|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|One of the prime motivators in Erie, Pennsylvania art history was Jennie Ruth Cleveland, an educator, artist and activist.|
Born in Hornell, New York, May 4, 1859, she was a daughter of
Washington Lafayette and Julia E. Stidd Cleveland, both of English
ancestry. He was from Smyrna, New York, and she was from
Millford, Pennsylvania. He descended from a decorated
Revolutionary War soldier. The couple had two other children,
Frank and Della Flora.
Educated as a teacher and trained as a carpenter, Mr. Cleveland worked
in carpentry and was deputy sheriff of Steuben County, New York.
After oil was discovered in Western Pennsylvania, the Cleveland family
moved to Erie in 1861 where he founded an oil refinery and invested
successfully in oil fields. Later he owned Cleveland & Co., a
foundry which manufactured mill and machinery castings, as the family
rose to local prominence. They resided at 189 East 8th.
The Cleveland children were educated in Erie schools, and at one point,
their father served as secretary and treasurer of the city school board
among his civic interests.
Early in life Jennie made acquaintance with Lovisa O. Card, possibly in
her first year in Erie. At age nine she was a pupil in a public
school where Card taught for only one year. In a reminiscence
Jennie recalled examples she worked from Greenleaf’s Arithmetic and the
poem, “The Last Leaf” she learned, both under Card’s tutelage.
In 1870 a long association with her art mentor began with drawing
lessons at the newly formed Card School of Art. She later
referred to the woman as a painstaking teacher but also a friend.
For several years her lessons involved pencil, crayon, pen and ink,
pastel, oils and watercolors.
Proudly she once recalled the fad of school girls to have autograph
albums. She relished Miss card’s inscription in her book and
followed in her footsteps. Jennie went on to teach at Erie
Academy for 10 years.
At age 25 she was already productive, exhibiting seven works in the
1884 Exposition of Amateur Art in Erie. Listed items were a
plaque called Child’s Head, a landscape in charcoal and the following
oil paintings – A Girl I know, Daffodils Study, The Fisher Bay, The
Water Carrier and Landscape. She owned all the works. Her
sister Della also exhibited oil paintings and embroidery designs in the
Jennie Cleveland‘s activity with the Art Club dates back to its
founding meeting at which she was present. She was a member of
the first board of directors. In the Club’s first exhibition in
1898, at age 39 she showed nine works, the titles of some suggesting a
preoccupation with nature studies. Among them were “When the Frost is on the Pumpkin and, The Fodder’s in the Shock American Beauties, Marigolds, Pineapples and In Forest Co. Lumber Camp. Eventually friends would present her study called Chrysanthemums to the Art Club’s permanent collection.
As the Art Club’s representative, she attended the annual convention of
the American Federation of Art held in 1899 in Cleveland. High on
the Federation’s agenda that year was action to combat the growth of
billboard advertising along highways. The Federation wanted
Congress to enact legislation prohibiting such ads, a move that
Her ardent support of other causes is documented. After
ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920, Cleveland joined the local
brand of the League of Women Voters and acted as a delegate to its 6th
annual convention in Erie in 1925. She also promoted art on
behalf of the Women’s Club.
Throughout the Art Club’s formative years, she was involved and assumed
the presidency upon Mrs. Card-Catlin’s death in 1925. She
eulogized her close friend at the memorial meeting early in 1926,
warning, “…if the Art Club would cease to exist, it would be a
disrespect to the memory of Mrs. Catlin.” The Club prevailed and
A hallmark of Cleveland’s term of office came in the spring of 1926
when the son of painter Junius R. Sloan, Percy H. Sloan, then of
Chicago, sought to donate 150 of his father’s paintings to the Erie
group since he had worked in the city.
Correspondence ensued between the two relative to the donation, and at
one point she referred the matter to the Club’s Fine Arts
Committee. Her views on the matter, however, were
unequivocal. In a letter to the chairman, Mrs. Hard, dated April
27, 1926, handwritten from her home at 411 West 9th, Cleveland stated
her official position. “We have no room for so large a
collection,” and she believed “no museum would take 150 pictures of one
artist’s work…particularly if the artist were not known.” The
younger Sloan had hinted she was keeping a great municipal museum
Concurring with its leader, the committee declined Sloan’s donation in
a letter of May 3, 1926, owing to lack of space. The gallery, it
was stated, had one room and no prospects for its own building for
years to come. Although Cleveland prevailed, eventually Sloan’s
work found its way to preservation and posterity.
Another milestone of her career came in March 1931, when the local
Business and Professional Women’s Club honored her as one of the 12
greatest women in Erie County history. As a long-time educator,
she was cited among the leading advocates of art. By then she was
conducting private lessons in culture and the arts. The award
also recognized her as a past president of the Women’s Club and
long-time chairman of its art department.
Six years later, Cleveland died at the age of 78, on June 12,
1937. She was laid to rest in the family plot at Erie Cemetery.
Submitted by Edward Bentley, Fine Art Researcher from Lansing, Michigan
Erie Artists – A History of Heroes, by Dr. Kirk W. Steehler. Courtesy of Erie Art Museum.
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