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Fine & Performing Arts

The Fine & Performing Arts collections contain a number of notable works; for example, medieval music manuscripts and early printed works such as Musica TransalpinaL’Art du Facteur d’OrguesHistoire de la Notation Musicale, and Orpheus Britannicus. In addition to important books of plates, woodcuts, engravings, and etchings, Special Collections has original works of art by William Sommer, Frank Wilcox, Abraham Warshawsky, Malvina Hoffman, and William McVey.  Fine arts materials exist within larger collections as well, such as the WPA prints in the Ernest J. Bohn Housing and Planning Library. Kelvin Smith Library is also home to the archival collections of the Cleveland Playhouse, SPACES Gallery, and Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland (MOCA).

In December 2011 the Kelvin Smith Library acquired the Archives of the Cleveland Play House. Founded in 1915, the Cleveland Play House is America’s first professional regional theatre. The archives include correspondence, photographs, posters, legal and financial records, design drawings, audio and video tapes from the founding of the Play House through 2011.

"When one surveys the existing and available archival record of professional theatre, it would be hard to find a comparable collection,” said Arnold Hirshon, Associate Provost & University Librarian. “The Cleveland Play House archives are an unparalleled resource for researchers studying the emergence and development of the American regional theatre movement, as well as a treasure trove of information about the general and cultural history of Cleveland."

Browse our Digital Case collection of Playhouse materials.

Search the Cleveland Playhouse Finding Aid.

During the 1930s, there was catastrophic unemployment in the country. A federal project was put in place in 1935, called "Work Projects Administration," which would utilize the skills of out-of-work employees helping them to earn a small wage to survive. Previous efforts had begun in 1933 to assist unemployed artists under the Public Works of Art Project established by the Treasury Department. The country was divided into sixteen regions, one of which was the Cleveland region. Two people were instrumental in the success of the Cleveland effort - William M. Milliken, Director of the Cleveland Museum of Art and Linda A. Eastman, Director of the Cleveland Public Library. The significant benefit of their collaboration and leadership was a regional approach to art that exemplified and identified the "Cleveland Scene." In 1935, the Works Progress Administration took over the support of artists on relief and hired hundreds of workers for the Federal Art Project in music, theater, writing and art, the Federal Art Project alone employed 350 Cleveland artists.

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Additional Resources:

African American Artists in the WPA Collection

Three African American artists are represented in the WPA collection in the Special Collections Research Center. The WPA provided an environment for the talent of these artists - Elmer W. Brown, Hughie Lee-Smith and Charles Sallee - to be recognized and appreciated. The WPA Print Collection is part of our Ernest J. Bohn Housing and Planning Library. Mr. Bohn, as Director of the Cleveland Metropolitan Housing Authority (later the Cuyahoga MHA) had been a supporter of artists and sculptors by incorporating their works in the housing estates in Cleveland. These artists had many things in common - they received their education at the Cleveland Institute of Art, were deeply involved in activities at Karamu House, and were employed by the Cleveland WPA in printmaking. The WPA (Work Projects Administration) was run by the Federal Arts Project to employ workers during and after the Depression. Karamu House was a center for cultural activities, founded in 1915 by social workers Rowena and Russell Jeliffe to promote interracial theater and the arts.

Elmer W. Brown, 1909-1971

Elmer W. Brown was born in Pittsburgh and lived in Columbus before moving to Cleveland when he was 20. He studied at the Cleveland Institute of Art and was active at Karamu House as an actor and stage designer as were many other African American artists and writers of the time. He was especially known in Cleveland for his WPA murals at Valleyview Homes and the Cleveland City Club building. He taught art classes before joining American Greetings in 1953. He was a painter, educator, decorator, cartoonist, illustrator, and designer.

Hughie Lee-Smith, 1915-1999

Hughie Lee-Smith was born in Eustis, Florida, lived in Atlanta until 1925, when he moved to Cleveland. He began attending art classes at the Cleveland Museum of Art and later graduated from the Cleveland Institute of Art in 1938. While in Cleveland, he became active at Karamu House as an actor, dancer, set designer and teacher. He worked in the Cleveland WPA project as a printmaker. Over the years he moved to South Carolina, Detroit, Chicago, New York, and Albuquerque, continuing to teach and paint, and winning awards such as the Emily Lowe Award and the Purchase Prize. He was elected to the National Academy of Design in 1967.

Charles Louis Sallee, 1911-2006

Charles L. Sallee, painter and graphic artist, was born in Oberlin, Ohio in 1911. He studied at Karamu House, the Institute of Art and earned a B.S. from Western Reserve University in 1939. After teaching in Cleveland schools he worked on WPA projects as a printmaker and mural painter. During World War II he worked as a cartographer and camouflage designer. Sallee, who continued to live in Cleveland, had for many years a successful career as an interior designer for hotels and corporate offices as well as private homes. After his retirement, he devoted his time to painting portraits.

Women Artists in the WPA Collection

During the 1930s, there was catastrophic unemployment in the country. A federal project was put in place in 1935, called "Work Projects Administration" which would utilize the skills of out-of-work employees helping them to earn a small wage to survive. In Cuyahoga County alone, 47,000 people were assigned to work on a variety of projects from the Cleveland Zoo, the waterworks, highways, and streets, the airport, to the parks, recreation sites, cultural gardens, and public housing. Previous efforts had begun in 1933, to assist unemployed artists under the Public Works of Art Project established by the Treasury Department. The country was divided into sixteen regions, one of which was the Cleveland region. Two people were instrumental in the success of the Cleveland effort: William M. Milliken, Director of the Cleveland Museum of Art and Linda A. Eastman, Director of the Cleveland Public Library. The significant benefit of their collaboration and leadership was a regional approach to art that exemplified and identified the "Cleveland Scene." In 1935, the Works Progress Administration took over the support of artists on relief and hired hundreds of workers for the Federal Art Project in music, theater, writing, and art. The Federal Art Project alone employed 350 Cleveland artists. The WPA projects were discontinued in the early 1940s due to the consequences and effects of the wartime economy.

The Cleveland artists were creating murals, mural sketches, easel paintings, ceramic sculpture, plaques, sculpture, graphic arts, and photographs as well as furniture and toys. Women played a significant role in the creation and composition of the art that was produced. In an exhibit catalog entitled Federal Art in Cleveland 1933-1943, for the Cleveland Public Library exhibit in 1974, 21 women were listed as active artists in the program. In the Special Collections Research Center, representative works of seven women are included in the WPA Print Collection: Jolan Gross-Bettelheim, Gladys Carambella, Alice Haber, Florence Korda, Antonina Mancuso, Marguerite Root, and Dorothy Rutka. Three of these artists have works that are highlighted in this exhibit: Jolan Gross-Bettelheim, Gladys Carambella, and Dorothy Rutka.

Jolan Gross-Bettelheim, 1900-1972

Jolan Gross-Bettelheim came to the United States after studying in Budapest, Vienna, Berlin, and Paris. Moving to Cleveland in 1925 she became a student of Henry Keller at the Cleveland School of Art. She was active in art circles, participating in the May Shows at the Cleveland Museum of Art and joined the WPA art project in 1936. In 1938 she moved to New York where she lived until 1959 when she returned to her native Hungary. Her works were very popular and were shown in major exhibits across the United States. Her prints are powerful political statements incorporating industrial subjects of mills, bridges, and factories.

Dorothy Rutka, 1907-1985

Dorothy Rutka moved from Michigan to enroll in the Cleveland School of Art, graduating in 1929. She worked as a portrait painter, a writer, and illustrator before joining the graphic arts project with the WPA in 1936. Her works were included in major exhibits as well as solo exhibitions around the country. The prints in our collection exhibit her sensitive portrayal of cultural aspects of society as well as the poverty and deprivation of those suffering from the effects of the Depression, as obvious from the titles "Poverty," "Eviction," and "Striker's Wife." She was married to Philip Porter, executive editor of The Plain Dealer. Tragically, they were killed by intruders in their home in Shaker Heights.

Gladys Carambella, 1898-1974

Gladys Carambella was a talented artist interested in illustrating children's stories. She began as a ceramics artist in the WPA project, trained by Edris Eckhardt, a professional ceramicist, and sculptor. Carambella was best known as a designer of murals for schools, nurseries, and hospitals. Her murals could be found in many locations in Cuyahoga County. In the Prospectus of Work for Cleveland Metropolitan Housing Authority in 1939, her sketches for "Christmas Day," "Thumbelina," and "Snow Queen" were included. Her prints in our WPA collection are colorful and charming scenes of children and depictions of children's stories.

WPA Prints in Special Collections - an essay by Thomas Boyer

This essay illuminates the cultural value of the prints within the context of the Great Depression and underlines the importance of the resources available in our WPA collection of prints as well as papers in the Karal Ann Marling Collection.

Karal Marling Collection 

Dr. Karal Ann Marling, while on the faculty at Case Western Reserve University, was instrumental in gathering and documenting the Cleveland WPS artists and their works. Her research resulted in an exhibit and exhibit catalog at the Cleveland Public Library in 1974 "Federal Art in Cleveland: 1933-1943." These documents are housed with the Ernest J. Bohn Collection in Special Collections.