By Nicole Hennessy
The Lakewood Historical Society, after announcing new and returning trustees on May 21, presented a lecture on the history of the Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA).
The institution, which is preparing for its centennial in 2016, is now considered a world-class museum after a multimillion-dollar expansion. But, in some ways, it’s always lived up to that distinction.
Behind New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, CMA. archivist and records manager Leslie Cade explained, the CMA was considered the second-best art museum in the country for a long time.
After showing photos of CMA’s construction and hand-colored black-and-whites of attendees enjoying parties near the lagoon, Cade then began showing familiar pieces still on display in the permanent collection – ancient Egyptian pieces, Picassos and Renoirs.
Jeptha H. Wade, who originally donated the land on which University Circle sits, can also be seen hanging in the galleries. His portrait, in a thin black frame, features him wearing glasses he invented.
It was his grandson, Jeptha H. Wade II, who dedicated the museum upon its opening “for the benefit of all people, forever.”
Cade also discussed the museum’s directors throughout its existence but stopped soon before its last director, David Franklin. Franklin resigned, citing personal reasons, after a museum employee committed suicide, revealing the two had been engaged in a relationship.
Several details surfaced after, but ultimately faded from public discussion after Franklin left Cleveland.
A day before Cade’s lecture, last Tuesday, Fred Bidwell, CMA’s interim director, announced the board had decided upon a new director – William M. Griswold.
Continuing to share slides detailing CMA’s earliest acquisitions, Cade’s photos told the story of Howard Carter, who discovered King Tut’s tomb years later, sending artifacts to the museum and treasures being purchased during the Depression that might not have made their way to Northeast Ohio had other collectors been able to afford them.
“There are a lot of stories,” she said, some, she added, she couldn’t even share.
The Lakewood Historical Society, which is currently restoring the Nicholson House, the city’s oldest surviving structure, built in 1839, has been in existence since 1952.
Its schedule of events can be found at facebook.com/Lakewoodhistorical.
A free institution, CMA attendees can still roam the grounds originally donated by Wade, imagining lavish parties held in the gardens. At nearby Lake View Cemetery, another historic institution, visitors can visit the Wades’ gravesites.
More information on upcoming CMA events and special shows can be found at clevelandart.org.
Editor’s note: Nicole Hennessy works in the protection services department of the Cleveland Museum of Art