By Nicole Hennessy
Paintings of Northeast Ohio – the Rocky River, the Cuyahoga and Lakewood’s cliffs – hang in the Cleveland Artists Foundation’s (CAF) gallery.
The show, “Pioneering Modernism,” explores post-impressionist work produced in and around Cleveland from 1908 to 1913.
And while it is free and open to the public until July 27, Friday a panel discussion will give those interested in Cleveland art history a chance to understand where regional styles of the early 20th century and beyond it came from.
The panelists will include Henry Adams, professor of American art at Case Western Reserve University; William Robinson, curator of modern European art at the Cleveland Museum of Art; Roger Welchans, artist and art historian; and Lawrence Waldman, an independent scholar.
Lauren Hansgen, CAF’s executive director, says she’s only seen many of these pieces, borrowed from museums and private collections, in exhibition catalogs. She encourages people to come “spend time with them.”
Broken up into subsections, the exhibition’s includes The First Wave of Modernism, The Early Years, The Fave Explosion, Abel Warshawsky & Post Impressionism, The Romance With the Rocky River, and Modernism and the Movie Poster.
Artists August Biehle, William Sommer, Henry G. Keller, Marguerite Zorach, William Zorach, Clara Deike and many more show styles and themes gleaned from trips to Europe, styles that wouldn’t become common in America until New York City’s famous Armory Show in 1913.
Describing what he’d seen in Europe during that period and his subsequent art classes, Abel Warshawsky wrote, “I came back from France … imbued with coulour. … I had a class in Cleveland and Bill Sommer … came to study coulour with me. Bill at that time was a high paid lithographer, a good draughtsman in the academic sense. But, as he said, he and the others were submerged in the ‘brown sauce’ prevalent in American painting at that time. I taught him the elements of cool and warm colours, of the juxtaposition of colour, breaking hue colour into the surfaces instead of gray and colourless planes.”
By thinking differently about shape and color, in a time of both regional and local growth in population, economy and industry, these artists thrived.
Throughout the small gallery on the ground floor of the Beck Center for the Arts, colorful oil paintings transform an ordinary scene of the Rocky River bridge into a depiction of trees blooming red, orange and yellow, the river cutting through the Metroparks’ green hills.
Nearby, the Cuyahoga River rolls past warehouses and parked boats. These canvases are the first romanticized depictions of industrialization, a departure from the time’s accepted definitions of beauty.
The program of “Pioneering Modernism” explains, “This exhibition examines an art historical process that has never been closely examined, the moment when modern art first blossomed in Cleveland.”
And on the wall above the Rocky River pieces is a William Zorach quote. He said, “We were modern (wildly modern) in days when a mere handful of people in America even knew Cubists and Faves existed. We were drunk with the possibilities of color and form, and the new world this opened up.”
SIDE BAR: The June 21 panel discussion will begin at 7 p.m. Attendees are encouraged to arrive an hour before. The Cleveland Artists Foundation is located at 17801 Detroit Ave. in Lakewood.