The Cleveland Museum of Art

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Records of the May Show

Background Information

Organizers of the May Show

For almost 75 years the May Show served as a forum for highlighting the vitality, creativity, and variety of the arts of Cleveland and the Western Reserve. The first director of The Cleveland Museum of Art, Frederic Allen Whiting, championed craftsmanship and the support of local artists. In a January 6, 1914 report to the Board of Trustees, Whiting recommended the establishment of "an annual exhibition of Ohio born or trained artists, to be managed by a Jury and hanging committee chosen by the exhibiting artists." Influenced by Whiting's vision, The Cleveland Art Association exhibited the works of local artists in their Fifth Spring Exhibition, held at the Cleveland Museum of Art. The museum officially stepped in and organized the First Annual Exhibition of Artists in 1919. The Cleveland Art Association remained a supporter in subsequent years.

In its early years, the two offices of the museum that were most involved in organizing and operating the May Show were the Director's Office and Department of Decorative Arts. In 1972, the May Show found a more appropriate home with the creation of the Department of Modern Art. All departments of the museum, however, were involved with the operation of the May Show. The Registrar's Office was responsible for tracking works of art entering and leaving the building. The Department of Art History and Education gave numerous talks and later prepared audio-visual tapes for the May Show. Additionally, the departments of Design, Print Shop, Buildings and Grounds, Public Relations, and the Photography Studio contributed to each show.

Whiting selected William M. Milliken, then Curator of Decorative Arts, to manage the May Show. This remained one of Milliken's favorite projects throughout his long tenure as director of the museum, and he maintained an active role in the May Show until his retirement in 1958. Additional staff members assisted Milliken in his endeavors: Henry Francis, Curator of Paintings and of Prints and Drawings; Helen S. Foote of Decorative Arts; Louise Burchfield, Mary G. Ballou and Ruth Raffaeli of Paintings; as well and numerous part-time staff. Little Rick (Mrs. Paul) Smith played a key role as the "person in charge of sales" from 1919 to 1952, assisted by Julia Raymond from 1930-1943, and Mary Frackelton (Mrs. Charles B.) Gleason from 1947-1952.

Sherman E. Lee, the third director of the museum, took charge of the May Show in 1958. He delegated the majority of May Show duties to Tom E. Hinson, Assistant Curator of the Department of Modern Art, who officially began organizing the show in 1973 and continued until its closing in 1993. When Evan Turner became Director in 1983, he shifted the responsibility of organizing the May Show almost entirely to Modern Art. Hinson was assisted by Edward B. Henning, Curator of Modern Art; Margaret Wilson, Secretary of Modern Art; and Ann Tzeutschler Lurie, the Assistant, and later Associate Curator of Paintings. William E. Ward and his assistant Joseph L. Finizia, in charge of design and installation, played key roles in making the show a success. Of the numerous part-time staff that worked with Hinson, Mary Koster, Andrea Redhead, and Liz Whitaker were among the many directly involved with the May Show exhibition.

Volunteers and advisors also contributed their time. For approximately the first twenty years an advisory committee, formed by the Cleveland Art Association, aided in the operation of the May Show and encouraged the sale of artwork. Frank R. Walker first chaired the Advisory Committee in 1919, followed by Grace Harman (Mrs. S. Livingston) Mather, who served from 1919-1931. In 1941, a newly founded organization of Cleveland women who wanted to lend volunteer support to the museum, known as the Junior Council (later called Women's Council), stepped in to promote May Show and assist in its operations. The Junior Council provided volunteers to assist at the sales desk until the last show in 1993.

Activity of the May Show

The forum of the May Show changed with the economic climate, the demands of the artists, and the ideology of the museum's director. The exhibition began as a regional show highlighting craftsmanship in Cuyahoga County. In 1919, thirty-three categories dictated the type of art entered, with the number of categories peaking at forty-four in 1920. During the Depression, Milliken sought to use the May Show as a means for local artists and craftsman to support themselves through the sale of their work. Artists were allowed to enter up to twenty items in the crafts categories, with the museum encouraging duplicate sales.

To further aid struggling artists, Roberta Holden (Mrs. Benjamin P.) Bole, Lucia (Mrs. Malcolm L.) McBride, and Julia Raymond, members of the Advisory Committee, formed the Pick-Quick club in the 1930s. Individuals could become members when they purchased artwork at the May Show and were known by the acronym PICKLES: Painting, Illustration, Carving, Keramics, Lace, Etching, and Sculpture. Members of the Pick-Quick Club were invited to preview and purchase the many duplicates submitted by artists during this time period. In the 1950s, the Pick-Quick club previews became known as patron previews, which allowed previous purchasers, museum trustees and advisors, and members of the Junior Council to view the exhibition and select their purchases before the May Show opened to the general public.

With Sherman Lee's appointment as Director, the character of the May Show changed from being largely a crafts show offering the sale of multiple copies of objects to a highly selective art show of unique items. To encourage this transition, the museum changed the entry requirements in three important ways over a period of years. The first change, which began with new entry requirements in 1958, was the elimination of editions of crafts and the placement of a cap on the number of duplicates that could be produced, thus emphasizing the unique qualities of original works. Duplicates of crafts were completely eliminated by 1971, at which point only duplicates of graphics and photographs could be sold at the May Show.

The second change was a decrease in the number of entries allowed per artist. Before 1959, the limit on the number of entries per artist was ten and twenty entries in arts and crafts, respectively. By 1962, this had fallen to three and six in the respective categories, and was eventually limited to two entries per artist by 1969. In conjunction with the second change, the museum also streamlined the number of categories into which the artwork was divided. By 1981 the artwork was divided into only five categories.

The third major change began in 1961, with the expansion of the geographic area from which artists could enter, from solely Cuyahoga County to all thirteen counties of the Western Reserve. From 1977 to the end of the show, artists born in any of the thirteen counties could submit works to the exhibition even if they no longer lived in the region.

These changes in entry requirements increased the competitiveness of the May Show. Jury members, meanwhile, became more selective in their decisions even before all of the changes in the entry requirements had been implemented, with the percentage of accepted artwork falling from thirty percent of entries in the early 1950s to only 16 percent in 1959. The acceptance rates for works of art continued to fall, dropping to less than three percent by 1973. In 1977, the museum added an additional step in the selection process of May Show objects: artists were required to first submit slides of their artwork, and only sent the actual object if jury members chose to review it for the final selection.

The director selected jurors for the May Show during the year prior to the show. Jurors, usually not associated with The Cleveland Museum of Art, included museum directors, curators, art professionals, professors, and artists who were experts in their media. Some of the more famous artists who served as jurors included George Bellows, 1921; Edward Hopper, 1932; Georgia O'Keefe, 1937; and Ansel Adams, 1963. A complete list of jurors for each year is available in the appendix.

Jury selection was always a matter of public contention. Prior to 1958 all jurors participated in making final selections for all categories. In 1958, the museum experimented with jury specialization by adding an "Advisor on Photography to the Jury of Selection." Beginning in 1962 jurors were selected for their specialty in a particular area of art and only judged that category of the May Show. Though the division of the jurors varied over time, a separate jury usually judged the crafts divisions. Negative publicity and controversy over works of art accepted in the May Show resulted in the decision to have only museum staff jury the show beginning in 1971. After 1977, however, one or two outside jurors were brought in to give the selection a sense of balance. There were always at least three jurors to judge the artwork, with the exception of two years. In 1983 Sherman Lee served as the sole juror; and in 1993 Evan Turner fulfilled that role. For both men it was one of their final acts before stepping down from the directorship of the museum.

Art and Artists of the May Show

Though there were a few long-time May Show artists, the majority of those exhibiting did so no more than three times, with the May Show attracting new artists throughout its existence. Evan Turner reflected on the changes in artists between 1965 and 1993, the two years he served on the jury. "To my surprise, for I should have expected otherwise, only four of the artists exhibited then are seen this year: Solve Hallqvist, Phyllis Seltzer, and Phyllis Sloane, as well as Kenneth Bates, who was declared hors concours years ago after he had exhibited for twenty-five consecutive years. . . . Clearly, the show does have its own vitality." There were, however, some longtime important artists who had their works displayed in the May Show, including Kenneth F. Bates, who showed in crafts for a record sixty years, from 1933-1993; Clarence Carter, with works in painting, from 1933-1939; Viktor Schreckengost, with works in sculpture, batik, and illustration in 1928, 1933-1971 (except 1944-1945 and 1969); Henry G. Keller, who showed in graphics and painting in 1919, 1928, and 1933-50; Paul Travis, who showed painting from 1920-1971, Carl F. Gaertner, with paintings in the show in 1928 and 1933-1953; Edris Eckhardt who showed in various categories from 1933-1969 (except 1941), 1980 and 1984; William E. Ward, in charge of design for the May Show, also showed works from 1941-1957 (except 1945 and 1952); Vivien Abrams, who showed from 1966-1993 (except 1967, 1982, and 1983); and Sandra Amitay, who had works shown from 1977-1993.

The museum recognized superior artistic achievement through a variety of awards. The first May Show offered a Popular Vote Prize of $100 as well as cash awards for artists who won a ranked award in the different categories. By the second May Show the museum no longer offered monetary awards, although ranked certificates and medals for artists' achievements as well as honorable mentions for notable works continued to be offered. Certain special awards also appeared during the May Show's history. John A. Penton offered The Penton Medal for Excellence through the Cleveland Art Association from 1919 to 1922. The Horace E. Potter Memorial Award for Excellence in Craftsmanship was established in 1949. Perhaps because of criticism and disagreement over the ranking system, the May Show switched to unranked awards in 1961. Monetary awards were again offered in 1966. William and Elizabeth Treuhaft funded a $1000 award for painting, which in turn inspired the museum trustees to grant similar amounts for three other categories. In 1984, Robert Mann endowed a $500 prize for ceramics, which he doubled in 1987. The last special award was added in 1987, when Herbert Ascherman, Jr., funded a purchase award for photography.

Over the course of the history of the May Show the museum purchased numerous works of art, aiding struggling artists during the depression and preserving works of Western Reserve artists for future generations. The museum provided additional venues to support local artists. To promote local artists beyond the Western Reserve, the museum circulated the annual Traveling Exhibition throughout the Midwest and Southern United States, beginning in 1929. The traveling exhibition consisted of forty to fifty paintings, prints, drawings, and photographs. The final show was exhibited at the Ohio Governor's Mansion in 1973. Thirteen artists were given additional recognition in 1939 when they were selected to exhibit in the World's Fairs on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, bringing Cleveland's thriving art scene to the rest of the country. The museum also honored local artists through special exhibitions of their work, including memorial exhibitions of Henry G. Keller, William Sommer, and Carl Gaertner.<

The End of the May Show

The last May Show was held in 1993, also the last exhibition for director Evan Turner. His successor, Robert Bergman, suspended the May Show indefinitely. During the 1970s and 1980s criticism of the May Show had increased and some artists and community members wondered whether the May Show still served as a forum to promote the works of local artists. Critics felt that the other institutions and galleries, such as the Cleveland Center for Contemporary Art, could better promote local artists, and that the May Show had turned into a stale display of already well-known artists. The museum experimented with different formats for highlighting the work of local artists, including invitationals of artists of Northeast Ohio, held in 1991 and 1994, which each focused on the works of a select group of seven artists, chosen by the Curator of Contemporary Art, Tom Hinson. Insight/Onsite, a special 75th Anniversary exhibition from June 7-9, 1991, highlighted the talents of local artists by turning the Fine Arts Garden into a temporary outdoor gallery of site specific artwork. The records of Insight/Onsite are included in this collection because the Department of Modern Art, which organized the show, invited past May Show entrants to submit proposals of artwork. The May Show was cancelled in both 1991 and 1992 to allow for special exhibitions celebrating the museum's 75th anniversary. (The only other year the show was cancelled was in 1970, due the construction of a new wing for the museum.)

In discontinuing the May Show, Bergman believed the museum would be able use its resources more effectively to promote contemporary art. The museum has continued its commitment to local artists through several exhibitions, including "Transformations in Cleveland Art, 1796 - 1946" in 1996, and "Viktor Schreckengost and 20th-Century Design" in 2000.

When asked about the future of the May Show in 2000, CMA director Katharine Lee Reid discussed her experiences working on the Chicago Area Artist's Show, which has also been discontinued. Hosting a local artist show involved "a crippling expense for the museum" in time, energy, and money; and was often met with negative publicity. Despite the criticism, many patrons and artists have been sorry to see the end of the May Show and are lobbying for its return. As one art critic stated, "Cleveland has a love-hate relationship with the May show that we're never going to get over."