Visual arts galleries in downtown Cleveland offer visitors plenty to see and experience
Story by Ed Carroll
Photography by Michael C. Butz
Musicals and museums, concerts and comedy clubs, dining and drinking, and baseball and basketball – all are among the many reasons tourists and native Northeast Ohioans alike visit and enjoy downtown Cleveland. But so too are, say, paintings, printmaking and photography.
Visual arts standout in this crowd, and three galleries – Bonfoey Gallery, The Galleries at CSU and Harris Stanton Gallery – anchor the downtown scene. All three regularly host exhibitions, and in the process, make their own unique contribution to the city’s most vibrant neighborhood.
And while visual arts may not have as big a footprint in downtown Cleveland’s evolving entertainment landscape as some of those other areas of interest, they can’t – and shouldn’t – be overlooked. Those already in the know are rewarded with each visit to these galleries.
The Bonfoey Gallery has been around for a long time. So long, in fact, its gallery director, Marcia Hall, and office manager, Olga Merela, don’t know exactly what year the gallery was founded – but they do know it’s one of the 10 oldest still-active galleries in the country.
“We’re actually not certain when we were founded,” Hall says with a laugh. “We were incorporated in 1893, so the gallery could have been started prior to that, but we’re not certain. We know the land was donated in 1894.”
Despite having such a rich history – John D. Rockefeller and Henry Ford can be counted among their one-time clients – Hall says Bonfoey has its eyes set firmly fixed on the future when it selects art to showcase.
“If you saw some of the artwork we carry, we’d definitely be thought of as one of the top galleries in the area in terms of reputation and work,” she says. “The artists we choose to represent are among the finest in their areas. When you come to the Bonfoey, you’re expecting a certain level of professionalism to be seen on the wall, the work has a level of excellence to it.”
Among the artists the gallery represents are Andy Curlowe, Susan Danko, George Mauersberger, Erik Neff, Dana Oldfather, Frank Oriti and Dan Tranberg. Bonfoey also offers a range of services, including custom framing, painting restoration and art consultation.
Merela says it’s common for visitors to make visiting the Bonfoey their top stop for an evening on the town.
“That’s what’s kept us in business,” Merela says. “We’re not set in the mall or an area where you’d have a lot of walk-by traffic. I think our clients are coming by specifically because they want to see us or have business with us. It’s exciting being downtown and we’re thrilled we’re still here.”
Not far from Bonfoey are The Galleries at CSU, which started in 1973 as part of Cleveland State University’s art department, says Robert Thurmer, the gallery’s director and chief curator.
At the time, the department felt students needed a place to exhibit their works and be confronted with other art to emulate. Thurmer says the gallery was successful enough to become too big for the faculty to handle, so in the mid 1980s, CSU hired a full-time gallery director. The gallery moved to its current location in the Playhouse Square district in 2012.
Don’t expect to see student artwork when you visit The Galleries at CSU, though. Thurmer says the gallery has only one student artwork exhibit each year, an end-of-the-school year showcase by the art students. The rest of the year, the space houses regional and international works of art, and also produces small art publications and art books.
“We don’t have the same resources as, say, (the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland) but we have works by artists that are in that tier of quality,” Thurmer says. “Our mission is based on our teaching here at Cleveland State: to educate and identify and involve immersive programs that promote an understanding of art and its place in society.”
Thurmer acknowledges that despite the gallery’s street presence on Euclid Avenue, theater audiences generated by Playhouse Square don’t always take in the visual arts offering of The Galleries at CSU. In fact, he’s found some passersby aren’t sure how to access the gallery – an obstacle they’re working to overcome.
“We get people stopping in from Cowell & Hubbard and other restaurants down the strip, and they’ll wander in and are surprised by what they see – but we’re overlooked often,” Thurmer says. “We’re working on neon signage so people know we’re here and we’re open.”
Many who travel to downtown Cleveland to visit an Akron export do so to watch LeBron James play basketball. But there’s another export that’s notable in its own right: Harris Stanton Gallery.
The Akron gallery was founded 30 years ago by a French woman named Evelyn Shaffer. The current owner, Meg Harris Stanton, speaks fluent French and Italian, explains gallery director Ellie Kaiser, which has helped Harris Stanton Gallery form longstanding relationships with international artists and dealers.
“We love bringing a global component to the Northeast Ohio arts scene. We represent artists from Germany, Spain, England, Italy, France, South Africa, Columbia and Japan, just to name a few,” says Kaiser, adding that they also represent local artists like Terry Klausman, Pat Zinsmeister Parker, Christine Ries and Mark Soppeland.
The downtown Cleveland gallery opened in 2014 in the Warehouse District, where it not only draws audiences for its exhibitions but also pulls from neighboring restaurants – before people grab dinner or perhaps after they’ve enjoyed brunch.
Likewise, to appeal to a broader base of downtown Cleveland customers, the gallery offers custom framing and carries gifts and jewelry to complement its fine art business, Kaiser says. It also hosts Thursday opening receptions.
“In Cleveland, there’s a lot of competition for Fridays, between MIX (at CMA) and Third Fridays (at 78th Street Studios) – and a lot of different galleries have Friday openings,” she says. “We just wanted to give people a different option for art.”
Harris Stanton is excited the gallery has reached a 30-year milestone – and that downtown is part of the equation.
“It’s thrilling to be here, and to show our artists in two different venues,” she says. “It kind of works both ways. We’re bringing artists to Cleveland who I don’t think have really shown here before, and vice versa. It’s been terrific.” CV
“Contemporaries 2017” will be on view from June 9 to Sept. 2 at Bonfoey Gallery, 1710 Euclid Ave., Cleveland. Participating in this group show will be Judy Barie, Amanda Cook, Phyllis Fannin, Kathleen Hammett, Ashley Sullivan, Robert Robinson and John Tellaisha.
The Galleries at CSU
The Merit Scholar Exhibition and 46th Student Show will be on view from May 5 to June 10 at The Galleries at CSU, 1307 Euclid Ave., Cleveland.
Harris Stanton Gallery
“30th Anniversary International Exhibition” will be on view from June 1 to July 15 at Harris Stanton Gallery’s Akron location, 2301 W. Market St. An opening reception is scheduled for 5:30 to 8 p.m. June 1.
“30th Anniversary Regional Exhibition” will be on view from June 8 to July 15 at Harris Stanton Gallery’s downtown Cleveland location,
1370 W. 9th St. An opening reception is scheduled for 5:30 to 8 p.m. June 8.
Lead image: “Fraction 540.3” by Courtlandt Swartz, part of his “Fraction” series. Suspended paint in hand-cast acrylic, 5.25 x 2.75 x 4 inches. Swartz will be featured in the corresponding “30th Anniversary International Exhibition.” Image courtesy of Harris Stanton Gallery.