Federal Art in Cleveland

The city of Cleveland prospered in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Huge influxes of immigrants and small town Americans moved to Ohio’s rapidly growing industrial city on the lake and created a “boom.”  Industries flourished and the optimism and wealth in the city led to a cultural transformation. Public Auditorium, the Cleveland Public Library, the Cleveland Museum of Art and the orchestra all had new and exciting roles to play in enriching the citizens of Cleveland. Artists from all over the world moved to Cleveland to work in the lithography industry and to design and build the richly ornate homes of the wealthy and the civic buildings of the city.  It seemed like Cleveland had no place to go but up. But on October 29, 1929 the stock market crashed and took Cleveland down with it and soon after the Great Depression settled in.

The American generation that lived through the Great Depression has been characterized as proud, industrious, self-reliant, charitable and frugal. Nearly 12 million people lost their jobs and needed to rely on charity to feed their families. The need for charity brought shame to the unemployed. In Cleveland, many programs sprung up to exchange labor for food and small sums of money. Some neighborhoods worked together and created “Man-a-Block Committees” to pay their out of work neighbors to do work within the neighborhood and there were community gardens all over the city. These programs helped to preserve the self-esteem of many but in the end it was not enough to stop deep poverty from setting in.

In a speech given in 1932, presidential candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “Throughout the nation men and women, forgotten in the political philosophy of the Government, look to us here for guidance and for more equitable opportunity to share in the distribution of national wealth… I pledge myself to a new deal for the American people.” Once elected, Roosevelt put together a plan called the “New Deal” that would address the 3 R’s – Relief of the poor and unemployed, Recovery of the economy, and Reform of the financial system.

From the New Deal emerged federal work programs such as the Civil Works Administration (CWA), which gave 4 million unemployed Americans jobs building or repairing roads, parks, airports, etc., the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), which employed 2.5 million unmarried men to work maintaining and restoring forests, beaches, and parks, and the Works Progress Administration (WPA) 1935-1943, which as the largest of the New Deal programs employed 8 million Americans to carry out public works projects, including the construction of public buildings and roads. The WPA even employed musicians, artists, writers, actors and directors in large arts, drama, media, and literacy projects. The WPA, whose mission it was to employ the breadwinner of every family in need of work, was shut down in 1943 when the United States had joined WWII and there was no longer a work force to support it.

From December of 1933 to June of 1934 there was also a short-lived program called the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) that had employed 3,749 artists. The charge of the PWAP was to emphasize the “American Scene” in what ended up being 700 murals, 7,000 paintings and watercolors, about 750 sculptures, more than 2,500 works of graphic art, and numerous other works designated to embellish public buildings and parks. There were 16 PWAP field centers in America, and one of them was in Cleveland. Projects that were not finished by June of 1934 were absorbed into the WPA.

The purpose of the art produced by the PWAP and WPA was to make art a part of everyday life. In Cleveland, guided by the Cleveland Museum of Art’s director William M. Milliken, there was a push for Regionalism.  The Regionalist aesthetic, the art that showcased the local American Scene now had an opportunity to really come into its own.  The CMA created “a climate in which Cleveland became uniquely receptive to the notion that culture and art must be salvaged at all costs,” (Federal Art in Cleveland, 9). Thanks to the programs that employed artists to create art for the public, the regional American scene of the 1930s can be seen at the Cleveland Public Library.

Along with schools, hospitals, museums, and public housing, the Cleveland Public Library was one of the municipal institutions designated to receive PWAP artwork.  Many of these pieces of art are on permanent display throughout the library system. Others are currently on display in the Special Collections Corridor on the 3rd floor of the Main Library.

The Cleveland Public Library Main Library received three murals: The City in 1833, painted by William Sommer and located in Brett Hall, Early Transportation, painted by Donald Bayard and is located in the lobby area of the 2nd floor and The Dominance of the City, painted by Ora Coltman and now hanging on the 3rd floor of the library.

The Cleveland Public Library also received hundreds of pieces of art from the WPA. This art was art for the people, and the intention is to make art a part of everyday life.



The Dominance of the City –http://cplorg.cdmhost.com/cdm/singleitem/collection/p4014coll10/id/22/rec/15

The City in 1833 — http://cplorg.cdmhost.com/cdm/singleitem/collection/p4014coll10/id/18/rec/64

Early Transportation (Cleveland’s Waterfront About 1835) — http://cplorg.cdmhost.com/cdm/singleitem/collection/p4014coll10/id/20/rec/30

Western Reserve and the Firelands of Ohio (Mural map) –



Branches also received murals. The Collinwood Branch has Snow and Wind painted by Max Bachofen.


Jefferson Branch: Restored mural, Out of the Past the Present by Ambrozi Paliwoda (1910- 1999)



Paintings and Watercolors

Cauldron Scene, East o’ the Sun, West o’ the Moon by Paul Riba


East o’ the Sun, West o’ the Moon by Earl Neff (1902-1993)


Game of the Elves, from Rip Van Winkle by Vincent (James) Napoli




CWA Workers at the City Lakefront by Sheffield Harold Kagy (1907-1989)



CWA Workers at the Incinerator in 1934 by Russell T. Limbach (1904-1971)



CWA Workers at the Patrick Henry School by Russell T. Limbach (1904-1971)



CWA Workers at the Sewage Disposal Works in 1934 by Russell T. Limbach (1904-1971)



CWA Workers at the Stadium by Sheffield Harold Kagy (1907-1989)



CWA Workers on the City Lakefront by Russell T. Limbach (1904-1971)



CWA Workers on the Mall by Sheffield Harold Kagy (1907-1989)



CWA Workers Sawing Piles at Sewage Disposal Works by Russell T. Limbach (1904-1971)




Drawing (1934) by Clarence Zuelch


Drawing (1934) by Clarence Zuelch



Drawing, CWA workmen, no. 3 by Sheffield Harold Kagy (1907-1989)



Drawing, studies of CWA workmen on Cleveland Mall by Sheffield Harold Kagy (1907-1989)



Ceramic Sculptures

Hark, Hark the Dogs do Bark by Edris Eckhardt (1910-1998)