The next generation of Cleveland School artists will be featured in ‘Continuum’ at the Canton Museum of Art and ARTneo
By Alyssa Schmitt
The Cleveland School occupies a pre-eminent position in the pantheon of Northeast Ohio arts.
Not only did this community of artists and craftsmen lay the groundwork for institutions like the Cleveland Museum of Art and Cleveland Institute of Art in the early and mid-1900s, it established the region as a leading center of creativity and artistic innovation – especially with regard to watercolor paintings and ceramics.
Today, a new generation of Cleveland School artists – those who’ve studied the work of the original members or were directly taught by them – are carrying on its legacy.
That generation-to-generation progression will be front and center in “Continuum: The Cleveland School and Beyond,” a two-part exhibition on view from Nov. 21 to March 3, 2019, at the Canton Museum of Art in Canton and from March 15 to May 19, 2019, at ARTneo in Cleveland.
The idea for the exhibition was never far away from Lynnda Arrasmith, chief curator and registrar at the Canton Museum of Art. In 2012, the museum previously hosted “The Cleveland School: Watercolor and Clay,” an exhibition that included work from Cleveland School artists through the 1960s. Her desire to continue the exhibition came to fruition in “Continuum,” which recommences where “Watercolor and Clay” left off and examines how those early Cleveland School artists influence today’s artists.
She also hopes the show highlights Northeast Ohio’s past and present artistic endeavors to a new generation of museum visitors.
“I want to give Canton an idea of what’s in their backyard,” Arrasmith says. “There’s an education value that I think Canton needs to know. There’s a lot of lovely work continuing in Cleveland of works on paper and contemporary ceramics. I think it pushes the limits of watercolor and clay, both technical and in creative ways. I think it’s always good to welcome something that’s close at hand.”
Early Cleveland School artists often studied abroad, and at the time, watercolor wasn’t considered a fine art medium, explains Christopher Richards, ARTneo curator and collection manager. Those artists were able to reverse that thinking, in part by bringing exceptional technical skill to their work in various art movements, many of which weren’t previously done using watercolor.
“Really, what is sometimes shocking is how they added modernism into what was not traditionally seen at the time as being a serious art medium,” he says.
During the same time, clay – which any Northeast Ohio gardener will know – was everywhere, and the region emerged as a leader in commercial pottery.
Style and substance
“Continuum” will consist of 60 pieces (two works each from 30 artists) at the Canton Museum of Art. A smaller version will be on view at ARTneo due to its smaller space, but it will also be a different show there because ARTneo will display works from its own collection mixed with alternate works by some of the same artists in the Canton iteration.
At a glance, it’d be easy to overlook what ties together the works – at either location – since styles and subjects differ. But upon closer inspection, techniques passed down from teacher to student can be spotted.
“There’s actually a wide variety (of styles) because there’s no real Cleveland School style, per se. The media itself has always kind of been a strong and important presence in the art of the region,” Richards says. “The Cleveland School artists themselves experimented with a lot of different styles. Some of their works were very Ashcan School-style, which was a little bit more realistic, or in the style of the precisionist, who tried to capture everything as they thought. So, the hyper-reality of something like a photorealistic watercolor painting would have come out of something like that.”
“Continuum” focuses on how the contemporary artists have built on those earlier practices by innovating new styles.
“It’s viewing these works as a continuation of the advancement that the early Cleveland School artists have made and the importance of their contributions through the region,” Richards says. “It’s a linear history of our area in terms of media and how artists have used it.”
Richards pointed to a work by artist Richard Kish. The piece was a flat, blocky, geometric representation of a city scene done in 1961. Yet, it has a lot of the same qualities of laying down the watercolor as the earlier artists.
The connection these artists have to Northeast Ohio extends beyond the fact they studied and practiced in the region, Arrasmith says. They express their relationship to the area through the subjects of their work, whether in the form of downtown Cleveland’s Terminal Tower, a freighter navigating the Cuyahoga River or floral scenes common to the region.
“It kind of tells us who we are as a region,” Richards adds. “It shows what’s been important to artists of the area and what they’ve been trying to express.” CV
“Continuum: The Cleveland School and Beyond” will travel between the Canton Museum of Art and ARTneo, incorporating pieces owned by each museum in addition to those from private lenders and artists. From Nov. 21 to March 3, 2019, it will be on view at the Canton Museum of Art, 1001 Market Ave., Canton. From March 15 to May 19, 2019, it will be at ARTneo, 1305 W. 80th St., Cleveland, inside 78th Street Studios.
Lead image: “Freighter Bridge, Cleveland Skyline” by Michael Prunty; watercolor on paper, 18 x 27 inches. On loan from Ken Emerick and Todd Tussing. Image courtesy of Canton Museum of Art.