Luck of the draw

Members of carta chat at the opening reception in 2021. Photo courtesy of carta.

By Jane Kaufman

At her first artwork drawing of the Cleveland Art Association in 2012, Mity Fowler struck a bit of beginner’s luck.

The Shaker Heights resident’s brass tag was the third to be drawn, giving her the third pick of a 225-piece art collection at the annual drawing at the Cleveland Institute of Art. Each member participating chooses one work to keep for a year and then decides whether to buy it at gallery price or to return it to the collection.

“I was teased,” says Fowler, of her place near the head of the line as a then-new member of the Cleveland Art Association, known as carta. 

She chose a painting by Matthew Kolodziej, whose work Fowler describes as abstract, colorful and expressionistic. She’s since chosen other pieces by Kolodziej to hang in her home at more recent carta artwork drawings.

Now co-president of carta, Fowler says she was “starstruck” upon meeting the artist, whose work has also been purchased by the Akron Art Museum.

“It was silly because he was the nicest guy,” she says of Kolodziej.

Julian Stanczak’s “Continual Overlay” (1979) is the Cleveland Art Association’s most valuable piece. Acrylic on canvas, 30.5 x 30.5 inches.

Part circulating arts library, part collector, carta acts as a patron of visual art and helps develop individual patrons among its members and their children. It is also a key source of scholarship funding to CIA: its most recent gift was $43,000, this year. Through its purchases and its permanent collection, carta elevates the work and profile of Cleveland artists. 

Each year, a curatorial committee chooses new works to replace those that have been purchased by members the previous year. The association always buys artwork outright from local galleries or artists, spending about $20,000 a year on building and replenishing its collection. Works in carta’s collection by artists who are now deceased are also loaned to members but are not for sale, forming the heart of a permanent collection. 

The tradition of purchasing artwork outright, rather than on consignment, dates to 1936. The association’s roots date back to 1895.

Each fall, this year on Oct. 27, a Thursday evening reception is held at which artists are invited along with guests, prior to the artwork drawing for members on the following Sunday – this year on Oct. 30. Between those dates, the show will be open to the public during open hours at the Reinberger Gallery at CIA.

Laura Ospanik, past president of carta, speaks at the 2021 annual meeting. Photo courtesy of carta.

Supporting artists

William Busta of Cleveland Heights is a former gallery owner and a member of carta, as well as a trustee of CIA.

“For my part, I always sold to the Cleveland Art Association at what would be my cost,” Busta says. “In other words, I gave them a discount, and the full amount was paid to the artist.”

That practice allowed carta to apply the difference in the gallery price and its cost toward funding CIA scholarships. In addition, he says artists often list on their resumes that carta is a purchaser of their work. 

The reception, he says, offers “a nice way for artists and patrons to mingle.”

Darius Steward’s “Read the Signs Year 2020” is in the rotating collection of art owned by the Cleveland Art Association. Watercolor on paper, 10.5 x 11.5 inches.

Cleveland Heights painter Nikki Woods remembers when her first piece was bought by carta in about 2014, calling it a “huge honor.”

She says as a student at CIA, she became aware of carta and appreciated its mission. Now director of the Reinberger Gallery, she is instrumental in installing each year’s show. 

“Their role is really essential in cultivating viewership and cultivating education and understanding of what artists in the region are doing,” Woods says, adding that artists whose works are chosen by carta are “able to see themselves within a legacy.”

The association also offers a children’s drawing for art on the same day as the main drawing, with pieces by local artists chosen for their potential appeal to children. Children attend an art class while their parents choose their works.

Fowler says her children will become adult members of carta, if they end up living in Cleveland.

“Their first works hanging on their wall were from the carta purchases,” she says.

Cynthia Gascoigne, treasurer of carta, talks to a young patron at the children’s drawing. Photo courtesy of carta.

Curating Cleveland

In addition, carta has held occasional auctions, including one in May at the 78th Street Studios of select works from the Cleveland Guardians’ 60-piece collection that were donated to carta in 2021, after the Guardians changed their office location.

Fowler serves on carta’s curatorial committee, along with co-president Kate Blaszak, also of Shaker Heights. 

“We have some really cool pieces,” from the Guardians donation, Blaszak says, “including, gosh, a 40-foot mural that is rolled up sitting in the Artists Archives of the Western Reserve.” The association stores pieces at that East 123rd Street building near University Circle.

The association is one of the sponsors of the prestigious Purchase Prize at CAN Triennial, which is ongoing this summer at galleries throughout Greater Cleveland, and carta will purchase the winning piece of art to add to its collection.

The Cleveland Art Association has developed a children’s art collection that circulates to children of members. “Giraffe and Water Spouts,” 11 x 17 inches, work on paper by Douglas Max Utter.

Members of carta are also invited to take part in yearly art education programs, such as a tour of Worthington Yards in the Warehouse District with curator Liz Maugans.

Occasionally, older artwork is reviewed for relevance and offered new treatment.

“The work of art could be amazing, but the frame is just awful,” Blaszak says. “We’ve had the frame since the 1970s. And we just reframe it, and it looks amazing.”

For Fowler, meeting the artists at curatorial visits is one of the most satisfying aspects of being part of carta.

“I think of them as rock stars,” she says. “And of course they are, but it’s just great that we get to meet them. And then they, too, will often join us at the Thursday preview reception. So, it’s like a win-win-win between the scholarships, the support of the local artists and then the super fun event that you do once a year. I love it all.”

A sampling of artists whose work is in carta’s rotating collection

  • Jerry Birchfield
  • David Buttram
  • Timothy Callaghan
  • Amy Casey
  • Lane Cooper
  • Amber Ford
  • Lee Heinen
  • Matthew Kolodziej
  • Liz Maugans
  • Bellamy Printz
  • Darius Steward
  • Barry Underwood
  • Brent Kee Young

A sampling of deceased artists whose work is in carta’s permanent collection

  • Carl Gaetner
  • John Pearson
  • Audra Skuodas
  • Julian Stanczak
  • Dan Tranberg
  • Piet van Dijk
  • Phoebe Flory Walker
  • Frank Wilcox

On view

The Cleveland Art Association’s annual exhibition will be open to the public during open hours from Oct. 27-30 at Reinberger Gallery at the Cleveland Institute of Art, 11610 Euclid Ave., Cleveland. For more information, visit