipment and dinnerware. He invented the cab-over-engine truck, a design that enabled truck owners to carry more cargo, which allowed them to amortize their vehicles more quickly. During the Depression and the post-World War II period, Schreckengost’s designs stoked consumer desire and kept entire factories humming—a striking demonstration of “making art work.” Modest, pragmatic, and deeply concerned for the consumers of his highly affordable creations, Schreckengost showed that high artistic achievement could be unified with Cleveland’s commercial spirit.
Today, experts consider him one of the greatest American industrial designers of the 20th century, along with Russell Wright, Raymond Loewy, and Norman Bel Geddes, although Schreckengost is much less widely recognized than the others. He created enormous wealth for his corporate clients, but never sought the fame or riches that might have been his if he had moved to New York—as he was often urged to do during his lifetime. Instead, he remained in Cleveland throughout his 70-year career, teaching, designing useful objects, and making art in his free time. While teaching and designing for industrial clients, Schreckengost quietly produced hundreds of watercolors, ceramics, and sculptures in the sky-lighted attic studio of his home in Cleveland Heights. As an artist, his greatest achievement may have been Apocalypse ’42, a ceramic sculpture parodying fascist dictators of Germany, Italy, and Japan, now in the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
Schreckengost’s impact on Cleveland’s and the nation’s economy has been profound. In addition to the direct effect of his designs on local and regional manufacturers, he educated generations of students at the art institute, many of whom achieved enormous success in their own right. Among them are Giuseppe Delena, a chief designer at Ford Motor Company; Joe Oros, designer of the Ford Mustang; and Jerry Hirschberg, head of Nissan Design International. Locally, former Schreckengost students John Nottingham and John Spirk founded a wildly successful industrial design company now headquartered in the renovated Christian Scientist Church overlooking Little Italy on the western edge of Cleveland Heights. Nottingham once estimated that more than 1,000 industrial designers studied with Schreckengost, collectively producing a huge impact on the national economy.
Today, Schreckengost’s work has inspired new initiatives aimed at reviving his legacy. The designer’s family has donated his extensive archive to Cleveland State University, and the city recently renamed East 17th Street “Viktor Schreckengost Way.” The university has donated storage and office space to a new for-profit venture, called American da Vinci, led by entrepreneur Wally Berry. The goal is to re-commercialize Schreckengost’s designs by licensing them to manufacturers. Profits will be shared with the university in the form of scholarships for students. The art institute has also partnered with the university to create the District of Design, a portion of downtown between PlayhouseSquare and the CSU campus, which will be devoted to showrooms for product designers and manufacturers in Northeast Ohio.
While Schreckengost’s designs were highly spirited and functional, they also reflected the inherent conservatism of Cleveland. They refined and adapted artistic and stylistic currents he absorbed from the leading movements and design theories of the 20th century. His aim always was to appeal to a broad public, which required that his designs be understandable and acceptable, not highly inventive in the development of entirely new forms. In other words, he thoroughly embodied the city’s pragmatic spirit, while also achieving a high standard of creative brilliance.
Other artists were not so fortunate; for them, Cleveland’s conservative climate has had an inhibiting, muffling effect; it led to an atmosphere that kept innovators on the fringe or forced them to leave the city to realize their visions elsewhere. It cannot be assumed, however, that Cleveland was devoid of globally significant moments of artistic innovation. For reasons that have yet to be thoroughly explored by scholars, the Cleveland Institute of Art became a haven in the early 1960s for artists who promoted the eye-tingling, high-precision patterns of Op Art.
Members of the group, including Ed Mieczkowski, Julian Stanczak, and Richard Anuskiewicz, earned international attention in 1965 when they showed their work in the important exhibition, The Responsive Eye, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Op Art was a short-lived trend, however.
Quickly condemned by critics as superficial and shallow, Op went out of favor. Stanczak and the other Ohio Op artists soldiered on quietly, producing paintings that have recently been rediscovered by collectors. Their works from the 1960s and ’70s now sell in the range of $50,000 to $100,000 at galleries in New York and Santa Fe, New Mexico. It’s a vindication, of sorts, but it also underscores how difficult it can be to build an artistic career in Cleveland.
THE LOCAL ART MARKET
Today, the art market in Cleveland remains relatively small; serious collectors do their most serious buying in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, or cities in Europe. An unofficial price ceiling of $5,000 to $10,000 for individual works of art ensures that artists who remain within the region will never achieve the financial success accorded leading artists in other cities. Today, the city lacks a central gallery district, which would facilitate comparisons among artists and instill a competitive creative climate.
Artists in the region often make a living by teaching at area universities, where the pay is low, tenure-track positions are rare, and many work in part-time jobs without health insurance. A strong negative synergy exists between the modest size of the local art market, the conservative nature of local taste, and the annual drain of talent. The list of important artists who left Cleveland over the 90 years because the city failed to provide optimal conditions for a successful career have included such luminaries as Charles Burchfield, Hughie Lee-Smith, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Mangold, Joseph Kosuth, Heidi Fasnacht, April Gornik, and Dana Schutz.
The stylistic and conceptual range represented by this loss of talent is enormous. In many cases, the artists involved knew that Cleveland would never provide the audience, market, and employment needed to achieve the highest success. Roy Lichtenstein, for example, graduated from Ohio State University in the late 1940s and spent close to a decade in Cleveland before moving to New Jersey to teach at Rutgers University. Soon, he was exhibiting at the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York the comic-style Pop Art paintings that would make him famous around the world.
The story is a somber one. And yet, the rise of academia as a non-commercial support system for artists has created a certain stability, which enables many artists to persevere in the region. The bargain accepted by these artists is that they must teach in order to earn the studio time necessary to pursue their own work. More than a handful of local artists have built successful careers in this manner. Among them are the sculptor and painter Brinsley Tyrrell, painter Joseph O’Sickey, and glass artist Henry Halem, all affiliated with Kent State University. Cleveland State University has supported the careers of painter Ken Nevadomi and draftsman George Mauersberger. Case Western Reserve University has served as a base for the Pop-influenced painter and photo-collagist Chris Pekoc. The Cleveland Institute of Art provided the bedrock support needed by Stanczak to continue his exacting, precise, and highly rarefied Op Art explorations of color and form.
The decorative arts continue to be a particular point of strength in the Cleveland art scene. The Cleveland Institute of Art has enabled glass artist Brent Kee Young and ceramists Judith Salomon and William Brouillard to build careers of national significance in Cleveland. All are represented in major museum collections around the country. Jeweler John Paul Miller, who also taught for decades at the art institute, created a following among wealthy patrons in Cleveland, who acquired his exquisitely crafted gold jewelry. With its fusion of machine-like precision and natural forms based on insects and crustaceans, Miller’s work ranks among the best of its kind in the 20th century and is also very well represented in museum collections nationwide.
THE RISE OF LOCAL ARTS DISTRICTS
Every year, a trickle of new talent enters the Cleveland scene, as a percentage of art students graduating from local colleges and universities elect to stay in the city, motivated by the visual power of its industrial landscape, the richness of the best parts of the city’s artistic legacy, and the low cost of living. In recent years, city planners and community development officials have recognized that, when artists act as urban pioneers, property values rise, safety improves, and neighborhoods stabilize. The city has encouraged such settlement patterns in art districts in Tremont, Collinwood, St. Clair-Superior, and other neighborhoods.
The phenomenon is not unique to Cleveland nor is it new; it is fundamentally a reprise of the massive revival of real estate values in New York’s SoHo district. Starting in the 1960s and ‘70s, artists occupied vacant lofts in the cast iron industrial buildings south of Houston Street in Manhattan, which dated back to the Civil War era. By the 1980s, real estate values had surged to the point where artists and galleries were pushed out of the district by chic restaurants, hotels, boutiques, and stores for luxury furniture and lighting.
The artists and galleries decamped to Chelsea, the next Manhattan neighborhood to undergo transformation. Other cities around the country noted the phenomenon, and consciously tried to emulate it with public policies that encouraged artists to settle in formerly run-down areas. Economist Richard Florida boosted awareness of the positive economic impact of artistic activity in cities with his highly influential 2003 book, The Rise of the Creative Class. In it, he promoted the notion that high-tech workers are attracted to cities with strong physical and cultural amenities, where young, creative people feel at home. Businesses need to follow workers to such cities, not attempt to lure them to corporate cubicles in suburbs. In part based on Florida’s theories, foundations, developers and community development corporations are encouraging the formation of widely dispersed arts districts in Cleveland. On the surface, this would seem to be a positive trend. The danger is that the “peanut butter” approach of spreading resources thinly over a large city will prevent the coalescence of a central arts and gallery district. The enthusiasm for arts districts is also based on values that have nothing to do with the core purpose of art, which is the pursuit of quality, not the creation of “positive externalities” caused by the mere presence of artistic activity in a neighborhood. A sharp distinction needs to be made between the quality and merit of the artistic products coming out of neighborhood arts districts and the secondary economic benefits produced by the presence of artists in a community.
To date, the arts districts in Cleveland have certainly boosted real estate values and investment, and they’ve also contributed to striking advances in the quality of the city’s restaurants over the past 15 years. But while arts districts have made certain neighborhoods – including Tremont, Detroit-Shoreway, and Little Italy – better places to live, they haven’t sparked a true artistic renaissance.
CONSERVATISM IN CLEVELAND ARCHITECTURE
If the history of the fine arts in Cleveland is a mixed picture, the same is true of the city’s architectural history. Architecture gives enduring physical form to Cleveland’s cultural conservatism and shapes the city’s mind-set in countless ways, marking it as a place that imports and refines ideas developed elsewhere, not as a place of innovation in its own right.
The irony is that during the first half of the 20th century, the Great Lakes industrial region was a global hot-bed of architectural creativity. Chicago architects such as Louis H. Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright launched modern architecture with nature-based theories of “Organic” design. After World War II, the great German modern architect, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, designed some of the most elegantly skeletal steel and glass buildings of his career in Chicago, including the campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology. In Detroit, the Finnish-born Eliel Saarinen fused inspirations from Finnish vernacular design, Art Nouveau, and modernism in his masterpiece, the campus of Cranbrook in Bloomfield Hills. The architect’s son, Eero Saarinen, rocketed to fame in the 1950s and ’60s with the swooping forms of his TWA Terminal at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York. Although these architects were active throughout the region in Detroit, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, and other cities around Cleveland, none ever received a single assignment in Cleveland.
In 1937, Wright designed his most famous work, Fallingwater, for the Pittsburgh department store magnate, Edgar Kaufmann, as a retreat in the Pennsylvania mountains east of the city. Wright did receive commissions in the Cleveland area, but they came much later in his career, shortly before his death in 1959. His most widely known local patron was Louis Penfield, a high school art teacher with a modest income, who asked Wright to design a small but elegant “Usonian” house in a flood plain next to the Chagrin River in Willoughby, near the future path of Interstate 90. Wright created the term Usonian late in his career to denote a line of small, affordable houses he designed for middle-class clients, primarily across the Midwest. The contrast between Kaufmann—a wealthy merchant prince of Pittsburgh who sought Wright’s talents at the height of his career—and Penfield, a man of modest resources who caught up with Wright in his waning years, says a great deal about the skepticism with which business, political, and civic leaders in Cleveland viewed the latest ideas in art, architecture, and other areas of culture in the mid-20th century.
The city’s taste is instead embodied fully by the neoclassical civic buildings inspired by the 1903 Group Plan for downtown Cleveland, masterminded by Chicago architect Daniel H. Burnham. A brilliant planner and motivator of civic energy, Burnham launched the City Beautiful movement in American city planning with his plans for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The movement adapted Beaux Arts neoclassical architecture to American urban settings. The basic thrust was to sweep away the grime and slums of the Industrial Revolution and to impose the elegance and grandeur of Paris and Rome. Cleveland possesses a fine effort by Burnham—the May Company Building, along with the Society for Savings Building, designed by his partner, John Wellborn Root. But his greatest legacy is the 1903 Group Plan for downtown Cleveland, perhaps the largest intact example of City Beautiful planning in America, after the Mall in Washington, D.C., also influenced heavily by Burnham.
In Cleveland, the Group Plan called for a series of neoclassical civic buildings organized around a 12.5-acre central Mall, stretching from the Cleveland Public Library and the old federal post office and courthouse, north to an overlook between City Hall and the Cuyahoga County Courthouse. Burnham intended the three-block Mall to function as a vast promenade in the heart of downtown, with a large train station on the north end, overlooking Lake Erie. When the train station was built at Tower City Center, however, the Mall was deprived of its major activity generator. For decades, it has been a mixed legacy—a monumental space largely devoid of civic life. Plans for a new medical mart and convention center below Malls B and C, the northern sections of the space, offer the best chance in decades to complete Burnham’s vision and to inject fresh vitality into downtown’s largest public space.
If the Mall is an equivocal legacy, Burnham’s emphasis on neoclassical architecture—and essentially conservative taste—heavily influenced the city for decades. Neoclassicism, fundamentally a backward-looking style, was chosen for all major buildings in the city, from the Federal Reserve Building and Public Auditorium to the Cleveland Museum of Art, Severance Hall, and the Terminal Tower. Out-of-town firms designed some of the structures, but many were designed by some of the very fine local firms then operating in Cleveland, including Hubbell & Benes and Walker and Weeks. By the mid 1930s, however, when the Terminal Tower was finished, Burnham-style neoclassicism was utterly passé; New York had by then moved on to the far more progressive Art Deco styling of the Chrysler and Empire State buildings, Rockefeller Center, and the New York Daily News buildings.
Cutting-edge modernist architecture remained a minority taste throughout the 20th century in Cleveland, although it was embraced on occasion by a handful of private patrons. The Cleveland Artists Foundation, in an effort organized by local historian Nina Gibans, illuminated the history of a small group of modernist houses designed in Cleveland’s East Side suburbs in the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s by local architects such as John Terrence Kelly, Don Hisaka, Robert A. Little, and Ernst Payer. The impression left by the show was that this handful of houses represented a high-water mark for design innovation during the period.
Tellingly, the Cleveland Chapter of the American Institute of Architects published a guide to Cleveland buildings in 1994, which avoided critical perspectives on local architecture. The one pointed exception is a comment in the introduction, by Theodore Sande, a Cleveland architect and preservationist, which stated that Cleveland architecture is “conservative or cautious” and that it tends to “reflect the end of a stylistic period, rather than the beginning.”
A TOLERANCE FOR MEDIOCRITY
The pattern continued after World War II, and in many ways, continues to this day. Architectural clients, including CEOs of the city’s largest banks, elevated the city’s skyline in the 1980s and ’90s with skyscrapers designed by some of the biggest names in contemporary architecture, including the national firms of HOK, SOM, Charles Luckman, Wallace Harrison, Hugh Stubbins, and Cesar Pelli. Local architects fumed at having been sidelined, even though most lacked the expertise to design skyscrapers. The local clients, however, weren’t able to coax the best work from the out-of-towners. Most of the postwar towers in downtown Cleveland are mediocre, grade B efforts by big, brand-name firms. Downtown gives permanent form to the impression that in architecture, Cleveland is a follower, not a leader. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, designed by I. M. Pei, is a prime example of the city’s conservatism. Designed relatively late in the architect’s career, it reprises themes he developed in earlier and better designs, such as the glass pyramid in the courtyard of the Louvre Museum in Paris.
The conservatism of local architectural tastes is underscored by the city’s tepid response to the success of the most famous architect associated with the city, Philip Johnson. The son of a prominent Cleveland attorney, Johnson was briefly fascinated by fascism and Nazism in the 1930s, a phase he later bitterly regretted. With historian Henry Russell Hitchcock, Johnson curated a pivotal 1932 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, which introduced European-style modern design to America. After World War II, he established himself as one of the most influential American architects of the second half of the 20th century. In 1948, he designed his famous Glass House residence for himself in New Canaan, Connecticut, now owned and operated as a house museum by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. His other credits include skyscrapers in New York, Denver, Houston, and Minneapolis, as well as the Fort Worth Water Garden and the Amon Carter Museum, also in Fort Worth.
As an architect, Johnson was a complete chameleon; he changed styles rapidly and capitalized on every new idea that emerged between the 1930s and the 1990s, often winning extensive media attention, which may have been the point. His outspoken style and flamboyant personal lifestyle—he was gay and came out of the closet proudly in the latter decades of his life—did not go over well in his hometown. He never got a major assignment in Cleveland until he was asked in the early 1980s to design a “post-modern” expansion of the Cleveland Play House complex at 85th Street and Euclid Avenue in an abstracted version of Byzantine architecture. Today, the Play House faces an uncertain future; the Cleveland Clinic purchased the complex in 2009 and, as of the fall of 2010, it had not yet announced whether it would demolish or keep Johnson’s building.
At times, Cleveland embraced innovation, but only at its most destructive. The 1961 Erieview Plan, masterminded by a young I. M. Pei, led to the wholesale demolition of 200 acres of downtown fabric, and paved the way for the sterile towers erected in the 1970s and ’80s. Along Superior Avenue and East Ninth Street, large towers are interspersed with parking garages, creating streetscapes of deadly and long-lasting dullness. During the same period, the city allowed building owners to demolish half of the buildings in the Warehouse District, to make way for surface parking lots that would serve the new City-County Justice Center.
CONSERVING THE PAST: THE RISE OF HISTORIC PRESERVATION AND THE GREEN MOVEMENT
In response, Cleveland’s cultural conservatism found an extremely positive outlet in the rise of a strong historic preservation movement. A modernist architect named Peter van Dijk, a native of Holland who grew up in Venezuela and suburban New York, played a key role in the movement. Van Dijk moved to Cleveland in the 1960s, after having spent a decade working for Eero Saarinen in Detroit on assignments including the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. Van Dijk overtly adapted Saarinen’s great steel parabolic arch in the design for his most important work, the Blossom Music Center, in 1968.
Frustrated thereafter by his inability to capture an assignment to design a major skyscraper downtown, van Dijk became a preservation architect, almost by accident. He played a key role in unifying the movie palaces of PlayhouseSquare with interconnected lobbies. His firm, capitalizing on the expertise in theater renovation it gained at PlayhouseSquare, subsequently renovated more than 150 historic theaters across the country—showing how a single assignment in Cleveland led to the strengthening of a hometown architecture firm. Today, Cleveland has a national reputation for high quality historic preservation, and for having saved much of its historic fabric. Ohio is a national leader in architecture and development firms taking advantage of federal historic tax credits to complete detailed, historically respectful renovations of important early 19th- and early 20th-century buildings. And within Ohio, Cleveland ranks first in tax credit work.
The industrialists who built Cleveland took little interest in the amenity value of the city’s waterfronts, which they used exclusively for commercial and industrial purposes. Consequently, residents and elected officials put up little opposition in the 1950s, when highway engineers walled off Lake Erie and the Cuyahoga Valley. Unlike Chicago, which pursued civic beauty with a passion in the creation of one of the world’s great waterfronts, Cleveland has tacitly expressed the attitude that beauty is enshrined inside the city’s art museums, not in the public realm.
At the outset of the 21st century, a broad social movement is underway to reclaim polluted industrial landscapes and turn them into parks and bikeways. Progress is slow, painfully so. But the landscape urbanism movement, also present in other cities around the country, is a highly positive trend and absolutely necessary if Cleveland is to survive in the future. If anything, it needs greater public and political support to speed up the creation of regional amenities that could do an enormous amount to change the city’s image and erase the memory of the 1969 fire on the Cuyahoga River.
RADICAL RESPONSE: THE RISE OF MOCA
No city is monolithic in its cultural tastes and that is certainly true of Cleveland. Throughout the 20th century, artists, collectors, and architects have championed new ideas, sometimes with truly amazing consequences. In 1968, progressive energies in the visual arts coalesced around a tiny institution called the New Gallery, later known as the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland. It was founded by art impresarios Marjorie Talalay and Nina Sundell, daughter of the highly influential New York art dealer, Leo Castelli. When Talalay and Sundell opened their gallery in a former dry cleaning storefront on Euclid Avenue, the tiny space upstaged the Cleveland Museum of Art by hosting important exhibitions on the works of artists including Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, and Christo. At a time when the Cleveland Museum of Art had few Jewish representatives on its board of trustees, MOCA, by then known as the Cleveland Center for Contemporary Art, provided an outlet for progressive and forward-looking tastes of many of the city’s Jewish art collectors and patrons. Chief among them were Peter and Toby Lewis. In one celebrated instance, a creative spark ignited at the center had global significance.
In the mid 1980s, the institution staged a lecture series on contemporary architecture, which brought the pioneering Los Angeles architect Frank Gehry to town. After the talk, Talalay introduced Gehry to Peter Lewis, by then a major MOCA supporter and art collector. Lewis challenged Gehry to design a house for him in Lyndhurst big enough to show off his collection—and to mark Lewis as a visionary patron of the arts. The project went through 15 major iterations, by which time the estimated cost of the house reached $80 million. Lewis, who no longer wanted to live in a big house, pulled the plug on the assignment. Lewis also asked Gehry to design a downtown skyscraper headquarters for Progressive next to Burnham’s Mall, overlooking Lake Erie. The project failed due to lack of political support from mayors George Voinovich and Michael White, and ambivalence on Lewis’s part.
Lewis’s patronage, meanwhile, had an enormous impact on Gehry. It enabled him to master computer technology as an aid in designing and building highly sculptural forms never before attempted by the architect. The ultimate outcome of these years was Gehry’s design for the path-breaking Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, completed in 1997, which turned the city overnight into a global tourist attraction. Gehry has publicly acknowledged the importance of Lewis’s support, a point made visible in a documentary film Lewis commissioned to record his interactions with Gehry. Lewis subsequently paid for half of the construction cost of the Gehry-designed Peter B. Lewis Building at Case Western Reserve University, completed in 2002. Compromised by rapid turnover in the president’s office at CWRU and by uneven oversight, the project is not one of Gehry’s better buildings, which demonstrates how difficult it can be, even with a great architect, to achieve a great result.
The connection between Cleveland and Bilbao is especially poignant because Bilbao is a global example of the ways in which a dying industrial city can help reverse its decline through calculated investments in cutting-edge art, architecture, and urban design. Gehry’s Guggenheim branch is the most famous international symbol of the new Bilbao. It is less widely known that the museum was part of a carefully thought out plan for Bilbao and environs, which called for a shining new subway system, designed by Lord Norman Foster of England, an airport designed by Spanish architect-engineer Santiago Calatrava, and a waterfront business district on the Nervion River, designed by American architect Cesar Pelli.
Bilbao offers one example of how a progressive cultural agenda can help turn a city around. For Cleveland, the key is not to imitate Bilbao, but to figure out how to address its own challenges in a uniquely local way, while spending money as wisely as possible. Today, the biggest public policy question facing the arts in Northeast Ohio is whether the cigarette tax supplying income for the county’s annual arts fund should be renewed when it expires in 2016. Closely related to this question is whether government and philanthropy working together can maintain the existing collection of cultural institutions in the city, or whether a smaller audience and philanthropic base will mean that some institutions will die.
PICKING WINNERS AND LOSERS THROUGH CULTURAL PHILANTHROPY
In recent years, the city witnessed the demise of both the Cleveland San Jose Ballet and the Health Museum, both of which failed to raise enough endowment support to see them through lean times. The Health Museum’s collapse is noteworthy because it followed the museum’s construction of an architecturally ambitious building in the 1990s, which it could not afford to occupy once it was finished. The Cleveland Botanical Garden, which also expanded during the favorable economy of the 1990s, now faces a similar strain in the more difficult economic climate of the early 21st century. The Western Reserve Historical Society lavished millions of dollars on an expansion plan it ultimately abandoned, but not before having seriously damaged its finances.
No one knows exactly how much money exists for the arts and culture in Cleveland. But it’s fair to ask, for example, whether the ambitious expansion of the Cleveland Museum of Art will mean greater fiscal challenges for the Cleveland Orchestra, for example, or the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. It’s likely that arguments for and against funding of particular institutions will be grounded in quantitative measures, including numbers of school visits, attendance, and membership, along with economic impact studies of tourism, employment, and taxes. All those measures are important. However, when choosing which institutions or artists to support, it’s always important to remember that the core values of are based on the pursuit of quality, originality, and creativity, not easily measurable economic effects.
The mission statement of Cuyahoga Arts and Culture, the public agency charged with deciding how $15 million in county arts grants should be spent, makes it sound as if artistic quality is a primary objective. It states that the goal of the CAC is to “sustain the excellence of Cuyahoga County’s arts and cultural assets that enrich our lives and enhance our community’s appeal.” But the CAC language presumes that the institutions it supports have already achieved artistic excellence, which is essentially a boosterish, self-congratulatory notion. It also implies that preserving existing institutions and jobs should be a primary goal of arts funding. This is a fundamentally unexciting proposition. Can we expect more?
The Cleveland Museum of Art, which is in the midst of a transformation, may provide some of the answers. With its expansion and renovation only halfway complete, it’s unclear whether it will finally give modern and contemporary art the same level of attention it has paid to Ancient Greek, European medieval, or Asian art. Signs are the museum under new director David Franklin will finally address the shortcomings of its 20th-century collection, and hold major exhibitions on modern masters whose works have never been explored seriously in Cleveland.
As the museum considers its next moves, progressive cultural energy in Cleveland has focused on the Uptown development in University Circle. Uptown is an eight-acre, $150 million-plus real estate development that will combine rental housing, cultural institutions, retail, and restaurants on the triangle of land east of the intersection of Euclid Avenue, Ford Drive, and Mayfield Road. The project will be anchored on the west by a new, $26 million building for MOCA Cleveland, and on the east by an expanded campus for the Cleveland Institute of Art, centered on the Joseph McCullough Center for the Visual Arts.
In between, the real estate development company MRN, Ltd., will build approximately 150 apartments on both sides of Euclid Avenue, along with a Barnes & Noble bookstore, street-level cafes, bars, and restaurants. The new development will replace a dull, suburban-style strip shopping center built in the 1980s, surrounded by surface parking lots. Uptown, sponsored by Case Western Reserve University and University Circle, Inc., echoes dozens of campus-edge developments around the country, in which universities and medical centers have rebuilt the empty acres around the fringes of their campuses to create lively urban environments, aimed at attracting and retaining the best and brightest students, faculty, and workers.
The success of Uptown, with a healthy, expanded, and more popular MOCA, could do an enormous amount to shift the city’s cultural values and make it a more broad-minded place open to new ideas. Other progressive new ventures in the visual arts in Cleveland are also under way. The Cleveland Institute of Art, working with partners including Cleveland State University, wants to reignite interest in the Viktor Schreckengost legacy by making the city a major haven for industrial design. Someday, the Cleveland Institute of Art could also create a graduate school in the visual arts, which would entice mature artists to settle in the city. Kent State University could expand the footprint of its satellite Architecture and Urban Design Program in the city and enrich debate on how Cleveland shapes its future physically. Nonprofit organizations devoted to excellence in the design of parks and public spaces, such as ParkWorks and Cleveland Public Art, are thriving.
For civic leaders and philanthropists, the question is whether the flow of money to the arts should be determined by a true appreciation of artistic quality and innovation, not simply measurable economic impact. In a city with a shrinking population and diminishing resources, demands for arts funding may rise, even as the supply of available cash becomes scarce. Foundations, donors, and government will have to make tough decisions about where to invest. Quality is never a bad investment, but innovation is equally important. As a city whose history of cultural conservatism has paralleled its long economic decline, Cleveland needs to consider how it can preserve and celebrate the best of the past, while also becoming a place where new and original thinking is not only encouraged, but demanded. Cleveland needs to become a place that generates new ideas, not just one that imports artistic concepts or popularizes existing ideas in order to realize quick financial gain. Cleveland needs more people like Charles Burchfield, Viktor Schreckengost, and Peter Lewis—not another Archibald Willard.
Adams, Henry. Viktor Schreckengost and 20th Century Design. Cleveland: Cleveland Museum of Art, distributed by Washington University Press, 2000.
Gaede, Robert, and Richard van Petten. Guide to Cleveland Architecture. 2nd ed. Cleveland: Cleveland Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, 1997.
Johannesen, Eric. A Cleveland Legacy: The Architecture of Walker and Weeks. Kent: Kent State University Press, 1999.
———. Cleveland Architecture, 1876–1976. Rev. ed. Cleveland: Western Reserve Historical Society, 1981.
Litt, Steven. “Cleveland’s Long-time Love Affair with Culture.” The Plain Dealer, Special Section: The Life of a City/Cleveland Celebrates its Bicentennial, December 31, 1995.
———. “The Forgotten Valley” (series of 5 articles). The Plain Dealer, November 19–25, 2000.
Miller, Carol Poh, and Robert Wheeler. Cleveland: A Concise History, 1796–1996. 2nd ed. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997.
The New American City Faces Its Regional Future: A Cleveland Perspective. Edited by David C. Sweet, Kathryn Wertheim Hexter, and David Beach. Columbus: Ohio University Press, 1999.
Transformations in Cleveland Art: 1796–1946. Edited by William Robinson and David Steinberg. Cleveland: Cleveland Museum of Art, 1996.
Witchey, Holly Rarick, and John Vacha. Fine Arts in Cleveland: An Illustrated History. Vol 3, Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994.
From the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History
ARCHITECTURE. Cleveland’s innovations in certain areas of architectural planning have displayed a progressiveness and vision matched by few other cities. The 1903 Group Plan, which produced widespread national admiration at the time, is only one example. In the 1920s, the plan of the CLEVELAND UNION TERMINAL complex anticipated many of the features of Rockefeller Center. Greater Cleveland also developed the first comprehensive modern building code (1904), the first industrial research park (NELA PARK, 1911), and the most spectacular realization of the garden city suburb idea inSHAKER HEIGHTS Moreover, Cleveland is not without its individual architectural landmarks that have no peer anywhere, the most notable being theARCADE of 1890.
Architectural design in Cleveland during most of its history was typical of that in any growing midwestern commercial and industrial city. The building needs for various uses–domestic, commercial, religious, social, industrial, and so on–were common. The same is true of the styles used to clothe these uses; styles followed the general chronological development of those in the rest of the nation. The design of buildings was determined less by any discernible architectural philosophy than by the function or symbolism of the building, the wishes of the builder, the type of site or amount of money available, and the dictates of fashion. Because of the demand, the city attracted numerous fine architects, who generally produced buildings at a very high level of quality, though Cleveland is not known as the home of prophetic architects of national reputation.
At the time of Cleveland’s beginnings in the early 19th century, there was no profession of architecture in the modern sense. The designer of buildings was sometimes a gentleman-scholar but more often a master builder in the late-18th-century tradition. The first master builder practicing in Cleveland who called himself “architect” was JONATHAN GOLDSMITH† (1783-1847) of Painesville, who built at least 10 houses on Euclid Ave. in the 1820s and 1830s. The most notable were the Federal-style Judge Samuel Cowles mansion (1834) and the Greek Revival Truman Handy mansion (1837). The modern profession of architecture began in the 1840s, and the individual private practice, performing most of the services of the modern architect, was established in Cleveland before the Civil War. Goldsmith’s son-in-law CHAS. W. HEARD† (1806-76) was the most important architect from 1845 until his death. From 1849-59 he worked in partnership with SIMEON C. PORTER† (1807-71) from Hudson, OH. Heard and Porter designed predominantly in the Romanesque Revival style (Old Stone Church, 1855). They introduced the use of cast-iron columns in Cleveland in the mid-1850s. Heard designed the Case Block (distinct fromCASE HALL), rented and known as city hall, Cleveland’s greatest Second Empire building, in 1875.
In the last quarter of the 19th century, Cleveland’s most magnificent architectural ensemble was found on EUCLID AVE., lined with the fashionable mansions of wealthy executives in shipping, iron and steel, oil, electricity, and railroads. The fine residential stretch between E. 12th and E. 40th streets was known as “Millionaires Row”; Clevelanders and many visitors called it “the most beautiful street in the world.” Mansions remaining from the Greek Revival period, together with Gothic Revival and Tuscan villas from the 1850s and 1860s, stood side by side with great Romanesque Revival stone residences and eclectic houses in the Victorian Gothic, Renaissance, Queen Anne, and Neoclassic styles. The residences were designed both by Cleveland architects such as LEVI T. SCOFIELD†, CHAS. F. SCHWEINFURTH†, and GEO. H. SMITH† and by out-of-town architects, including Peabody & Stearns, Richard M. Hunt, and Stanford White. Euclid Ave. remained fashionable until after the turn of the century, but virtually all of “Millionaires Row” was destroyed in the years around World War II.
At the same time, Cleveland participated in the revolution in commercial architecture that evolved simultaneously in Chicago, New York, and other large commercial cities, and which was characterized by 1) a concern for fireproof construction, 2) the provision of lighter and more open structure, and 3) the evolution of iron and steel skeletal construction. The foremost exponents of this development in Cleveland were FRANK E. CUDELL† (1844-1916) andJOHN N. RICHARDSON† (1837-1902), who produced a remarkable series of progressively lighter and more open structures between 1882-89–the Geo. Worthington Bldg., the Root & McBride-Bradley Bldg., and the PERRY-PAYNE BUILDING The first in Cleveland to utilize iron columns throughout all 8 stories, the latter contained an interior light court that attracted visitors from a considerable distance. The Chicago School of commercial building was actually represented by 3 buildings of Burnham & Root–the Society for Savings (1890), whose masonry load-bearing walls enclose an iron skeleton, and whose lobby is an unusually fine example of decorative art in the
Wm. Morris tradition; the WESTERN RESERVE BUILDING (1891), a building of similar structure built on an unusual triangular site; and theCUYAHOGA BUILDING (1893; demolished 1982), the first building in Cleveland with a complete steel frame.
The development of skeletal structure and the interior light court reached a climax in Cleveland with the construction of the ARCADE. Opened in 1890, the Arcade is an architectural landmark that has remained without peer for more than 100 years. Combining features of the light court and a commercial shopping street, the “bazaar” of stores and offices was built by a company whose officers included STEPHEN V. HARKNESS† of Standard Oil andCHAS. F. BRUSH†. The architects were JOHN EISENMANN† and Geo. H. Smith. The 300′ long iron-and-glass arcade of 5 stories is surrounded by railed balconies and connects two 9-story office buildings designed in the Romanesque style. Because of the differences in grade, there are main floors on both the Euclid Ave. and Superior Ave. levels. The skeletal structure of the Arcade consists of iron columns and oak, wrought iron, and steel beams. The roof trusses were of a new type; since no local builder would bid on the construction, the work was done by the Detroit Bridge Co. The central well of the Arcade, with its dramatic open space and natural light, is the most impressive interior in the city, and its renown is international.
Other architects active in the last quarter of the century were ANDREW MITERMILER†, planner of breweries, business blocks, and social halls; JOSEPH IRELAND†, architect to AMASA STONE† and DANIEL P. EELLS†; Levi Scofield, designer of Cleveland’s most important monument, the SOLDIERS’ AND SAILORS’ MONUMENT (1894); and COBURN & BARNUM, whose major works were institutional and business buildings. By 1890 36 architects were listed in the city directory, and in the same year the Cleveland chapter of the AMERICAN INSTITUTE OF ARCHITECTS, CLEVELAND CHAPTER was formed. To design important Cleveland buildings in the 1890s, however, many clients sought architects of national reputation, among them Burnham & Root, Richard M. Hunt, Henry Ives Cobb, Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge, Geo. B. Post, Peabody & Stearns, and Geo. W. Keller. After the turn of the century, these included Stanford White and Cram, Goodhue & Ferguson.
When the profound change from Victorian revivalism to classicism took place in the 1890s, Cleveland architects responded with characteristic adaptability. Such architects as Geo. H. Smith, LEHMAN AND SCHMITT, GEO. F. HAMMOND†, and KNOX & ELLIOT began careers in the Richardsonian Romanesque and other revival styles and later were able to design tall office buildings and Beaux-Arts classical monuments with equal facility. One architect of this generation, CHAS. F. SCHWEINFURTH† (1856-1919), was the first Cleveland architect to rank with those of national stature. Trained in New York, he came to Cleveland to design mansions, institutional buildings, and churches for the wealthy, especially in association with Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Mather. His early work was in the Richardsonian Romanesque style, but his masterpiece is generally agreed to be the Gothic TRINITY CATHEDRAL(1901-07).
The dominance of the classic revival was epitomized by the Group Plan of 1903, whose significance was immediately recognized across the country. The plan evolved as a result of the conception that newly planned federal, county, and city buildings could be placed in a monumental grouping. The Group Plan Commission consisted of Daniel H. Burnham, John M. Carrere, and Arnold W. Brunner. Uniformity of architectural character and building height was recommended, and the Beaux-Arts classical style was followed. The MALL, which is the center of the plan, was finally completed in 1936, and the major buildings include the Federal Courthouse (1910), CUYAHOGA COUNTY COURTHOUSE (1912), CLEVELAND CITY HALL (1916), PUBLIC AUDITORIUM (1922), CLEVELAND PUBLIC LIBRARY (1925), and Board of Education Bldg. (1930). As an example of city planning inspired by the City Beautiful movement and specifically by the precedent of the Columbian Exposition of 1893, Cleveland’s Group Plan brought the city a national reputation for progressive municipal
A few Cleveland architects studied at the Beaux-Arts in Paris and brought its teachings with them, the most notable being J. MILTON DYER† (1870-1957), architect of the city hall. By the 20th century, the first generation of architects trained in an American architectural school was beginning to practice. In 1921 a group of architects established the Cleveland School of Architecture, with ABRAM GARFIELD† as the first president. The school was affiliated with Western Reserve Univ. in 1929. It later became a department of WRU (1952) and continued to operate until it was discontinued in 1972. Many architects were attracted to Cleveland by the opportunities to build in the growing and wealthy industrial city. The development of well-to-do suburban enclaves inLAKEWOOD, BRATENAHL, and the Heights between 1895-1939 fostered a climate in which eclectic residential architects flourished. Among the finest were Meade & Hamilton, Abram Garfield, PHILLIP SMALL†, CHAS. SCHNEIDER†, FREDERIC W. STRIEBINGER†, CLARENCE MACK†, J. W. C. CORBUSIER†, ANTONIO DI NARDO†, and Munroe Copper.
The development of SHAKER HEIGHTS (1906-30) was probably the most spectacular embodiment of the suburban “garden city” idea in America. The subdivision was laid out so that curving roadways, determined as much by the topography of the land as by the desire for informality, replaced the grid layout of city streets. The apparently aimless meandering of the roads was actually calculated to provide access to the main arteries, as well as to create the best advantages for beautiful and livable home sites. Certain locations were reserved for the commercial areas, and lots were donated for schools and churches.
The homes of Shaker Hts. could be built for a wide range of prices, and there were neighborhoods of diverse character, from mansions to more humble homes. The architecture of the houses of the 1920s held few surprises; eclecticism was the accepted manner. The architects turned to styles that had developed satisfying and comfortable forms of domestic architecture, including American Colonial and English Manor (either Adam or Georgian), French, Italian, Elizabethan, Spanish, or Cotswold. But the similar plans and common scale, differentiated mainly in detail, resulted in familiar streets where the different styles stand side by side without jarring in the least.
The consistency of the domestic vision in the planned suburb was remarkable. Churches were designed to relate to the domestic architecture, the two favorite styles being American Colonial and English Gothic. Schools, stores, libraries, hospitals, fire stations, and even the gasoline stations were designed in the Georgian and Tudor idioms. In 1927-29 the planned suburban shopping center at Shaker Square was built in the Georgian Colonial style. The plan of the square has been compared to a New England village green, but it owes a great deal to the concepts of mid-18th-century Neoclassic town planning in Europe; it has been suggested that the octagonal form of the square and its buildings was patterned after the Amalienborg Palace in Copenhagen. SHAKER SQUARE illustrates the continuing dependence on European models, combined with the expected references to American Georgian domestic building. It is also unusual in its integration of the rapid-transit line, which made the development of suburban Shaker Hts. possible.
The first 3 decades of the 20th century also saw a greatly increased demand for much larger and more formal private, institutional, and public buildings. Two architectural firms dominated the field–HUBBELL & BENES, architects of the WEST SIDE MARKET, the CLEVELAND MUSEUM OF ART, and the Ohio Bell Telephone Bldg., and WALKER AND WEEKS, architects of the FEDERAL RESERVE BANK OF CLEVELAND, Public Auditorium, the Cleveland Public Library, and SEVERANCE HALL. However, two of the largest such projects of the period, the HUNTINGTON BUILDING and the Union Terminal Group, were entrusted to the Chicago firm of Graham, Anderson, Probst & White.
The Terminal Group (1922-31), an architectural complex that became the symbol of Cleveland, consisted originally of 7 buildings occupying 17 acres. The group was notable for the development of commercial air rights over the station; all of the passenger facilities were below the street level. The arched portico on the PUBLIC SQUARE led to the Terminal Tower lobby and to ramps going to the station concourse level. The Hotel Cleveland (1918) was incorporated into the group and balanced by Higbee’s department store (1931). The Terminal Group may be compared with Rockefeller Center, which it predated by several years, in size, multipurpose use, and the incorporation of connecting underground concourses and an indoor parking garage. The 52-story Beaux-Arts-style tower, second-tallest in the world in 1928, is crowned by a classical spire, probably based on the New York Municipal Bldg. of 1913. Sometimes criticized as conservative in style, the Terminal Tower forms a focal point for the Public Square and the radiating avenues of Cleveland’s street plan, expressing the enterprise of the VAN SWERINGEN† brothers who built it. The Builders’ Exchange (Guildhall), Medical Arts (Republic), and Midland buildings, also planned by Graham, Anderson, Probst & White, were designed in the modernistic style of 1929-30; their Art Deco lobbies were destroyed in 1981. The last building in the original group, the U.S. Post Office, was completed in 1934.
The Depression era saw profound effects in architecture. Apart from the general decline in building and the consequent attrition in the number of practicing architects, the most important was the arrival of modernism under the influence of the European International style, which was most apparent in the design of federal public works. The first 3 public housing projects authorized and begun by the Public Works Admin. were built in Cleveland in 1935-37. They were the Cedar-Central apartments planned by WALTER MCCORNACK†, Outhwaite homes by Maier, Walsh & Barrett, and LAKEVIEW TERRACE by Weinberg, Conrad & Teare. Lakeview Terrace is especially notable because of its adaptation to a difficult sloping site, and it appeared in international publications as a landmark in public housing. The simple design of the building units was clearly influenced by the European precedent of the International style. Other architects who adopted the new style with intelligence and vigor were J. Milton Dyer, HAROLD B. BURDICK†, CARL BACON ROWLEY†, J. Byers Hays, and Antonio di Nardo. The GREAT LAKES EXPOSITION in 1936 provided an opportunity for the display of the simple geometric forms of modernism, but the general acceptance of the style did not occur until after World War II.
The architecture of the postwar era is difficult to assess objectively from a recent perspective. New construction in Cleveland may have been more conservative in style and direction than at any other period in its history. Buildings continued to be built in traditional forms, as well as in the rectangular geometry of the assimilated International style. Many major projects were still awarded to nationally famous architects. Greater Cleveland saw structures designed by two of the old masters of modern architecture, Eric Mendelsohn and Walter Gropius. In the 1950s and 1960s, Cleveland firms such as Outcalt, Guenther & Associates filled the need for comprehensive planning on such projects as the Cleveland Hopkins Airport Terminal and master plans forCUYAHOGA COMMUNITY COLLEGE and CLEVELAND STATE UNIVERSITY While the individual practice continued, a new type of complex design organization that could plan everything from a single structure to a megalopolitan transit system was typified by Dalton-Dalton-Little-Newport. TheERIEVIEW urban-renewal plan of 1960 was one of the most ambitious undertaken under the Federal Urban Redevelopment program. The clearance of nearly 100 acres between E. 6th and E. 14th streets, Chester Ave. and the lakefront provided sites for the building of new public, commercial, and apartment structures. The centerpiece of the plan was Erieview Tower (1964), designed by Harrison & Abramovitz. A new commercial and financial center developed that extended from Erieview to Euclid and E. 9th; from the late 1960s to the early 1980s, no fewer than 12 new office buildings were erected in and around the area. Virtually all of the new buildings represented variations on the formula of the late modern glass and metal skyscraper. The architects included Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Chas. Luckman, Marcel Breuer, and local Cleveland design firms.
Though it lies just over the Summit County line, the music pavilion of the Blossom Music Center (1968) deserves mention as the product of a Cleveland architect, Peter van Dijk, for a Cleveland institution, the CLEVELAND ORCHESTRA. The Ohio Section of the AIA in 1992 voted the dramatic clam-shaped shelter a 25 Year Building Award as a structure of lasting importance.
The most significant achievements in Cleveland architecture have been in large-scale planning–the Group Plan, the Terminal complex, Shaker Hts.,PUBLIC HOUSING, and urban renewal. Chronologically, architectural design has often lagged behind national developments, and its general standard has been typical of that in cities of the same size. Individual buildings of every period rival buildings anywhere in quality–the Arcade, the Terminal Tower, the Society Bank, the Rockefeller Bldg., the motion picture palaces, and many churches. Several Cleveland architects, such as Chas. Schweinfurth and the firm of Walker & Weeks, achieved regional if not national reputations, and they will doubtless be more widely recognized when their work is fully documented. In conclusion, the architecture of Cleveland constitutes a representative index of the physical development and the taste of a large midwestern industrial and commercial city throughout its 19th- and 20th-century history.
Eric Johannesen (dec.)
Chapman, Edmund H. Cleveland: Village to Metropolis (1964).
Johannesen, Eric. Cleveland Architecture, 1876-1976 (1979).
From the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History
MUSIC. Music in Cleveland can date its present eminence from the first decades of the 20th century. By that time, population growth and business success had reached a plateau from which could emerge significant cultural events. It was during this era that the dedicated impresaria ADELLA PRENTISS HUGHES†, working through the FORTNIGHTLY MUSICAL CLUB and the Natl. Fed. of Music Clubs, brought the great names of western music to the city–Paderewski, Richard Strauss, Enrico Caruso; the orchestras from Boston, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and others; the Ballet Russe, and more. During this time, music making by local ensembles of all kinds was at a new height. The CLEVELAND MUSIC SCHOOL SETTLEMENT (1912), theCLEVELAND INSTITUTE OF MUSIC (1920), and the CLEVELAND MUSEUM OF ART (1916) came into being. At a benefit program for St. Ann Roman Catholic Church at GRAYS ARMORY on 11 Dec. 1918, the fledgling CLEVELAND ORCHESTRA was born. From its earliest days, music making had sprung naturally from the community. The earliest concert recorded in the Annals of Cleveland was a program of sacred music that took place at P. Mowrey’s assembly room on 10 May 1821. Throughout the period before the Civil War, the Annals record an increasing string of musical events, including the formation of such musical groups as the CLEVELAND HARMONIC SOCIETY (1835), the CLEVELAND MOZART SOCIETY (1837), the CLEVELAND MENDELSSOHN SOCIETY (1850), and the ST. CECILIA SOCIETY (1852). Notable early OPERA was produced by the Cleveland Gesangverein.
For much of this period, Cleveland remained in the musical orbit of Boston. This influence was epitomized in the person of Lowell Mason (1792-1872), probably the most influential musician in 19th-century America, who conducted a seminal series of workshops in Cleveland during the 1840s. This tradition did not emphasize American resources but, rather, sought to propagate standards of “correct taste” as practiced in Europe. Mason’s teachings had far-ranging implications for the development of music in Cleveland, particularly in the areas of sacred music and music education. Emphasis on sacred music was particularly strong, and the church was a major supporter of the arts. A Shaker colony known as NORTH UNION SHAKER COMMUNITY (in SHAKER HEIGHTS) was formed ca. 1822 and saw its most prosperous days between 1840-58 (it dissolved in 1899). Devotional vocal music, sung in unison without instruments, formed the core repertory for its dance-oriented religious meetings.
The first full-time supervisor in the Cleveland public schools was a disciple of Lowell Mason by the name of N. COE STEWART†, who held this post over a long tenure (1869-1907). Band music was highly popular in 19th-century Cleveland, and for many was a principal source of musical exposure. Playing in parks, in concert halls, at lawn fetes, on lake steamers, in skating rinks, at conventions, at strawberry festivals, and at numerous special events, visiting and local BANDS seemed omnipresent.
Waves of immigrants coming from Europe reached Cleveland before and after the Civil War, making the city the 7th-largest in the nation by 1900. Among these, the GERMANS were particularly skilled in music, and it was Cleveland’s German community that was responsible for much of the music making during the 19th century. The first German singing society in Cleveland was the FROHSINN SINGING SOCIETY in 1848, followed by the Cleveland Gesangverein in 1854. German groups in America began to exchange visits, becoming more formally organized following a gathering of singers in Cincinnati in June 1849. From that time, regular “SAENGERFESTS” took place, alternating between cities, over a long period of time. Five such saengerfests were held in Cleveland between 1855 and 1927. These events combined social activities, including picnics, torchlight processions, dinners, and balls, along with the concerts. Hans Balatka (1855), F. Abel (1859), Carl Bergmann (1874), EMIL RING† (1893), and Bruno Walter (1927) served as festival conductors. The final festival, which honored Ludwig van Beethoven, recognized also Cleveland composer ALBERT GEHRING† and combined more than 100 societies and 4,000 singers. Cincinnati served as a model for Cleveland in other ways. A saengerfest held there in May 1873 under the skillful leadership of Theodore Thomas (1835-1905), one of 19th-century America’s best conductors, provided momentum for a series of May festivals to follow. Such large events were much a part of the American scene during these years, and one need only point to the peace jubilees in Boston in 1869 and 1872 for other examples.
The impact of these events was not lost on Cleveland, and the person in a position to do something about it was Cleveland’s most important choral conductor, ALFRED ARTHUR†. His greatest achievement lay in his work with the CLEVELAND VOCAL SOCIETY, an organization that he conducted 29 seasons, through the spring of 1902. It was responsible for important first performances here, for entertaining renowned guests such as violinist Eduard Remenyi and composer Max Bruch, and for representing Cleveland with distinction at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. Finally, Arthur was responsible for landmark orchestral concerts; 4 programs took place in Mar.-Apr. 1872 at Brainard’s Piano Ware Rooms. A new ensemble, the Cleveland Amateur Philharmonic Society, came into being in 1881, with FERDINAND PUEHRINGER† as its first conductor. Mueller Neuhoff succeeded Puehringer, to be replaced in turn by Franz Arens. In 1888 the Austrian oboist, composer, and conductor Emil Ring, who had first come to America in 1887 as a member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, arrived to conduct the ensemble. Ring, a leader of obvious ability, gave programs of breadth, including works by Liszt, Wagner, Berlioz, Massenet, and Grieg. There were about 4 regular concerts each year, and the orchestra accompanied choral works for the Gesangverein, of which Ring was also the conductor, in summer programs at HALTNORTH’S GARDENS.
During the early 1900s, several local orchestras graced the growing scene, led by Emil Ring and a Cleveland-born colleague, . The short-livedCLEVELAND SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA with Beck as conductor represents an important venture in 1900-01. The 50-piece ensemble gave a total of 8 concerts at Grays Armory, with important soloists a regular feature. After the demise of this ensemble, the CLEVELAND GRAND ORCHESTRA came into being, playing a series of “Citizens’ Pop Concerts” through 1909 (the 1904-05 season prospectus advertised simply the “Cleveland Orchestra”). Audiences evidently were large, and ticket prices low; deficits were met through timely contributions. Although the fare aimed first of all to entertain, the repertoire included its share of works by Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Schubert, and other established composers. The series continued from 1910-12 under the name People’s Symphony Concerts, with the orchestra now called the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra, under the alternate direction of Ring and Beck. A short-lived experiment was the organization of the Cleveland Municipal Symphony Orchestra, the financial support for which was taken over by the city. Notable though the intentions were, the conductor brought here to lead the orchestra, Dutch violinist Christiaan Timmner, eventually proved unable to develop the ensemble, and it dissolved in Mar. 1915. The next step was the tenuous beginning of the Cleveland Orchestra itself, known in its first season as Cleveland’s Symphony Orchestra. The press was enthusiastic. The ensemble of about 60 players, conducted by NIKOLAI SOKOLOFF†, was recruited mainly from the best local talent. It performed a varied schedule of more than 2 dozen programs its first season, to June 1919. The time was right; Cleveland at last had an orchestra that would endure.
Even as Cleveland was developing its own musical resources during the period to 1918, many musical visitors of importance helped shape standards of musical excellence and allowed Clevelanders to comprehend more clearly their emerging role on the national scene. The Norwegian violinist Ole Bull made repeated visits beginning in the 1840s. The Manvers Operatic Co., probably the first opera company to come, in 1849, started a tradition that culminated in the regular series by New York’s Metropolitan Opera (1899-1986). Jenny Lind (see JENNY LIND TOUR), the Hutchinson family, Adelina Patti, Louis Moreau Gottschalk, Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore, John Philip Sousa, and many more gave programs. In the orchestral sphere, Theodore Thomas made Cleveland a regular stop after 1869. Chamber music also flourished. The Cecilian String Quartet, begun in 1875, was a pioneer. Back in Cleveland after a time of study in Leipzig, Johann Beck organized the SCHUBERT STRING QUARTET 3 years later; it gave numerous concerts during the 1880s. The successor to this group was the BECK STRING QUARTET, which made its debut on 16 Oct. 1890 in a concert in the chapel of Unity Church. ThePHILHARMONIC STRING QUARTET was an important presence well into this century, and other groups followed. In Nov. 1918 the Chamber Music Society of Cleveland was formed, a precursor of the present CLEVELAND CHAMBER MUSIC SOCIETY.
Chronicler to Cleveland music during the second half of the 19th century was the important firm of ARTHUR SHEPHERD†, to many the “dean” of Cleveland composers, who came here in 1920 as asst. conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra, and remained to compose and become long-time head of music at Western Reserve Univ. Other composers who have been a part of the Cleveland scene during the last half-century include VICTOR BABIN†, Rudolph Bubalo, Marcel Dick, Dennis Eberhard, HERBERT ELWELL†, Donald Erb, Edwin London, J. D. BAIN MURRAY†, Eugene O’Brien, Klaus George Roy, and BERYL RUBINSTEIN†. Others, associated primarily elsewhere, who contributed include ERNEST BLOCH† (who came to Cleveland in 1920 to lead the newly formed Cleveland Institute of Music), Douglas Moore, Quincy Porter, Roger Sessions, and Raymond Wilding-White. There is an activeCLEVELAND COMPOSERS’ GUILD, formed during the 1920s. Instrument building in Cleveland has played an important role. Significant among the builders are the Holtkamp Organ Co. (see WALTER HOLTKAMP†), and the KING MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS CO., makers of brass instruments.
Subsequent conductors of the Cleveland Orchestra who have fulfilled the promise are ARTUR RODZINSKI† (1933-43), Erich Leinsdorf (1943-46), GEO. SZELL† (1946-70), Lorin Maazel (1972-82), and Christoph von Dohnanyi (1984- ). Pierre Boulez and Louis Lane also contributed immeasurably during the period 1970-72. A Cleveland Orchestra Chorus was formed (continuous from 1955), reaching an early high point during the tenure here (1956-67) of Robt. Shaw, and continuing to high acclaim under its subsequent directors, now Gareth Morrell. A Children’s Chorus, affiliated with the orchestra, was formed in 1967. The orchestra gives about 30 summer concerts annually at its summer home, the Blossom Music Ctr. (inaugurated 1968), where “popular” concerts increase the number to approximately 70 yearly events during the June-Sept. season. Important later contributors to the music scene have been the curators of musical arts at the Cleveland Museum of Art, Thos. Whitney Surette (1921-40), WALTER BLODGETT† (1940-74), and Karel Paukert (1974- ). The McMyler organ (1922), the first in this country to be installed in a museum of art, and pace-setting in its design principles, was moved and rebuilt in a new auditorium in 1971. In 1994 David Cerone was president of the Cleveland Institute of Music, succeeding Victor Babin and, more recently, Grant Johannesen. Ross Duffin was chairman of the Music Dept. at CASE WESTERN RESERVE UNIVERSITY. in 1993. The Music Dept. of CLEVELAND STATE UNIVERSITY, which developed under a long tenure by Julius Drossin, was, in 1994, led by Howard Meeker. The CLEVELAND MUSIC SCHOOL SETTLEMENT, one of the largest community music schools in the country, with over 5,000 students, with branches and affiliates in several locations, grew under long-time director, HOWARD WHITTAKER†, and in 1994 was headed by Robert McAllister. Significant contributions are also made by neighboring institutions BALDWIN-WALLACE COLLEGE, Oberlin College, and Kent State Univ.
Cleveland’s numerous ethnic neighborhoods have added rich variety. Besides the Germans, many other groups have contributed. The CIURLIONIS LITHUANIAN NATIONAL ART ENSEMBLE came to Cleveland in 1949 after extensive concertizing in Europe. The CLEVELAND KILTIE BAND, founded in 1935 to preserve the art of Scottish bagpipers, has been important here. The Balmoral Dancers became a part of this organization. TheGLASBENA MATICA has been important to the cultural life of the Cleveland SLOVENES. Representing the renowned Welsh singing tradition here have been the gatherings of the Gymanfa Ganu and, among others, the Cleveland Messiah Chorus. The HARMONIA CHOPIN SINGING SOCIETY, founded in 1902, was the first Polish male chorus in Ohio. The Hungaria Singing Society dates back to the 1890s. Ireland is represented by the Irish Musicians Assn. of America, Michael Keating Branch. The recently disbanded Czech LUMIR-HLAHOL-TYL SINGING SOCIETY was founded in Cleveland, and in 1898 presented the first performance here of Smetana’s The Bartered Bride. The oldest and largest of the Yugoslav choirs in Cleveland has been the Serbian Singing Choir. Children’s music has been represented in a number of directions, including the Zagreb Junior Tamburitzans and the more mainstreamSINGING ANGELS.
Cleveland has been a vital center of the more “popular” genres. Parlor music–that genre consisting mainly of piano music and songs aimed at the home market, particularly women–was as widespread in 19th-century Cleveland as it was elsewhere. Nearly half of the pages of Brainard’s (Western) Musical World were filled with music of this sort, mainly by Americans. Music produced in Musical World was, of course, also readily available for sale. Moving ahead in time, popular song, JAZZ, Americanized POLKAS, musical theater, and ROCK ‘N’ ROLL have all been important here. Famous songwriterERNEST R. BALL† (1878-1927) was born in Cleveland, and Art Tatum spent several seasons playing in Cleveland clubs during the 1930s. Tadd Dameron, Benny Bailey, Albert Ayler, and a host of others graced the local scene. A special Cleveland contribution lies in the inception here of rock ‘n’ roll, brought to prominence in the early 1950s in Cleveland before it achieved its phenomenal international popularity.
Evidence of Cleveland’s continuing growth in the musical arts can be seen in a variety of local ensembles of merit. The CLEVELAND CHAMBER SYMPHONY (1980- ), Edwin London, conductor, and the OHIO CHAMBER ORCHESTRA (1972- ), David Lockington, director, have joined older groups, including the CLEVELAND WOMEN’S ORCHESTRA (1925- ), the oldest women’s orchestra in the nation, founded and conducted for many years by HYMAN SCHANDLER†; the CLEVELAND PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA (1938- ), William Slocum, conductor; and the SUBURBAN SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA (1954- ), Martin Kessler, conductor. Other important groups include the SINGERS CLUB (1893- ), Thomas Shellhammer, conductor, and Apollo’s Fire, Jeannette Sorrell, conductor. Opera and ballet have especially flourished in Cleveland during recent years. Two opera companies, CLEVELAND OPERA (1976- ) and LYRIC OPERA CLEVELAND (formerly Cleveland Opera Theatre; autonomous since 1976) mount important productions. The CLEVELAND BALLET (1974- ) does excellent work. Concerts supported successfully at educational institutions and through such organizations as the CLEVELAND CHAMBER MUSIC SOCIETY (1949- ), the Rocky River Chamber Music Society, and the Cleveland Museum of Art add greatly. Private organizations sponsoring concerts include the THREE ARTS CLUB OF LAKEWOOD (1918- ), and the Fortnightly Musical Club (1894-). Church music series, notably the Brownbag Concerts at TRINITY CATHEDRAL, under the leadership of Daniel Hathaway, often contribute in important ways. Good musical instruction at various levels, good library collections, and good newspaper reporting by HERBERT ELWELL†, Robt. Finn, Wilma Salisbury, Frank Hruby (of the musical HRUBY FAMILY), J. D. Bain Murray, Donald Rosenberg, and others have helped bring Cleveland concertgoers to new levels of sophistication. A model across the nation has become the program notes produced for Severance Hall. Program-book annotator Klaus G. Roy, now retired, was replaced by Peter Laki. Young Audiences of Greater Cleveland, autonomous since 1977, has been increasingly active in bringing relevant programs of excellence into school situations.
Patterns of funding for arts organizations have changed dramatically in recent years. Particularly since the creation in 1964 of the Natl. Council on the Arts and in 1965 of the Natl. Foundation on the Arts & Humanities, with its components, the Natl. Endowment for the Arts and the Natl. Endowment for the Humanities, the federal government has come to play an increasingly important role. At the state level, the Ohio Arts Council, which has contributed much in support of music, was also founded in 1965. Competition for funds, however, and “crisis financing” continue to hamper musical organizations as an increasing number of these vie for existing funds. As federal programs are cut because of the huge national deficit, and as funding in general becomes more elusive, musical organizations are finding they must learn better to manage their own affairs as well as to sharpen their focus and public image. Public relations has developed as an increasingly important field of professional concern. Indicative is the growth of arts administration as a professional field. The newly established and smaller musical groups have a particularly hard time, not only because of the problems of building constituencies but also because foundations and corporations have traditionally been cautious in supporting such groups.
Funding problems and opportunities, as well as demographic changes within the Greater Cleveland area, have brought about fundamental changes for Cleveland’s musical enterprises. Support for major organizations remains strong but now rests on a broader base. A number of foundations, including theCLEVELAND FOUNDATION, the KULAS FOUNDATION, and the Bascom Little Fund, provide needed help. Cleveland has built over its history a viable music-making and music-listening community and has gained for itself an international reputation for music. The signs are that that reputation will continue to deepen and grow.
J. Heywood Alexander
Cleveland State Univ.
Alexander, J. Heywood. It Must Be Heard (1981).
Grossman, F. Karl. A History of Music in Cleveland (1972).
Witchey, Holly Rarick. Fine Arts in Cleveland: An Illustrated History (1994).
From the Encyclopedia of Cleveland
DANCE. Since the turn of the century, dance as a performing art has had a steady growth in Cleveland. Cleveland’s initial exposure to dance was through international touring artists who performed in local theaters. Over time Cleveland created support for dance through patrons of the arts, local arts organizations, colleges, and universities. Today there is a wide selection of dance performances available to Cleveland audiences. Both ballet and modern dance have joined the other arts as active components in the rich cultural fiber of northern Ohio.
Ethnic, social, and recreational dance have always held an important place in Cleveland’s multicultural setting, but it was not until the beginning of the 20th century that dance became recognized and supported as a fine art. The growth of business and industry in Cleveland created a base to support a variety of cultural arts. During the first 25 years of the century, Cleveland’s financial awakening led to the establishment and rapid growth of music, dance, theater, literature and the visual arts. This support was manifested in the founding of institutions such as CLEVELAND MUSEUM OF ART, CLEVELAND ORCHESTRA, CLEVELAND INSTITUTE OF MUSIC, and CLEVELAND INSTITUTE OF ART. Also, as a result of this cultural blossoming, a local audience developed for both ballet and modern dance.
Two local personalities were instrumental in the development of this Cleveland dance audience: Cleveland’s cultural visionary, ADELLA PRENTISS HUGHES†, and local arts impresario, GIACOMO BERNARDI†, who brought to the city the most famous dancers and dance companies of the time. Anna Pavlova, the renowned ballerina of the early 20th century, appeared in Cleveland 4 times between 1911 and 1922. The internationally famous Diaghilev Ballets Russes appeared in Cleveland in 1916 during their first U.S. tour. The company returned in 1917, featuring the spectacular premier danseur, Vaslav Nijinsky.
During the time these Russian dancers were making a considerable impression on American audiences, the revolutionary American modern dancer, Isadora Duncan, was making an equally significant impact on the ballet of Imperial Russia. As an American in Russia at the turn of the century, Duncan influenced Pavlova, Fokine, and Diaghilev and established her reputation throughout Europe as a new creative force in dance. It was Anna Pavlova who convinced Sol Hurok, the national impresario, to book the tour that first brought Duncan to Cleveland. Duncan’s solo performance at Public Auditorium attracted an audience of 9,000. In 1923, the year after Isadora performed in Cleveland, Doris Humphrey appeared with the Denishawn Co. at Keith’s Palace, linking the city with the pioneers of Modern Dance in America. The trailblazing performances of Anna Pavlova, Diaghilev Ballets Russes, and Isadora Duncan were integral to the emergence of dance in Cleveland. Several generations of performers, teachers, choreographers, writers, patrons, and presenters trace their roots back to these early dancers.
By the early 1920s the local audience had developed enough to support the first dance classes and schools in the area. A character dancer with Pavlova, Russian-born Sergie Popeloff began teaching ballet at his studio in Cleveland’s Carnegie Hall and continued to train dancers for over twenty years. In 1925 a group of wealthy society women brought Russian dancer Nicholas Semenov (see NIKOLAI SEMENOFF†), former dancer with the Bolshoi and Diaghilev companies, to teach at the Martha Lee Dancing School. Four years later, Semenov opened his Russian Imperial School of Ballet in Cleveland’s Carnegie Hall. In 1932, as a protest against what he considered the ugliness of modern dance, Semenov committed suicide by leaping into Niagara Falls. Following Semenov’s death, a group of parents brought Serge Nadejdin to take his place. Nadejdin, a graduate of St. Petersburg Imperial School, was Pavlova’s contemporary and Semenov’s teacher. For 25 years he operated the Serge Nadejdin Imperial Ballet School in the Hippodrome Bldg.
During the 1930s, as the arts flourished in Cleveland, dance found new audiences and continued support of area patrons, local dance schools, and an involvement in schools both at the high school and collegiate level. In 1930 Adella P. Hughes engaged Doris Humphrey and her partner, Charles Weidman, two foremost exponents of American modern dance, to perform at a dinner party at the home of Mrs. William Mather. The following year, Humphrey and Weidman were invited to head the new modern dance department at the Cleveland Institute of Music, which was the first at any music school in the country. Busy with their company, they recommended their student and friend, Eleanor Frampton. Frampton taught at CIM until 1942, when she became director of dance at KARAMU HOUSE. Writing for the PLAIN DEALER for 35 years, she was also Cleveland’s first dance critic.
In addition, 1931 brought two other international pioneers: Martha Graham, American high priestess of modern dance, and Mary Wigman, German expressionist modern dancer, to perform at the new SEVERANCE HALL. Also in 1931, Eleanor Buchla, the first local dancer to gain a large audience, began performing her own choreography. Her dances were a highly musical mixture of modern dance and Hungarian folk dance. A strong proponent for dance in the schools, she not only opened Cleveland’s first modern dance studio but also began a dance curriculum in the city’s summer playgrounds. Buchla was instrumental in cultivating the first Modern Dance Assn., which was founded in 1934. Seventy-five dancers started the organization to promote local talent and to sponsor dance concerts by outside artists. Eleanor Frampton was elected chair and Buchla and Margery Schneider, dance instructor at Oberlin College, were on the executive committee. From 1936-42, Marjorie Witt, who had studied modern dance under Schneider at Oberlin, directed a group ofAFRICAN AMERICANS at the Playhouse Settlement. In 1939, as the Karamu Dancers, they performed at the New York World’s Fair.
Ballet also continued to flourish in the 1930s, and several new schools and groups emerged. Mme Bianca (Froehlich), a native of Austria and former prima ballerina with the Metropolitan Opera Co., opened a ballet school in downtown Cleveland. She presented many ballet programs striving to organize a local civic ballet. In 1945 Marguerite Duncan, New York-trained and a former Popeloff student, established her school and founded Cleveland Civic Ballet Co., the first nonprofit dance company in Cleveland. In 1983 the name was changed to North Coast Ballet Theatre.
During the years of World War II there were no significant developments in dance, as our country focused on the war effort. The 1950s brought a fresh surge of energy and interest for dance through the 78 dance studios, 8 downtown, offering a variety of dance classes to Greater Clevelanders. One of them, Ruth Pryor’s Ballet Russe, brought Alex Martin to town in 1954. English born and trained, Martin had danced in the Sadler’s Wells Ballet. In 1958 he opened his own studio, Cleveland Ballet Center, and founded the Cleveland Ballet Center Co., a nonprofit, semi-professional group that joined the National Regional Ballet Assn. In 1963 this company merged with Dance Horizons Inc., a company formed in 1960 by a group of local dancers led by John Begg. Begg, a Canadian, had danced with De Basil Ballet Russe, Metropolitan Opera Ballet, and on Broadway. He arrived in Cleveland in 1959 to teach at Ruth Pryor’s studio. The new company became the Ballet Guild of Cleveland.
In 1956 another generation of Cleveland dancers formed the Cleveland Modern Dance Assn. (CMDA) (see DANCECLEVELAND) to further the study and appreciation of modern dance as an art form. This organization was the driving force for modern dance in Cleveland for the next 25 years. In 1961 Mark Ryder, former Martha Graham dancer, was brought to build a dance program at the new JEWISH COMMUNITY CENTER in CLEVELAND HEIGHTSDuring his 4-year stay, Ryder organized the first Cleveland Dance Festival, establishing an esprit de corps among dancers. In 1961 Joan Hartshorne, a Jose Limon dancer, became dance director at Karamu, where she carried on the Humphrey-Weidman tradition until 1981.
In the late 1960s Jan and Ron Kumin founded the Fairmount Center of the Creative and Performing Arts (see FAIRMOUNT FINE ARTS CENTER), which spawned FAIRMOUNT THEATRE OF THE DEAF and Fairmount Spanish Dancers. In 1969 the Dance Theatre of Kathryn Karipides and Henry Kurth and the CASE WESTERN RESERVE UNIVERSITY. Modern Dance Co. was created to give students an opportunity to work in a professional-like company, and to build a dance department at the university. For 10 years it offered Cleveland audiences highly theatrical dance productions. Kelly Holt, at the time a member of the Erick Hawkins Dance Co. and a regular guest artist with the CWRU company, joined the faculty in 1975. The graduate dance program, housed in Mather Dance Center (formerly Mather Gymnasium), awarded its first MFA degree in 1975.
In 1973 Alex Martin of the Ballet Guild of Cleveland turned his attention to his studio, the Cleveland Institute of Dance in SHAKER HEIGHTS His partner, John Begg, directed his efforts to teaching at the CLEVELAND MUSIC SCHOOL SETTLEMENT, Karamu, and Cain Park. Begg was artistic director for Canton Ballet 1971-76, returning to direct the dance department at Fairmount Center for the Creative and Performing Arts in Cleveland Hts. Meanwhile, in 1972, IAN HORVATH, a Cleveland native, and Dennis Nahat, a colleague at American Ballet Theater, acquired Ruth Pryor’s studio, then located at Masonic Temple. By 1976, with support from the CLEVELAND FOUNDATION and the Ballet Guild trustees, they established the Cleveland Ballet School and the CLEVELAND BALLET, the first professional ballet company in Cleveland. During the 1970s Cleveland revived PLAYHOUSE SQUARE to house the performing arts. CMDA moved downtown to be a presenter and in 1979 became known as DanceCleveland. In 1976 Alice Rubenstein, a CMDA member, founded FOOTPATH DANCE CO., Cleveland’s first professional modern dance company. Several other companies sprang up but survived only briefly. In 1986 Tom Evert, a Cleveland native who had danced in the Paul Taylor Company, started a company to showcase his choreography. Another grass-roots company, the Repertory Project, was formed in 1987 by Susan Miller and Colleen Clark to bring to Cleveland the work of a variety of contemporary choreographers.
From Pavlova’s performance in 1911 to the present wide variety of dance classes and performances available in Cleveland, dance has become an enriching artistic element integral to the cultural network of the city. In 1995 local companies included the Cleveland Ballet, Tom Evert Dance Company, the Repertory Project, Mary Verdi-Fletcher’s Cleveland Ballet/Dancing Wheels, North Coast Ballet Theatre, and a regular visitor, Akron’s Ohio Ballet. Several dozen ethnic and folk dance companies and a number of liturgical dance groups enrich the community. CASE WESTERN RESERVE UNIVERSITY,CLEVELAND STATE UNIVERSITY, and CUYAHOGA COMMUNITY COLLEGE continue to support dance. Touring companies are presented by DanceCleveland, Playhouse Square Center, Tri-C, and Cain Park. Smaller companies and solo artists are presented by Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland Public Theater, and Mather Dance Center. Wilma Salisbury was Plain Dealer dance critic. Cleveland’s influence on the fine art of dance goes far beyond its borders, with many artists who trained here now performing, teaching, and creating work throughout the world.
Diehl Consulting Services
Case Western Reserve Univ.
From the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History
ART. The development of an art life in Cleveland primarily resulted from the efforts of 2 distinctly different groups within the community: the wealthy patrons of art and the artists themselves. The first group consisted of families who accumulated their wealth from industry and commerce; the artists derived mainly from the German community. Also important was the influence of the commercial arts on other aspects of Cleveland’s art life. These contributing factors would change–to varying degrees–following World War II. An established art life really did not begin in Cleveland until 1876. In earlier years the city managed to support a few itinerant portrait painters, woodcarvers, stonecutters, and sign painters. Traveling exhibitions were occasionally announced in the newspapers and were usually held in the courthouse or local churches. Typical of these was an exhibition in 1844 that featured reproductions of Italian and Flemish paintings. By 1857 the Cleveland directory listed 6 professional artists. They mainly subsisted on portrait commissions and fees for individual or class instruction. Painting was occasionally lucrative, as in the case of JULIUS GOLLMAN†, who received $400 for his group portrait of the Arkites. In 1876 2 events combined to accelerate the growth of art in Cleveland. The Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, with its various displays of European and American art, is largely credited with encouraging local art interest throughout America. The most popular painting at the exhibition was SPIRIT OF `76 by Cleveland painter ARCHIBALD WILLARD†, who returned to Cleveland a celebrity and agreed to lead a group of young artists who that year formed the Cleveland ART CLUB. Also known as the Old Bohemians, the artists obtained rent-free space on the top floor of the Case Block (the city hall annex), where they set up studios and offered classes. The Cleveland Art Club provided the city with its first nucleus of notable artists, most of them–such asFREDERICK GOTTWALD†, OTTO BACHER†, and Max Bohm–the sons of German immigrants. Many received training abroad, primarily at the art schools in Munich and Dusseldorf.
In 1878 a group of women organized the first loan exhibition in Cleveland (see ART LOAN EXHIBITIONS) in order to raise money for social relief. The exhibition featured 167 oils, 67 watercolors, books and manuscripts, ceramics, bronze and statuary, gems, laces, and an Oriental collection. As in future loan exhibitions, artwork was borrowed from private collections in Cleveland, as well as from other cities. Many of the city’s galleries and art stores mainly offered for sale reproductions of European paintings. Sales of original works by the old masters increased toward the end of the century. Although a few galleries set aside space for local artists, their works were seldom sold. Oscar Wilde’s lecture in Cleveland in 1882 on the English Arts & Crafts Movement helped to encourage the founding later that year of the Western Reserve School of Design for Women (the future Cleveland School of Art). Art activity continued to increase in the 1890s with the founding of several new artists’ and art organizations, and 2 more loan exhibitions, in 1893 and 1894. The catalog for the loan exhibition in 1893 reveals the steady growth of art in private homes in Cleveland since the first loan exhibition 15 years earlier. The Cleveland Art Assn., the first organized effort among the city’s wealthy industrialists to promote art in Cleveland, was responsible for the loan exhibition in 1894. As the year before, half the proceeds were donated to the city’s poor fund, and the other half for the purchase of artwork for a future museum.
In the first decade of the 20th century, Cleveland experienced a lull in its art development. One reason was the defection of many of the city’s finest artists to Europe in search of a more favorable art climate. This emigration led in part to the dissolution of the Cleveland Art Club, the city’s most vital artists’ organization. Another factor for this period of inactivity was the delay in the establishment of an art museum. By 1891 3 substantial funds had been bequeathed for this purpose, but problems arose from an inability to legally consolidate the separate trusts. Late in arriving (even Toledo had an art museum before Cleveland), the CLEVELAND MUSEUM OF ART was finally incorporated in 1913. In the meanwhile, exhibitions were periodically held at CHAS. OLNEY’s private gallery and the Cleveland School of Art’s new building (1906), which featured the city’s first large exhibition room. From 1910-29, the city experienced its greatest period of art activity, reflected in the emergence of the Art Museum, the MAY SHOW, a resurgence in art and artists’ organizations, and a number of exhibitions of current art from Europe. In 1913 10 cubist works from Paris were exhibited at the Taylor Dept. Store and caused quite a negative reaction in the community. The following year a Cleveland expatriate artist, ALEXANDER WARSHAWSKY†, organized an exhibition of postimpressionist paintings that included the works of fellow Cleveland artists. This show also drew almost unanimous criticism, the PLAIN DEALER labeling it as the “Biggest Laugh in Town.” Although the city wished to eliminate its provincial image, as late as the 1930s paintings of “undraped nudes” would still excite controversy in the newspapers.
The 1910s also saw the emergence of 2 dominant artists’ organizations in the city. The CLEVELAND SOCIETY OF ARTISTS was founded in 1913 as a revival of the Cleveland Art Club. Its initial purpose was to continue the tradition of academic art. Its antithesis was the KOKOON ARTS CLUB, founded in 1911. Cofounder CARL MOELLMAN† oriented the club toward the philosophy of his New York mentor, Robt. Henri, who disdained academicism in favor of more individualism in art. Cleveland at this time was becoming a thriving commercial-arts center. In lithography, the Morgan and Otis companies, and later Continental, were attracting artistic talent from around the country. The city also boasted well-known engraving and publishing houses such as the Caxton Co. In ceramics, the Cowan Pottery in ROCKY RIVER was gaining national recognition, in large degree due to the “Jazz Punch Bowl” designed for it by Viktor Schreckengost, an instructor at the Cleveland School of Art. The artists’ organizations drew the bulk of their membership from the commercial arts, providing artists with an uncensored outlet for their creative energies. The Kokoon Club was significant in that it provoked a struggle for the city to achieve a reconciliation between progress and extremism. This struggle was based largely on a misconception among Americans that linked “new art” to political extremism and immoral behavior. Tension increased with city hall when the Kokoon Club’s annual ball began to display some of the antisocial themes pervasive among America’s avant-garde following World War I. Mayor FRED KOHLER† banned the ball in 1923, claiming that the event fell within Lent, but it was resumed the next year and continued to attract enormous publicity (from outside the city, as well) as the yearly review of Cleveland’s Latin Quarter.
This second generation of Cleveland artists still consisted largely of the sons and grandsons of German immigrants (of the 13 original members of the Kokoon Club, 9 were of German heritage). Many still received training in Germany, although the French postimpressionists–especially Cezanne
–were also popularly emulated. Because many of the city’s artists made a living as engravers, illustrators, and lithographers, fine draftsmanship often characterized their efforts–as in the paintings of WM. SOMMER†. Overall, like most American artists until World War II, Cleveland artists generally sought a middle-of-the-road compromise between the old masters and moderns. The introduction of the MAY SHOW in 1919 helped considerably to bring attention to local artists. The Cleveland Museum of Art and the new Cleveland Art Assn. (revived 1915) organized the first May Show to exhibit the works of local artists and craftsmen and to provide a market for their sale. A similar show already existed in Chicago, but the Cleveland show was to become one of the country’s largest and best known. Traveling exhibits were sent around the country and did much to establish the reputation of Cleveland as an art center.
As the new center of art in Cleveland, the Art Museum implemented many programs to promote art in the city. For the general public, various educational programs were offered. In 1918 the museum stated an intention to build permanent collections in areas that would benefit the city’s industries, such as printing, textiles, iron and steel, furniture, and woodcarving. That resulted in the founding of the PRINT CLUB OF CLEVELAND in 1919, and the Textile Art Club in 1934. In the 1920s, Cleveland surpassed Boston as the country’s leading center in watercolor painting. The medium achieved popularity here because of the close-knit character of the artistic community; moreover, from 1924 it was the most important feature of the May Show. Many of these paintings won prizes at the prestigious Annual Intl. Exhibition at the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh. Such attention helped to bring about the identification of a “Cleveland School” of artists, which, besides Sommer, included Alexander and Abel Warshawsky, GEO. ADOMEIT†, HENRY KELLER†, PAUL TRAVIS†, FRANK WILCOX†, CHAS. E. BURCHFIELD†, and many others whose work gained notable attention outside Cleveland. Despite growing recognition, the artists received a great unevenness of support in Cleveland itself. The May Show, ironically, was partly responsible. Removed from the show’s prestige, the artists were more or less left stranded the remainder of the year. The various artists’ organizations offered comparable works at yearly auctions, but these usually sold at disappointingly low prices. Dwelling in the shadow of the May Show, in later years such exhibitions indeed became popularly known as “reject shows.” The wealthy in Cleveland were primarily dedicated to the collection of European art, and patronage of the Art Museum and May Show.
Like everything else, art in Cleveland suffered during the Depression. For the Cleveland Museum of Art, bequests were reduced, and purchases had to be curtailed. At the Cleveland School of Art, enrollment dropped 35% between 1930-33. Many artists and craftsmen dependent on the commercial arts for a living applied to the WPA’s Federal Art Project, which had been prefigured by the Public Works of Art Project, established in 1933. Under the PWAP, Cleveland artists produced 8 murals for the CLEVELAND PUBLIC LIBRARY, plaques for schools, historical maps, and other art objects. Later, in 1936, the FAP put 75 Cleveland artists to work in an old factory building to make signs, lantern slides, paintings, and sculptures. Ceramics were also produced and were very much in demand throughout the country, upholding Cleveland’s national reputation in that area of art production. Notable were the figurines of storybook characters produced by Edris Eckhardt and others for the CPL. By the late 1930s, there was a general decline among Cleveland’s artists’ organizations. The Depression and the increasing use of automation in th e commercial arts, especially lithography, helped to check the flow of artists into Cleveland. European-trained artists were aging and giving way to a greater diversity of younger artists from the highly regarded Cleveland School of Art. As “new art” became more acceptable, the Kokoon Club and Cleveland Society of Artists blurred together. For these reasons, and others that occurred after the war, Cleveland’s artists’ organizations would never again be as visibly active.
In the late 1930s and early 1940s, the art center of the world moved from Paris to New York, which also marked a turning point in the art life of Cleveland. After the war, a general shift took place in Cleveland from smaller commercial-art companies mainly involved in graphic arts (lithography, engraving, advertising, etc.) to a diversity of larger companies interested in industrial design. From the 1920s, the Cleveland School of Art had been placing a stronger emphasis on the practical uses of art and design in order better to serve the various industries in Cleveland. Following the war, this emphasis increased as manufacturing companies across America called for advertising artists and industrial designers to work in such industries as automobiles, home appliances, aluminumware, toys, ceramics, and greeting cards. Previously, most of Cleveland’s artists had been concentrated in several leading commercial art firms; now there was a general dispersion of artists, craftsmen, and designers among many industries. There was also the new and overpowering draw of New York for younger artists. These factors contributed to a further debilitation of the artists’ organizations and led to a continuing shift in focus from local to regional art.
As the importance of the artists’ organizations diminished, the void would be filled in the 1950s with a proliferation of neighborhood art centers and a multitude of art events sponsored by such diverse organizations as women’s clubs, churches, cultural institutions, civic and ethnic groups, and department stores. In 1949 the CLEVELAND INSTITUTE OF ART Alumni Assn. held its first annual art show and sale at SHAKER SQUARE. It was followed in the 1950s by a strong involvement from the Jewish community with the introduction of the JEWISH COMMUNITY CENTER show. The annual exhibition at the PARK SYNAGOGUE, begun in 1960, helped to bring local attention to new movements in modern art, such as abstract expressionism. Black artists in Cleveland were also making an important contribution. In 1940 6 black artists, under the auspices of the KARAMU HOUSE, formed a new artists’ organization known as the Karamu artists. Within a few years they developed into the largest single group of black artists in the country, exhibiting at such notable institutions as the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art. The Karamu House has also, since 1915, maintained a gallery with special interest in the works of talented black artists.
By the early 1960s, the diversity of local involvement had become considerable. In 1964 local exhibitions included, among others, African art at the May Co., master prints at Higbee’s, the Baycrafters’ annual juried show, an exhibition of Cleveland artists at the Circle Gallery, the annual exhibition of work by teachers of art in Cleveland high schools, and a show by students of the Cooper School of Art. Gallery openings and closings also proliferated at this time. The HOWARD WISE GALLERY OF PRESENT DAY PAINTING, opened in 1957, attempted with little success to bring works of contemporary European and American artists to Cleveland, and in 1961 moved to New York. In contrast to New York, where galleries are concentrated in specific parts of the city, galleries in Cleveland since the war have been dispersed throughout the greater metropolitan area. Recently, however, artists and galleries have been attracted to the Murray Hill area and later to TREMONT. In the 1970s, a number of outdoor art fairs were introduced in Cleveland. Included among these were the Boston Mills, Lakewood, Cain Park, and Clifton art festivals. Since the 1950s, corporations have arrived on the local art scene in an area formerly dominated by the wealthy industrialists. They have joined local foundations in making grants to art institutions in Cleveland; many corporate executives serve as board members for these institutions. Although its arrival was somewhat late in Cleveland, corporate art collecting has been a significant factor in the city’s art life since 1975.
In addition to its other exhibits, the Cleveland Museum of Art has customarily put together at least 1 major exhibit yearly. One of its best-known shows nationally was a bicentennial exhibition, “EUROPEAN VISION OF AMERICA,” which it cosponsored with the Natl. Gallery and the French government. A nearly $2 million deficit in 1992, however, led to the elimination of the museum’s popular Extensions Exhibition Service, which had provided exhibits for such venues as the Beck Ctr. for the Cultural Arts and the Cleveland Public Library. In 1976 Clevelanders were forced to confront modern sculpture in Isamu Noguchi’s The Portal. Commissioned by the GUND FOUNDATION at a cost of $100,000, the 15-ton, 36′ high curving configuration of carbon steel piping is located at the W. 3rd St. entrance of the Justice Ctr. Sherman Lee, then director of the Cleveland Museum of Art, considered The Portal one of the most important monumental sculptures in the U.S. Public reaction–especially to its cost/value–was mostly opposite. Later, when BP America declined to install a giant rubber hand stamp entitled Free Stamp, which it had commissioned from sculptor Claes Oldenburg for its headquarters on PUBLIC SQUARE, the city found a place for it in Willard Park.
In recent years Cleveland has seen the founding of several theme-based nonprofit art organizations. Contemporary art finally gained a foothold in the city with the establishment of the CLEVELAND CENTER FOR CONTEMPORARY ART in 1968. A similarly oriented organization is the Spaces Gallery, located in the warehouse district. Both organizations claim a commitment to Ohio artists. A revived interest in the “Cleveland School” artists led, in 1984, to the founding of the CLEVELAND ARTISTS FOUNDATION, which by 1993 had acquired a collection of 300 works in its area of interest. NOVA (the New Organization for the Visual Arts) is dedicated to the advocation of the artist in the community, a responsibility previously held by the now-defunct Cleveland Area Arts Council. NOVA has implemented many new programs and exhibitions, including, in 1983, the Art in Special Places Program to expose art to people who do not frequent museums and galleries.
Compared to cities with similar growth, an art life in Cleveland was late to arrive. But between 1910-29, Cleveland experienced a renaissance in art that rivaled, and in some areas surpassed, that of other cities in America. The viability of the commercial arts in the city and the leadership of the Art Museum were strong contributing factors. With the possible exception of the May Show, Cleveland’s art life has not been innovative, but rather has reacted to outside influences. Since World War II, Cleveland, like all other American cities, in terms of art has largely dwelt in the shadow of New York. The Cleveland Museum of Art, of course, has been a leader in such areas as Oriental art. Both the Art Museum and the Cleveland Institute of Art are proudly supported and remain among the finest of their kind in the country. But there is, perhaps, a tendency among Clevelanders to see these two institutions as the only centers for art in the city. That has led to Clevelanders’ not fully taking advantage of the manifold offerings of the city’s art life and, perhaps more seriously, has made it sometimes difficult for galleries, artists, and smaller art organizations to achieve a vital existence in the city.
Clark, Edna. Ohio Art and Artists (1932).
Marling, Karal Ann. Federal Art in Cleveland, Cleveland Public Library (1974).
Smart, Jermayne. “Folk Art of the Western Reserve” (Ph.D. diss., WRU, 1939).
Witchey, Holly Rarick. Fine Arts in Cleveland: An Illustrated History (1994).
Wittke, Carl. The Cleveland Museum of Art (1966).
Wixom, Nancy Coe. Cleveland Institute of Art (1983).
The Cleveland School – Watercolor and Clay by William Robinson
From the Canton Museum of Art
The Cleveland School
Watercolor and Clay
Exhibition Essay by William Robinson
Northeast Ohio has produced a remarkable tradition of achievement in watercolor painting and ceramics. The artists who created this tradition are often identified as members of the Cleveland School, but that is only a convenient way of referring to a diverse array of painters and craftsmen who were active in a region that stretches out for hundreds of miles until it begins to collide with the cultural orbit of Toledo, Columbus, and Youngstown. The origins of this “school” are sometimes traced to the formation of the Cleveland Art Club in 1876, but artistic activity in the region predates that notable event. Notable artists were resident in Cleveland by at least the 1840s, supplying the growing shipping and industrial center with portraits, city views, and paintings to decorate domestic interiors.
As the largest city in the region, Cleveland functioned like a magnet, drawing artists from surrounding communities to its art schools, museums, galleries, and thriving commercial art industries. Guy Cowan moved to Cleveland from East Liverpool, a noted center of pottery production, located on Ohio River, just across the Pennsylvania border. Charles Burchfield came from Salem and Viktor Schreckengost from Sebring, both for the purpose of studying at the Cleveland School of Art. To be sure, the flow of talent and ideas moved in multiple directions. Leading painters in Cleveland, such as Henry Keller and Auguste Biehle, established artists’ colonies in rural areas to west and south. William Sommer, although employed as a commercial lithographer in Cleveland, established a studio-home in the Brandywine Valley that drew other modernists to the country. So, while the term “Cleveland School” may not refer to a specific style or a unified movement, it does identify a group of interconnected artists active in a confined geographic region, many of whom who shared common experiences, backgrounds, training, professional challenges, and aesthetic philosophies.
The Cleveland School enjoys a well deserved reputation for achievement in watercolor painting. In May 1942, Grace V. Kelly commented in the Plain Dealer: “Watercolor painting is the special pride of Cleveland and the medium through which its artists are known to connoisseurs throughout the country.” Interest in the medium grew modestly during the nineteenth century, and then accelerated after the founding of the Cleveland Society of Watercolor Painters in 1892. At the time, many people still considered watercolor a form of drawing and inferior to oil painting. After the turn of the century, artists increasingly altered their approach as they began thinking of watercolor, not as tinted drawings, but as an independent form of painting with unique aesthetics and technical issues. The key aspect of watercolor that sets it apart from other painting media is transparent color. Applying thin washes of transparent watercolor over white paper allows light to penetrate the paint layer and reflect off the paper, thereby illuminating the colors with a special radiance. This effect can be enhanced by combining watercolor with areas of opaque gouache and white body color. From a technical standpoint, watercolor is an extremely medium difficult because the liquid paint is quickly absorbed into the paper and dries almost immediately, making it nearly impossible to rework a composition without muddying the colors. Watercolor painters must work swiftly and accurately because there is almost no margin for error.
The artists of northeast Ohio developed their own watercolor traditions and raised the medium to such heights that it stands out as an area of special achievement. They learned to exploit the medium’s most distinctive quality—transparency—and to paint quickly and freely, sometimes without preliminary drawing. Ora Coltman (1858-1940) from Shelby, Ohio, was among the early practitioners of the medium. Like other artists of his generation, he found watercolor ideal for making travel sketches and deftly exploited the medium’s inherent transparency to evoke the intensity of sun-drenched, outdoor light. Henry Keller (1869-1949), who taught at the Cleveland School of Art from 1903 to 1945, masterfully employed both transparent and opaque watercolor, also known as gouache. His works range in style from experiments in abstract design, such as Futurist Impression: Factories, to freely rendered views of the Ohio countryside and the beaches of La Jolla, California. A highly influential teacher, Keller introduced a generation of his students and colleagues to modernist principals of abstract design and color theory. He began experimenting with abstract design as early as 1913, the year he exhibited in the Armory Show. Grace Kelly (1877-1950) and Clara Deike (1881-1918) were among the many artists who painted outdoors with Keller at the summer school he established in Berlin Heights, Ohio, in 1909. The large, flat planes of abstract color—especially the intense blue shadows—in Deike’s Sunflowers with Chickens and Kelly’s Cypress are signature features of the modernist style developed by Keller and his colleagues.
Auguste Biehle (1885-1979) and William Sommer (1867-1949), two of the most important and influential pioneers of modernism in Ohio, worked in Cleveland’s commercial art industries. Biehle studied in both Cleveland and Munich. After attending the first exhibition of the German Expressionist group, The Blue Rider, Biehle returned to Cleveland in 1912 and began painting in an avant-garde style that merged abstract color with decorative design. Like many of his Cleveland colleagues, Biehle was a versatile artist who worked masterfully in variety of styles, from modernist abstraction to American scene realism.
William Sommer deserves special recognition as one of the finest American watercolorist of the twentieth century. Born in Detroit, Sommer came to Cleveland in 1907 to work for the Otis Lithograph Company, where he developed a close relationship with William Zorach (1887-1966). Together, they became leaders in the regional avant-garde movement. In 1911, Sommer helped establish two organizations dedicated to advancing modernist art in Cleveland: the Secessionists and the Kokoon Klub. In 1914, he converted an abandoned school house in the Brandywine Valley, about 20 miles south of Cleveland, into a home and studio that attracted visits from progressive poets and painters, including Hart Crane and Charles Burchfield. Sommer continued painting in a modernist style during the 1920s and 1930s, a period when many artists abandoned abstraction for American scene realism. Sommer’s large watercolor U.S. Mail interprets rural Ohio through the modernist lens of flattened and compressed space, powerfully reductive forms, and inventive color.
Although often described as an isolated, self-taught artist working in the rural hinterlands of America, Charles Burchfield (1893-1967) was an extremely sophisticated painter who learned principles of modernist composition and color theory through Henry Keller, his teacher at the Cleveland School of Art from 1912-1916. Burchfield also discovered avant-garde art by frequenting exhibitions at the Kokoon Klub and by traveling to Brandywine in 1915 to meet “Big Bill Sommer.” It was during this period that Burchfield developed his signature style and ideas about the nature of the creative process. He shared Sommer’s philosophy of using watercolor as a means of externalizing emotions and exploring subconscious fears and dreams by painting quickly and intuitively. Burchfield once explained why he adopted watercolor as his ideal medium: “My preference for watercolor is a natural one . . . whereas I always feel self-conscious when I use oil. I have to stop and think how I am going to apply the paint to canvas [when working in oil], which is a determent to complete freedom of expression . . . To me watercolor is so much more pliable and quick.”
Led by Burchfield, Sommer, Biehle, and their colleagues, a nationally distinguished school of watercolor painting emerged in northeast Ohio during the early years of the twentieth century. They exploited the inherent advantages of watercolor for painting quick, lively views of American scene subjects. Frank Wilcox (1887-1964) developed a masterful à la prima technique for portraying the rural countryside and imagined scenes of Ohio history. William Eastman (1888-1950) depicted the recently constructed Terminal Tower in Cleveland rising against a sunset sky with ominously dark clouds. Clarence Carter (1904-2000) came to Cleveland from Portsmouth, Ohio, in 1923, and developed a national reputation as an imaginative interpreter of American scene subjects, accomplished with a personal blending of realism and modernism.
Carl Gaertner (1898-1952) began haunting the city’s steel mills and factories during the early 1920s and rapidly established himself as a preeminent painter of industrial Ohio, renowned for his dark, moody, deeply expressive winter scenes. Other prominent watercolor paintings of this generation include Lawrence Blazey, Carl Broemel, Charles Campbell, Kae Dorn Cass, Joseph Egan, William Grauer, Joseph Jicha, Earl Neff, Paul Travis, and Roy Bryant Weimer.
Cleveland artists of the next generation continued to develop this regional tradition in watercolor painting. Hughie Lee-Smith, Moses Pearl, Kinely Shogren, and Joseph Solitario were all born after the outbreak of World War I, yet largely followed in the footsteps of their predecessors in using watercolor to record exacting images of life in modern America. One of the most distinguished African-American artists of his time, Lee-Smith came to Cleveland in 1925, took studio classes at the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Cleveland School of Art, and taught at the Playhouse Settlement (Karamu House) from the 1930s to the early 1940s. His haunting images of lonely and deserted urban settings, sometimes occupied by a few isolated figures, seem symbolic of the alienated condition of African-Americans during a period of pervasive Jim Crow laws, lynchings, a resurgent KKK, and segregation in the military. Solitario recorded memorable images of weary, bored soldiers traveling by train during World War II. Pearl spent a lifetime painting watercolors of Cleveland urban and industrial sites, starting from his teen years in the 1930s to his death in 2003.
Art historians have praised northeast Ohio for its long tradition of excellence in decorative arts and crafts. R. Guy Cowan (1884-1957), a pioneer in the production of fine art ceramics, established studios that attracted leading talents from around the region and served as a center for collaborative production. Born to a family of potters in East Liverpool, Ohio, Cowan settled in Cleveland in 1908 after studying at the New York State School of Clayworking and Ceramics. He founded the Cleveland Pottery and Tile Company in 1913, and later the Cowan Pottery Studios in nearby Lakewood and Rocky River. Cowan’s early works, such as his Lusterware Vase of 1916-17, feature simple yet elegant forms, reflecting the aesthetics of the nineteenth-century Arts & Crafts Movement, accentuated by delicate, monochromatic glazes. Cowan attracted national attention and awards for his ceramics as early as 1917. Critics praised his unique glazes, spectral colors, and high quality materials. During the 1920s, he produced critically acclaimed ceramic figurines in an Art Deco style, as exemplified by Flower Frog with Scarf Dancer of 1925. Adam and Eve of 1928 energizes and unites two figures through decorative rhythms that flow electrically across space.
Cowan began teaching at the Cleveland School of Art in 1928. He used his contracts there to bring leading artists to his studio in Rocky River to collaborate on the production of ceramics, launching a regional renaissance in the medium. Cowan Pottery attained national acclaim prior to its closing in December 1931. Among the notable artists who worked there were: Walter Sinz, Alexander Blazys, Thelma Frazier Winter, Edris Eckhardt, Waylande Gregory, Russell Aitken, and Viktor Schreckengost.
Nationally renowned for his work as a ceramist, industrial designer, painter, and teacher, Schreckengost was born in 1906 to a family of potters in Sebring, Ohio. After attending the Cleveland School of Art from 1924 to 1929, he spent a year studying ceramics at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Vienna, and then returned home to find the nation in the midst of the Great Depression, but lucky enough to receive a joint appointment shared between his alma mater and the Cowan Studios. He produced his famous New Yorker or Jazz Bowl at the Cowan Studios in 1931. Commissioned by Eleanor Roosevelt to celebrate his husband’s re-election as governor of New York, the bowl interprets a distinctly American subject—the city at night bursting with the energetic rhythms of jazz—in a lively, Cubist style. Schreckengost noted that the subject was inspired by a night he spent at the Cotton Club listening to Cab Calloway. To suggest a sense of the city at night, Schreckengost employed an innovative sgraffito technique of scratching through a lustrous black upper glaze to expose the deep Egyptian blue below. The bowl was so popular that he created versions in different sizes and glazes. Schreckengost also excelled at incorporating caricature and humor into his ceramics, as seen in his plates devoted to sports, part of an attempt, so he said, to lift the spirits of people devastated by the Depression. The infectious humor of his ceramics seems to have rubbed off on his colleagues at Cowan, who followed the same path of emphasizing light-hearted, whimsical subjects as an antidote to the brutal realities of the era.
After 1945, a new emphasis on geometric abstraction emerged in Schreckengost’s ceramics and watercolors. The same trend appears in the post-war ceramics of other Cleveland School artists, including Claude Conover, Leza Sullivan McVey, and Clement Giorgi. Increasing experimentation with organic forms and delicate glazes also suggests the influence of the Cleveland Museum of Art’s growing collection of Asian art.
Although American artists shifted their focus away from regional schools after the end of World War II, northeast Ohio remained a thriving center of activity in watercolor painting and ceramics. Today, members of the Ohio Watercolor Society come from every corner of the state and actively organize exhibitions that enrich the lives of people in urban and rural communities alike. Northeast Ohio is also dotted with studios, workshops, teaching programs, and societies devoted to ceramics. Museums dedicated to ceramics can be found from East Liverpool to Rocky River. Watercolor painting and ceramics should be celebrated in northeast Ohio, not only as historical artifacts of artistic achievement, but as vital cultural activities that continue to bind the region together.
“Futuristic Impressions Factory” by Henry Keller, Courtesy of Rachel Davis Fine Arts
Summer Landscape by Grace Kelly, Courtesy of Michael & Lee Goodman
US Mail/Brandywine Landscape by William Sommer, Purchased in Memory of John Hemming Fry, Canton Museum of Art, 2011.18.A.B
“Buildings” by Carl Gaertner`, Courtesy of Rachel Davis
“Jazz Bowl” by Viktor Schreckengost, Courtesy of Thomas W. Darling
“First Nighter” by Edris Eckardt, Courtesy of a private collection
 According to Mark Bassett, the term “Cleveland School” was first used by Elrick Davis in article published in the Cleveland Press in 1928.
 Grace V. Kelly, “May Show’s Watercolors Maintain Usual High Levels Despite Wartime Pressures,” Cleveland Plain Dealer (May 10, 1942), B:12.
 “Charles Burchfield Explains,” Art Digest 19 (April 1, 1945), 56.