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Issue Date: April 2004 Issue


Capturing the Jazz Age


Dalia Wheatt

You may not have been around during the Roaring '20s, but images of the Great Depression have been burned into memory because of such works as Dorothea Lange's poignant photo of a "Migrant Mother" and painter Grant Wood's stoic "American Gothic."

But there's more to early 20th-century American art, quite a bit of it generated right here. Through July 18, the Cleveland Museum of Art focuses on more than a dozen local artists who embraced the spirit of their times. Burchfield to Schreckengost: Cleveland Art of the Jazz Age features approximately 60 paintings, sculptures, photographs and decorative arts produced by a range of Cleveland notables between 1914 and 1945.

"[The exhibit explores] how important Cleveland artists attempted to mirror the aesthetics of Jazz Age music," says exhibit curator William Robinson.

To express that emotional gamut, artists relied on brilliant colors and sharp, piercing lines. In his signature piece, "New Yorker" (also known as "The Jazz Bowl"), ceramist Viktor Schreckengost depicts energy with whimsical carvings against a bold blue background.

"He combined very innovative techniques with Art Deco style and a sense of humor," Robinson says. "[Many of] his works are quite lively and amusing."

sn the melancholy end of the spectrum, Charles Burchfield's "Church Bells Ringing, Rainy Winter Night" illustrates the sound that frightened him as a child lying in bed on Christmas Eve. The watercolorist used ink, crayon and black and gray washes to convey his feelings.

"He's exceptionally creative and developed a style that's unique from those of any other American artist," Robinson says. "His paintings are extremely expressive, and he often based [them] on sound [and] temperature."

The curator adds that Margaret Bourke-White "was attracted to subjects that were not being exploited to their full extent by other photographers." In "Terminal Tower, Cleveland," haze from a nearby smokestack obscures the skyscraper.

"Today, we see that and we think pollution," notes Robinson. "They thought power."


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