history of the cleveland art association
Adapted by Barbara French from Frances P. Taft’s History of the Cleveland Art Association
The Cleveland Art Association, as we know it, was organized in 1915 to create interest in art and to provide support, both moral and financial, to artists and art institutions. Earlier incarnations of CARTA began as early as 1882 and were linked to the Cleveland Institute of Arts as it evolved from the Western Reserve School for Women (1882), to the School of Art of Western Reserve University (1888), then to the Cleveland School of Art (1891; renamed Cleveland Institute of Art in 1949). CARTA has also been closely associated with the Cleveland Museum of Art, itself founded in 1913.
CARTA ’s early mission was to give one painting a year to the new Cleveland Museum of Art. The first art given to CMA was chosen from an October 1917 exhibition of Cleveland artists and craftsmen held at the downtown Lindner Co’y store. The show was a huge success and the exhibition stayed up for four months. Cleveland’s public was ready to see shows by local artists and was enthusiastic about both paintings and crafts. This exhibition was the seed for the annual ‘May Show’, the first of which was held at the Cleveland Museum of Art in 1919 and continued for over seventy years.
The first May Show was to exhibit “works of all kinds produced in Cleveland by Cleveland artists and craftsmen.” It opened to the public following a reception for exhibitors and Cleveland Museum of Art and Cleveland Art Association members. The jury for that first year came from Boston, New Orleans, Chicago and Pittsburgh. There was a wide range of categories: painting, sculpture, etching, photography, needlework, textiles, ceramics, furniture, commercial design, jewelry, metal work, and enamel. There was a category for lace work and weaving by a blind worker. A popular vote prize of $100 was given to the work deemed most interesting by the audience.
Long time CMA Director William Milliken (1918-1978) was a major champion of the May Show, and made sure to express gratitude to the advisory committee appointed by the Cleveland Art Association. In 1920 the Chairman of the committee was Museum Trustee Mrs. S. Livingtone Mather and the Art Association President was Mrs. Harry L. Vail. (It wasn’t until the 1990s that female CARTA Board Presidents regularly dropped the use of their husband’s names.)
In 1921 there were 950 entries and sales were vigorous. During this period the May Show was the major activity of the Cleveland Art Association and the Advisory Committee seems primarily to have had the task of finding and encouraging young artists to enter their work in whatever discipline. The May Show represented the Museum’s and the Art Association’s faith in artists and craftsmen of the Cleveland area. Milliken and the Art Association were determined to see Cleveland recognized as a place that created art and supported its artists. Cleveland was getting on the U.S. art map; the national College Art Association met in Cleveland in 1920.
In 1921, Cleveland hosted a special exhibition of contemporary American painting, including nationally known painters Childe Hassam, Robert Henri, George Bellows and Arthur B. Davies, to name a few. Thirty Clevelanders also appeared in that show, including names closely linked to the art community that came to be known as the ‘Cleveland School’: Henry Keller, Frank Wilcox, Charles Burchfield, and August Biehle. In 1922 Henry Keller, Frank Wilcox, and Paul Travis were among the top winners and their works became part of the original Cleveland Art Association collection. From 1921 to the early 30s the Cleveland Art Association established a sales room in the Vixseboxse Galleries in the Vickers Building at Euclid and E. 65th. Records show that the Museum took over responsibility for the May Show after 1926.
In 1936 President Mrs. Benjamin P. Bole suggested that the Art Association purchase work directly from artists and maintain a collection for lending. For an annual fee, members could borrow objects from the collection and at the end of that year they would have the option of buying the borrowed work. This arrangement was unique because the artists were paid outright. This was more beneficial to the artists than similar programs in other cities where work might be loaned, but on consignment, only benefitting the artist if the work were eventually sold. As is still done today, they used a lottery system with two brass numbers, one of which was put in a brass bowl and the other held until called.
The tradition continues. Once a year CARTA hangs a collection of some 200 works of art, hosts a reception for its members to browse the collection, and then holds a lottery for the privilege of taking home a unique work of art for a year with the option to buy (with some exceptions for legacy pieces). On average, 20 some members choose to purchase their art in any given year.
Until the May Show was stopped in the early 1990s, CARTA ’s members had the special privilege of viewing it before the rest of the public. Since there were few commercial galleries in those days, most major artists participated in the May Show; the Cleveland Art Association didn’t visit many other venues. Now the collection is continuously renewed by the Curatorial Committee with visits to commercial galleries and artists’ studios, and exhibitions like the CIA Faculty Show and the Student Independent Show.
In 1888 the school, having financial difficulties, became associated with the University and the name was temporarily changed to the School of Art of Western Reserve University. It had its own charter and board and the connection seemed rather weak. In fact, in 1891 that connection was disconnected and the Cleveland School of Art was born. This name remained until 1948 when Laurence Schmeckebier was director and it became the Cleveland Institute of Art. It had had several homes but had been in a fine Italian villa on Juniper Road where it had prospered and also had outgrown the facility. In 1954 the Cleveland Institute of Art found a new home on East Boulevard.
The very first Cleveland Art Association was founded in 1895. It was a group supporting the arts in Cleveland and held two exhibitions where prizes were given for artists affiliated with the Art School or the Art Club. The history of this organization is not well documented, but by 1900 it was no more.
The Cleveland Art Association, as we know it, was organized in 1915 by a man named Dr. Daniel Huebsch, to further interest in art and to provide support, both moral and financial, to artists and to art institutions. Early on the Association began giving one painting a year to the then brand new Cleveland Museum of Art. It appears that the initial money that made this possible came from a life membership which cost $1,000 from Agnes Gund, who was then an art student. The Art Association held an exhibition and sale of Cleveland artists and craftsmen at the downtown Lindner Coy store. This first show opened in October 1917 and was supposed to come down in January of 1918, but it was a huge success and the exhibition was carried over into February. Cleveland’s public seemed to be ready to see shows by local artists and also seemed enthusiastic about both the paintings and crafts. This Cleveland Art Association show functioned as a precursor to the May Show. The first May Show was held at the Cleveland Museum of Art in 1919. But that first May Show was also organized under the auspices of the Cleveland Art Association.
This first May Show was to exhibit “works of all kinds produced in Cleveland by Cleveland artists and craftsmen.” It opened to the public following a reception for Cleveland Museum of Art members and members of the Art Association and exhibitors. The jury for that first year came from Boston, New Orleans, Chicago and Pittsburgh. In the show there was a full range of categories: painting of all kinds, sculpture, etching, photography, needlework, textiles, ceramics, furniture, commercial design, jewelry, metal work and enamel. There was also a category for lace work and weaving by a blind worker. There was a popular vote prize of $100 which was given to that work deemed the most interesting by the audience who did the voting.
In 1920 the second exhibition of local art was held, again at the Cleveland Museum of Art, from May 4th to June 2nd. The interesting thing was that there was an advisory committee for the exhibition and that committee was appointed by the Cleveland Art Association. It is interesting to note, in terms of Cleveland appearing on the art map, that this same year, 1920, the College Art Association, which is a nationwide association still in existence, met in Cleveland. By this time William Milliken is really in charge of the May Show, which he always considered his special baby, and in each of his May Show descriptions he expresses his gratitude to the committee appointed by the Cleveland Art Association under the chairmanship of Mrs. S. Livingstone Mather, who was a Museum trustee. He also always expressed his thanks to the President of the Cleveland Art Association, who in this period was Mrs. Harry L. Vail. In 1921, just for the record, there were 950 entries filed and the Museum account indicates that sales were vigorous. You can see that during this period the major function of the Cleveland Art Association was to be deeply involved in the May Show itself and the Advisory Committee seems primarily to have had the task of finding and encouraging young artists to send in their entry in whatever discipline they worked.
Cleveland was really doing an operation boot strap in terms of encouraging and patronizing the arts and William Milliken was tremendously important in this endeavor because he really felt that the May Show represented the Museum’s faith in artists and craftsmen of the Cleveland area. He had been extremely supportive of the Northern Ohio Water Color Society which had been founded in 1894 and during the 1920s he is determined to see that Cleveland is recognized as a place that has and supports its artists.
In 1921, in Cleveland there was also a special exhibition of contemporary American painting. There were outstanding nationally known American painters like Childe Hassam, Robert Henri, George Bellows and Arthur B. Davies, just to mention a few. Reading the Cleveland Museum bulletins we discover 30 Clevelanders who appeared in that show, among these were names closely linked to the Art School: Henry Keller, Frank Wilcox, Charles Burchfield and August Biehle. So Cleveland was making its way onto the art map.
In 1922 at the Fourth Annual May Show William Milliken once again thanks the committee appointed by the Cleveland Art Association and Mrs. Harry Vail is still the President, but it is noteworthy that Henry Keller, Frank Wilcox and Paul Travis were among the top winners and, of course, their works became part of the Cleveland Art Association collection. In that same year mention is made of the Penton Medals of Excellence. The rules seemed to have been determined by the Cleveland Art Association and they seemed to have been responsible for the prizes.