By Alyssa Schmitt

The women in the center of many of fine art photographer Yvonne Palkowitsh’s works are inspired by stories she’s heard from real women in her life. 

The idea for a scene might stem from a story her grandmother told or it might come from a conversation with friends, but each speaks to a level of truth and reveals a narrative that might otherwise go unnoticed.  

Some of the women show a vulnerability while others turn away from the viewer. Many of them are African American, like Palkowitsh, and often find themselves alone in the photo. Through each piece, she forces the viewer to see them and their stories. 

Acknowledgment and recognition – or the lack thereof – are overarching themes in the upcoming “seenUNseen” exhibition at the Artists Archives of the Western Reserve, where Palkowitsh’s work will be on view.

The show will feature pieces from Northeast Ohio-based African American artists the public might not often see alongside nationally known artists of historic importance, such as Elizabeth Catlett, Charles White and Jacob Lawrence, whose work appears courtesy of the Atlanta-based Kerry and C. Betty Davis Collection of African American Art.

Among the local artists featured will be Dexter Davis, Darius Steward, Tony Williams, Michelangelo Lovelace and Amber N. Ford.

Momentum for and involvement in “seenUNseen” grew so large that, in addition to filling the Artists Archives of the Western Reserve’s gallery, it will overtake available space in The Sculpture Center next door. The show will run from Sept. 20 to Nov. 16.

“Jazz” by Romare Bearden, silkscreen on paper, 1980. From the Kerry and C. Betty Davis Collection of African American Art. Courtesy of Artists Archives of the Western Reserve.

Seeing local artists

“seenUNseen” began to take shape when Artists Archives of the Western Reserve executive director Mindy Tousley was approached about exhibiting part of the 300-piece Davis Collection. For the past 35 years, Kerry Davis and his family have amassed a collection of paintings, works on paper and sculptures on a modest budget from emerging and established African American artists. 

When Tousley explains the Archives’ mission of supporting regional artists to Davis, it resonated.  

“I suggested to him that because bringing in a collection like this is not really part of our mission statement … that perhaps we could do a show of regional artists and put the work in with his collection all in one exhibition, which would help the regional artists because their work is going to be seen and going to be produced in a catalog and advertised alongside this other work,” Tousley says.

Some of the local artists may have found it difficult to get their work into regional galleries or exhibitions, or some work in a medium that might not garner as much attention in the art world. Others, like Palkowitsh, who lives in Dover, Ohio, highlight concepts that might be overlooked. Yet each is working to have themselves, their work and their community be seen.

“(The show) is going to point out that good art is being done all over from different kinds of people throughout history, and probably the conventional institutions have ignored a lot of it – the really big museums,” Tousley says. “I mean, we know they’ve ignored women, for the most part. They’ve ignored African American artists, too, for the most part, and African American women artists and maybe artists who are working in more traditional craft mediums, like some of the textile artists and quilters. I think it’s going to bring some of that out to the public eye.”  

Palkowitsh hasn’t personally faced challenges in showing her work but she knows others who have and recognizes the importance of providing an exhibition for those artists. Two pieces from Palkowitsh will be in the exhibition.  

“It’s really important that exhibitions like this are held because it really gives an opportunity to artists who are struggling to get their works into places – into museums, into galleries – to be represented, to be seen,” she says. “It’s really, really important to have exhibitions like this, and collectors like Kerry, who see the significance of collecting these stories and celebrating artists of color and getting the word out there.”

Through different opportunities over her career, Palkowitsh came across the Davis Collection and took note of its significance. 

“This is one of those situations you put them over to the side and think, ‘One day, one day I will possibly be a part of that,’” she says. 

When she heard there was an open call for artists to submit their work to be considered for the show, she was thrilled. 

“I couldn’t believe they were going to be in the Cleveland area and close to home,” she says.

Anna Arnold, “The Storyteller” by Anna Arnold, acrylic on canvas. Courtesy of Artists Archives of the Western Reserve.

The Davis Collection

The seen/unseen duality reverberates further in that “seenUNseen” will mark the first time the Davis Collection will leave the Atlanta area. The collection’s home is in Davis’ suburban residence in Clarkston, Ga., where it covers nearly every inch of the walls. The works transform the space into a gallery-style home museum that provides community access to the often unseen legacy of American artists of color. 

His collection started when he began work at the post office and bought his first house. Wanting to adorn it with something meaningful and representative of his heritage, he began purchasing art. He became familiar with artists in Clark Atlanta University’s collection and read books to familiarize himself with the work so if he saw it at a flea market or someplace else, he could purchase it. 

As he began networking more in the art world and even assisted in studios by framing art, he started collecting from local artists who were unseen, or rather, who were not as prominent in the art world. 

He looks for his African American heritage in the work, but when selecting something to add to the collection, he says he doesn’t always feel like he’s the one making the decision.

“Pieces kind of select me,” he says.

The collection itself has gone mostly unseen, usually being shown only to family members, church members and friends in the community, Davis says. His collection reached a national stage when it was exhibited at the Clark Atlanta University Art Galleries in 2016. The humble beginnings of artists in the exhibition reflect Davis’ own.  

“This is all about community,” he says. “I started out and no one saw my work (other than) people who came to the house, like church members, family and friends in the community. For us to share with another community, it feels really great. Plus, I just really appreciate being able to see works by other artists up there (in Cleveland).” CV

On View

Artists Archives of the Western Reserve

• “seenUNseen” will be on view from Sept. 20 to Nov. 16 at 1834 E. 123rd St., Cleveland. An opening reception will be held from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Sept. 20,
during which an appearance by Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson and a tribute to Cleveland artist Malcolm Brown are scheduled.

• In related programming, “Collecting African American Art” with Kerry Davis will be held from 1 to 3 p.m. Oct. 12 at Artists Archives of the Western Reserve.

• In addition, The Sculpture Center will host a panel discussion, “Seeing the Unseen,” moderated by Charles Peterson, associate professor of Africana Studies at Oberlin College from 1 to 3 p.m. Nov. 2. The panel will include emerging, mid-career and established regional African American artists.

Lead image: “Guided” by Yvonne Palkowitsh, altered photograph. Courtesy
of the artist.

The executive director of the Artists Archives of the Western Reserve discusses “EVAC: Experiencing Veterans & Artists Collaboration,” an exhibition that opens from 5:30 to 8 p.m. May 16 and remains on view through July 6.

What can visitors look forward to from “EVAC”?

One of the biggest draws is the collaboration between extremely talented printmakers and the veterans whose stories they share. The veterans interviewed for the project have served in all branches of the military from WWII through 9/11, and excerpts from their stories accompany each work on display. Using storytelling and art, “EVAC” educates the public about life in the military through empathy and creative expression.

In what ways does “EVAC” seek to bring light to an important topic?

Isolation is a persistent problem in the veteran community, as many who have served feel profoundly separated from their civilian counterparts. “EVAC” helps to bridge the gap between service members and society.

As Lee Fearnside, one of “EVAC” curators explains, “Mental health providers are losing the battle with helping veterans in part because veterans feel isolated and don’t want to ask for help. Studies show veterans who share their stories may help with PTSD recovery. With ‘EVAC,’ veterans have an opportunity to share their stories one time and to have that story impact many people.”

This show is a traveling exhibition. Where and how did it originate, and what inspired you to bring it to AAWR?

The show originated from the Tiffin University curators, Lee Fearnside, Joseph Van Kerkhove and Dr. John Schupp. Lee and Joe are both printmakers, and Dr. Schupp (an assistant professor of chemistry) started a student veteran program in Cleveland in 2006. Since that time, Dr. Schupp has spoken at more than 600 campuses regarding veteran education. He also helped write, pass and fund legislation for a Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education grant in 2010 that provided $6 million in grants for veteran education to more than 20 campuses nationwide. He clearly was the driving force behind helping veterans overcome PTSD by telling their stories through the interpretation of visual artists.

As an artist myself, I was inspired to bring this traveling exhibition to the Archives through my personal acquaintance with Joe Van Kerkhove and admiration of his own work.

How many artists are involved? Is anyone from Ohio/Northeast Ohio involved, and if so, who?

We chose 28 artists from the available works by 57 artists. The participating artists come from all over the country, as do the veterans. We wanted to make sure we included as many from Ohio as we could, so there are 11 artists who are Ohioans, including Tom Balbo, Erin Holscher-Almazan, Suzanne Chouteau, Maggie Denk-Leigh, Lee Fearnside, Sophie Knee, Liz Maugans, Kathy McGhee, Jonpaul Smith, Joe Van Kerkhove, Michael Weigman and another five who have an undergraduate or graduate connection through Ohio schools: Noel Anderson, Marty Azevedo, Chris Daniggelis, Michael Litzau and Michelle Rozic.

What programming is scheduled to go along with this exhibition?

We have two Art Bites Professional Practices Programs scheduled to accompany this exhibition.

One is from 1 to 3 p.m. on Saturday, May 25, and the other is from 1 to 3 p.m. on Saturday, June 1. These will give artists an opportunity to explore augmented-reality drawing software on a firsthand basis, courtesy of Blue Robot LLC. These programs are both limited to the number of participants and require an RSVP in order to attend. While these two programs may not seem to relate directly to the exhibition, augmented or virtual reality is a technology that is transforming mental health therapy. Senior or handicapped artists who are no longer able to create using other means may be able to use this immersive reality to continue their careers.

Lead image: “EVAC Looking Back, Looking Forward, Relief” by Maggie Denk-Leigh courtesy of the Artists Archives of the Western Reserve.

Herbert Ascherman Jr. loves Cleveland, “selling” the city wherever he travels. Fans of the peripatetic photographer will have two major opportunities in September to savor the images he’s created over the past four decades. PHOTO | Herbert Ascherman Jr.

Photography is as natural as breathing to Herbert Ascherman Jr., whose work will be on display at two shows this fall

By Carlo Wolff

Ascherman’s portrait of a woman in a wedding dress at a piano in Bratenahl. PHOTO | Herbert Ascherman Jr.

Ascherman’s portrait of a woman in a wedding dress at a piano in Bratenahl. PHOTO | Herbert Ascherman Jr.

Mounting a photographic exhibition is one thing. For Herbert Ascherman Jr., it’s two.

In September, the work of Ascherman, a photographer widely known for his portraits, will be the subject of two exhibitions: a 40-year retrospective at Heights Arts in Cleveland Heights and a smaller, more conceptual one at the Artists Archives of the Western Reserve Gallery in Cleveland.

The Heights Arts exhibition, Ascherman’s first retrospective, consists of 64 black-and-white analog prints and one color photograph, taken “with a myriad of cameras.” The Cleveland display is 25 diptychs capturing Cleveland police and fire department personnel in their public and private modes.

“I went through 120,000 black-and-white negatives to pick the 200 that we edited down to 65,” Ascherman said of the Heights Arts show. “I went through every negative with a magnifying glass, frame by frame; the majority of these images have never been seen before.”

Ascherman took the color photo of his wife, Colleen Sweeney, in 2000 on Achill Island off the coast of Ireland.

“It’s this gorgeous, 19th-century image of this beautiful redheaded woman in a black cape set against the brown heath, the wild heath of Ireland,” he said. “My shoulder is backed up against the cemetery wall, where her great-great-grand mother is buried.”

One could call this third-generation Shaker resident and fourth-generation Clevelander a man out of time; many Ascherman photos, particularly ones taken in France, resonate backward, speaking to a more leisurely, more elegant era. Even some American ones, like his black-and-white print of a woman leaning against a piano in Bratenahl, evoke such painters as John Singer Sargent and James McNeill Whistler. Like those American masters, Ascherman composes as much as he captures.

Sgt. Anna Mercado, back row center, D.A.R.E. officer, Cleveland Police Department, in one of the photographer’s images on display. PHOTO | Herbert Ascherman Jr.

Sgt. Anna Mercado, back row center, D.A.R.E. officer, Cleveland Police Department, in one of the photographer’s images on display. PHOTO | Herbert Ascherman Jr.

“My style is 19th-century Romantic,” Ascherman said, noting he takes his cues from the early French daguerrian photographers and, in the 20th century, Yousuf Karsh of Ottawa, Canada and Arnold Newman of New York City.

Ascherman called Karsh a “romantic and heroic portrait photographer,” while Newman “created environmental portrait photography in the 1940s.”

The director of the Bibliotheque Nationale, France’s version of the Library of Congress, told Ascherman he has “American eyes and a French heart.”

The Artists Archives exhibit is more contemporary and thematic. Working with the Silver & Gold, the fundraising arm of the Fraternal Order of Police, Ascherman has taken 25 pairs of 8-by-10 photos with his Deardorff view camera, yielding silver gelatin prints. They show the same figure “publicly as we see them and privately as they are,” Ascherman said.

Photography continues to liberate him.

“I characterize myself as eternally curious. I go out for a walk, I take a camera, I see what I can see. And that’s all it is. It’s just walking and breathing.”

Pictures appear “in front of you and then you take them,” he said. “It’s a very Zen kind of thing. There are also very specific projects that I have done over the years; for example, I spent three summers in North Dakota and Montana photographing American Indians; I took over 750 black-and-white photographs with that 8-by-10 camera.” A show of some 45 handmade platinum prints from this is planned for the American Museum of Natural History in New York in 2018.

“I’ve had cameras since I was a kid,” he said. “I went to work for my father, he owned a lumber business, and it occurred to me I needed a job I couldn’t get fired from. So I picked up a camera and with very little practical experience went to work.

“My entire life has been spent behind a camera,” Ascherman added. “It’s been a life of discovery and delight. I get paid to take pictures. How much better does it get?”

Ascherman has notched 1,735 weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs and “doggie birthday parties,” along with 9,000 black-and-white portraits; he works internationally, and he turned over 6,000 black-and-white portrait files he’d accumulated over 35 years to the Western Reserve Historical Society.

“I hope to share my vision with others who will enjoy what I enjoy,” Ascherman said. “I hope that my work uplifts the human condition. In my final discussion with my father, who wanted me to be in his business, he said put away the cameras and concentrate on business. He said, ‘I put food on 350 plates a day.’ And I looked at him without missing a beat and said, ‘I can put a smile on 350,000 people a day. Who makes the better contribution?’” CV

On view

WHAT: “Herbert Ascherman Jr.: 40 Years”

WHEN: Sept. 2 to Oct. 15

WHERE: Heights Arts, 2175 Lee Road in Cleveland Heights

INFO: Opening reception 6-9 p.m. Sept. 2. Gallery talk Sept. 29. Call 216-371-3457 or visit

On view

WHAT: “First Responders: As We See Them, As They Are”

WHEN: Sept. 15 to Nov. 5

WHERE: Artists Archives of the Western Reserve Gallery, 1834 E. 123rd St. in Cleveland

INFO: Opening reception 5:30-8 p.m. Sept. 15. Call 216-721-9020 or visit

Originally published in the Cleveland Jewish News on Aug. 18, 2016.

Lead image: Herbert Ascherman Jr. loves Cleveland, “selling” the city wherever he travels. Fans of the peripatetic photographer will have two major opportunities in September to savor the images he’s created over the past four decades. PHOTO | Herbert Ascherman Jr.