Elmer Brown murals await placement

Submitted by Susan Miller on Sat, 05/03/2008 - 22:29.

Elmer Brown's murals for Valley View portrayed a heroic image of Cleveland's industrial history in classic Works Progress Administration (WPA) style.

Steve Litt writes up the story here. (My favorite way to read Steve Litt is via Cleveland Design City.)

Several links here already of interest. ICA is a perhaps little known business in Cleveland whose services reach much farther than our region. They have had a hand in several notable and recognizable projects, though. For instance - many other WPA era murals such as the William Sommer mural "The City in 1833" which you may have seen in the Main Branch of the Cleveland Public Library.

Elmer Brown was one of a group of early 20th century artists who found a home at Karamu House thanks to Russell and Rowena Jelliffe and found work via the WPA. As a result of the support the city showed for them, these Cleveland artists produced some amazing work alongside their white colleagues like William Sommer, Clarence Carter, Edris Eckhardt, Honore Guilbeau, Clara McClean, Ivor Johns, Michael Sarisky, Jack Greitzer, Stanley Clough and many more.

Hughie Lee-Smith, Charles Sallee, William E. Smith are some of my favorites. (Check out this reference from Case Special Collections.) But I am just wading in here. Who's the resident art historian who can tell us more about the amazing artists who have graced our public spaces and our museum and gallery walls with works from their Cleveland studios?

Something rich in these artworks from the WPA era speaks to me. I can't put my finger on it, but I am very drawn to them.

Perhaps I wish to be inside these eyes, these hands. The images of this era of government assistance is hopeful to me. There was a time when our government saw the need to support the poor and those who were the creative - those who documented and gave voice to the landscapes and the human face of the time. And the nation was poor then as we are today; but as we are today, it was rich in creative talent. Perhaps I simply long for this sort of vision on the part of our leaders, but I think that it is more than that. The works of this period seem to represent a particular resonance for me - maybe the art that was appreciated by my parents - a reflection and remembrance of the difficult times they lived through.

The Kelvin Smith Library has a wonderful collection of WPA art. Here - a selection of some of the women working at the time.

Too late to go on now... I've been swining in this research for hours... next, photography of the era. Wow.

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