Relishing a Regional Legacy, Part 2 of 3
By Tom Wachunas
“…Adhere to your own act and congratulate yourself if you have done something strange and extravagant to break the monotony of a decorous age.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson, from Essay 8, Heroism –
EXHIBITION: The Cleveland School: Watercolor and Clay, at the Canton Museum of Art, THROUGH MARCH 10, 2013, 1001 Market Avenue North, Canton, Ohio (330) 453 – 7666 www.cantonart.org
By the early 20th century (and soon after the Cleveland Society of Watercolor Painters was founded in 1892), growing numbers of artists were seriously putting to rest a still persistent notion that watercolor was merely a form of colorized drawing. Instead, they embraced and further perfected watercolor as a stand-alone medium with specific aesthetic properties, albeit with intrinsic technical challenges such as its very fast drying time.
It is a property which requires the artist to work with sure-handed alacrity. It can make correcting mistakes, or re-working areas of the picture, a daunting if not impossible task which can compromise the purity of color so unique to the medium. That purity rises from the colors’ transparency, and their resulting luminosity when applied in successive thin layers. Think of it not so much as covering white paper with solid pigment (though gouache can be used when opaque color is desirable), but rather letting light into the colors so it can reflect off the white paper. The effect is indeed, as Mr. Robinson says in his essay, one of “…illuminating colors with a special radiance.” From that perspective, this show is replete with delightful evidence.
Equally striking is the comprehensive iconographic scope. Far more than just an exciting presentation of technical prowess and versatility, the exhibit is also a compelling microcosm of Modernism’s influence on important artists from our region. While much of the subject matter shows a clear connection to American Regionalism (a.k.a. American Scene painting), the strong influence of methodologies and philosophies from the European Post-Impressionists and avant-garde of the early20th century is unmistakable.
In short, the show is a veritable treasure trove of pictorial gems. Here’s just a very incomplete list of pieces, in no special order, which I found to be particularly resplendent: U.S Mail/Brandywine by William Sommer; Summer Landscape by Grace Kelly; Cleveland by Moses Pearl; Late Winter Radiance, and September Afterglow by Charles Burchfield; Bathers by August Biehle Jr.; Yellow Blinds, and Front Porch by Clarence Carter; Fishermen (Lake Erie, 1947) by Frank Wilcox; Buildings by Carl Gaertner; three works from Earl Neff’s History of United States Locomotive.
PHOTOS: (From top) Bathers by August Biehle Jr., September Afterglow by Charles Burchfield, Summer Landscape by Grace Kelly