Hardship to Hope: African American Art from the Karamu Workshop
In Collaboration with Cleveland State University
(August 30, 2011 – Cleveland, OH) 1930s Cleveland, Ohio…labor strikes and riots…the “Mad Butcher” torso slayings…the city in the throes of the Great Depression. Hard times, but with them glimmers of hope. The Terminal Tower opened, Jesse Owens set records, Superman was created. Budding artists and performers were finding hope at a settlement that would become Karamu House, a center of community and gathering place for free expression.
The Maltz Museum is proud to present Hardship to Hope: African American Art from the Karamu Workshop (September 13, 2011 – January 1, 2012). Working with Cleveland State University, Karamu House, the Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland Artists Foundation, Western Reserve Historical Society and a private collection, the Museum has gathered more than sixty-five pieces, art and artifacts that open a window to a turbulent and creative time in Cleveland.
In the tumultuous years between World Wars, as African Americans migrated north and the Harlem Renaissance captured the attention of the nation, Cleveland had its own renaissance ushering in the promise of a better tomorrow. Charles Sallée Jr., following in his father’s artistic footsteps, became the first African American admitted to what would become the Cleveland Institute of Art. Elmer W. Brown began to move beyond the horrors of the chain gang to focus on drawing, printmaking and other visual arts. Hughie Smith, who would later adopt the more artistic-sounding surname Lee-Smith, was taking in the Cleveland people and neighborhoods that would inspire his work and life.
They were among many talented artists and performers who would find their callings, learn and teach their skills, and develop confidence, contacts and friendships at the Playhouse Settlement of the Neighborhood Association. Founded by Russell and Rowena Jelliffe, the Settlement would later be renamed Karamu House. The Jelliffes were a visionary and empathetic couple of European descent who saw the arts as a natural catalyst for interracial and cross-cultural understanding. More than just a place to make art, they built a haven where the secret ingredients were the enthusiasm, encouragement and love the Jelliffes gave so freely.
“The works we’ve brought together reflect the times and experiences of some very talented artists during a tumultuous time in American history,” remarks Judi Feniger, Executive Director of the Museum. “There was so much change happening. By 1920, Cleveland was the nation’s fifth largest city. In addition to the Great Migration from the south, immigrants were coming here from every corner of the world. The Jelliffes were very definitely ahead of their time in their commitment to bringing people together, and doing so through creative and performing arts. They embody everything the Museum represents”.
A season-long offering of informative programs, performances and lectures will illuminate the themes of the exhibition, highlighted with a panel discussion moderated by Dee Perry of Ideastream about the art of this period (October 5), a bus trip and tour of several of Cleveland’s WPA-era murals (October 25), a printmaking demo with Zygote Press (November 15), and a live musical performance by poet/playwright Mary Weems and actor Rodney Freeman – backed-up by J. T. Lynch of Horns and Things on jazz sax and directed by Karamu Artistic Director Terrence Spivey (November 30).
Docent-led tours can be reserved daily for adult and student groups of ten or more, with discounts for groups of 15+ (reservations required). Packs of 35 or more tickets are available at a discounted price. The Museum Store, open whenever the Museum is, will carry exhibition catalogs and related merchandise, and offers free gift wrapping. Parking adjacent to the Museum is free, and includes close-in handicapped spaces, and wheelchairs can be reserved in advance. The Museum is a stunning venue for a range of private events with exclusive viewing of the exhibition; details and pricing on request.
Hardship to Hope is sponsored by Calfee, Halter & Griswold, LLP and Marilyn Cagin.
About the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage: An American Story
Opened in 2005, the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage introduces visitors to the beauty and diversity of that heritage in the context of the American experience, promotes an understanding of Jewish history, religion and culture and builds bridges of tolerance and understanding with people of all religions, races, cultures and ethnic backgrounds. It includes An American Story, tracing Ohio’s immigrant history and heritage, and The Temple-Tifereth Israel Gallery, an internationally-recognized collection of Judaica. One admission fee includes unlimited access, and all levels of membership include unlimited admission.
Hardship to Hope began as conversations with Cleveland State University and representatives of their Art Gallery, Campus Art Committee, Black Studies Program and Michael Schwartz Library’s Special Collections Unit and the loan of their excellent Russell and Rowena Jelliffe Collection: Prints and Drawings from the Karamu Workshop 1929 – 1941. The Maltz Museum is deeply grateful to Tania Anochin, Bill Barrow, President and Mrs. Ronald Berkman, Robert Thurmer and Dr. Michael Williams. Special thanks to many others without whom this exhibition would not be possible, including the Advisory Committee, June Sallée Antoine, The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland Artists Foundation, ICA, and Greg Ashe and Vivian Wilson at Karamu House.
The Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage is generously funded by Cuyahoga County residents through Cuyahoga Arts and Culture.