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When the Northwest Territory opened in 1788, settlers, lured by inexpensive, abundant land, flooded west into what would become Ohio. The federal government had divided up the land into a number of sections, with parts intended as payment to Revolutionary War veterans and to the states of Virginia, Massachusetts, New York, and Connecticut that had ceded the land to the U.S. government, while some was sold to speculators; an arrangement that led to an organized, yet complex, pattern of settlement. Many settlers arrived in groups, creating communities with close cultural ties to their eastern origins, and while some settlers fit the frontier stereotypes (backwoods hunters, Indian fighters, and pugnacious drunks), others were educated and affluent. These ambitious men took their families west to build the next phase of the American empire and in their wake came craftsmen and merchants.
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Monday, 08 November 2010 05:18

Art and History in Cleveland, Ohio

I recently spoke to a furniture collectors group in Cleveland, Ohio. During my stay I had some spare time to visit a number of sites and thought I would share a selection of the many that contribute to Cleveland's cultural riches.
Let’s start with a brief history of the city. As the first settlement founded in the Connecticut Western Reserve by the Connecticut Land Company (1790s), Cleveland did not come into its own until the 1820s and 1830s with the building of the Erie and Ohio Canals and with the railroads in 1850s. Among the area’s first settlements in the 1820s was the North Union Shaker Community, one of four Shaker communities founded in Ohio (the area is now Shaker Heights in Cleveland). The Shakers prospered and contributed such inventions as the clothespin, floundering, however, after the Civil War and disbanding by 1889.

Cleveland’s heyday came with the discovery of coal and iron ore deposits. By the 1860s, the city became an important industrial center, with John D. Rockefeller and his partners forming the Standard Oil Company, and Samuel Mather beginning his steel production. It was the money brought into Cleveland by these industries, and Rockefeller’s tremendous philanthropy, that provided for a strong foundation for the arts and many of the striking churches and structures within the city. Though the city has struggled off and on since the Depression, a vibrant arts culture abounds. For art lovers there are attractions such as the Cleveland Museum of Art, which is undertaking a $350 million renovation and expansion project; the theater district, home to the performing arts center, Playhouse Square, second only in size to Lincoln Center in Manhattan; and the Cleveland Orchestra, considered one of the finest in the nation (for those with a different musical bent, there is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame). To gain a general sense for the city and its history, the Lolly Trolley offers a selection of one and two hour sightseeing tours, which visit many of the city’s highlights.

The city’s two major art museums include the already noted Cleveland Museum of Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art. The former houses a comprehensive collection of 40,000 works that stretch in time from ancient to contemporary. Current exhibitions include Treasures of Heaven: Saints, Relics, and Devotion in Medieval Europe (through January 7, 2011), and The Jewelry of John Paul Miller (through January 2, 2011). Kim Beom: Objects Being Taught They Are Nothing But Tools, the first solo museum exhibition in the United States of this Korean artist, runs from November 13 through March 6, 2011. The Museum of Contemporary Art, also referred to as MOCA, showcases the work of local and northern Ohio artists in addition to national figures in the contemporary art world. Current exhibitions include Duke Riley: An Invitation to Lubberland (through January 9th, 2011) and Seth Rosenberg: The Cleveland Years (through January 9th, 2011); upcoming exhibitions include Teresita Fernández: Blind Landscape (through May 8th, 2011).  

One of Cleveland’s gems is Wade Chapel, located in Lakeview Cemetery. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it is “one of the few interiors left in the world that was totally designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany and his studios.” (The Chapel is open daily, April 1 through November 19, from 9:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m.) “Built in memory of Jeptha Wade, founder of The Western Union Telegraph Company and the first president of Lake View Cemetery, the four-ton bronze doors open into a glorious interior with the theme, ‘The Voyage of Life.’” Also at the cemetery is the tomb of President James A. Garfield. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, “the monument is the final resting place of the 20th President of the United States, and combines Romanesque, Gothic, and Byzantine styles of architecture.” His is the only President’s casket on full display, and he is the only president whose “birthplace, home, and resting place can be visited in one day.” 

Other places to see spectacular stained glass windows and architecture are the many historic churches in Cleveland. Among those to see is the Old Stone Church (1820), which is “noted for its stained glass windows installed over a period from 1885 to 1976 and [which] include four Louis C. Tiffany stained glass windows and a magnificent John La Farge triple window.”  

One of the nations few industrial working forges in the city belongs to Rose Iron Works. In business for more than a century, the family-owned business crafted some of the finest art deco architectural, ornamental, and sculptural metalwork of the period, and continues the craft with contemporary work and an artist in residence program.
The region has a strong craft history, and visitors to the Hale Farm & Village, Northern Ohio’s premier outdoor living history museum, can experience nineteenth-century life on the Western Reserve, with farming, animal husbandry, and craft interpreters, including a recently renovated glass-blowing demonstration that pays homage to the glass manufactories active in Ohio in the 1820s and 1830s. The village is one of the many components that comprise the Western Reserve Historical Society, founded in 1867 “to preserve and present the history of all of the people of northeast Ohio. Today, it is the largest privately supported regional historical society in the nation.”

The WRHS also includes a History Center, which houses a costume wing of more than 30,000 items, and two historic mansions: The Bingham-Hanna Mansion, which features galleries of rotating exhibitions, and the Hay-McKinney Mansion, currently closed for preservation. Two other historic properties, the seventeen-room Shandy Hall, and Loghurst are also part of the complex.

Also within the society’s umbrella is the Crawford Aviation and Auto Museum, which “collects and preserves historically and technically important automobiles, aircraft, bicycles, motorcycles, spacecraft and related accessories and archival materials that illustrate the development of transportation and its connection to the culture and history of Northeast Ohio, the United States and the world.”  

There are numerous other arts and art-related destinations in Cleveland, as well as other historic locations and sites of interest, including the Museum of Natural History. I look forward to your writing about the places that are your favorites. 
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