Arts and Culture in Ohio
College towns and bigger cities provide the bulk of art museums and professional performance troupes in Ohio. However, the state offers many options in the realms of popular culture and folk culture. History exhibits and monuments pay tribute to Ohio’s pivotal role as a stop along the route of the Underground Railroad. Rural Ohio has its own folk culture in the thriving Amish and Mennonite communities. In addition, Cleveland’s Little Italy and Columbus’ German Village are pocket communities that make Ohio’s cities more multicultural.
The premier professional orchestra in the region, the Cleveland Orchestra performs in Severance Hall as well as the amphitheater in Cuyahoga Falls’ Blossom Music Center. Throughout the year, the amphitheater hosts appearances by classical and rock artists.
Among the other Ohio classical institutions and ensembles are the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, the concerts at the Cleveland Institute of Music, Delaware’s Central Ohio Symphony, and theToledo Symphony, which performs a classical season as well as nontraditional orchestral compositions as part of its CSOvations series.
Opera Cleveland, along with the Opera Cleveland Orchestra and Chorus, presents professional interpretations of classical and contemporary operas. Two other Ohio companies are Cincinnati Operaand the innovative Opera Columbus.
While the Cleveland Ballet ceased operation in 2000, nontraditional dance has an outlet in theCleveland Contemporary Dance Company. Choreographer and dancer Michael Medcalf formed the company in 1998 with the mission of showcasing work by African-American choreographers. The multicultural company has expanded to include diverse heritages in their repertoire. Elsewhere, ballet tech cincinnati produces concerts of classical, contemporary, and folk dance. BalletMet Columbusperforms classics as well as pieces commissioned from choreographers around the world. Columbus’Hixon Dance presents challenging, thought-provoking contemporary ballet.
Cleveland has several major museums. The Cleveland Museum of Art has an impressive permanent collection and hosts major touring exhibits. Highlights of the exhibits include extensive impressionist paintings, sculpture, Asian art, and sculpture. At the Museum of Contemporary Art, galleries hold temporary exhibits highlighting international artists. The museum also devotes exhibition space to showcasing northeastern Ohio artists working in all media. The Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage, in the Cleveland suburb of Beachwood, stands within a 24,000-square foot Jerusalem limestone building. Exhibits, recordings of oral histories, and interactive displays chronicle the Jewish experience in Cleveland and northeast Ohio.
The highlight of the Cincinnati arts scene is the Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal. The complex contains the Cincinnati History Museum, Duke Energy Children’s Museum, Museum of Natural History and Science, the Robert D. Lindner Family Omnimax Theater, and theCincinnati Historical Society Library.
Cincinnati’s Contemporary Arts Center specializes in "art of the last five minutes," focusing on cutting-edge techniques and explorations in painting, photography, architecture, sculpture, performance art, and new media.
Columbus has three noteworthy art museums. At the Columbus Museum of Art, the collection includes Old Master paintings; modern work by Henri Matisse (1869–1954), Claude Monet (1840–1926), Man Ray (1890–1976), and Mary Cassatt (1844–1926); contemporary sculptures by Deborah Butterfield (b. 1949), Alexander Calder (1898–1976), and Jean Dubuffet (1901–1985); and folk art. The Ohio Craft Museum host five major shows per year. Inside a concrete and glass building, the Ohio Historical Center exhibits artifacts tracing history from the Ice Age to ancient Indian cultures and through the Industrial Age. Archives document the lives and challenges of early settlers in the region.
Known for its dramatic glass pavilion addition, the Toledo Museum of Art has a permanent collection of 35,000 objects. The galleries and the Georgia and David K. Welles Sculpture Garden showcase work by traditional and modern masters of European and American painting and sculpture as well as works from antiquity, decorative art, art glass, and pieces from Asia and Africa.
Other Ohio art institutions include the modern art-oriented Akron Art Museum, Youngstown’s Butler Institute of American Art, and the Oberlin College Allen Memorial Art Museum, which has deep holdings in 1600s Dutch and Flemish painting, 19th- and 20th-century European art, contemporary American and Latin American art, and works on paper.
The centerpiece of Ohio’s popular music scene is Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. In addition to its recordings, rare artifacts, and exhibits relevant to rock music, the institution also hosts concerts and special events such as June’s Rock and Soul Festival and a Sunday Gospel Brunch.
In her song, My City Was Gone, Chrissie Hynde, the lead singer of The Pretenders, laments "I went back to Ohio, but my pretty countryside had been paved down the middle." The Akron-born singer stood out as one of the few female artists fronting a punk-oriented rock band.
Several other extreme, underground, and alternative rock artists have connections with Ohio. Formed in Cleveland, the experimental rock group Pere Ubu has long had a cult following for its arty sound. Lux Interior, the campy singer of the garage punk band The Cramps, was born in Akron. Born in Canton,Marilyn Manson has earned notoriety for his theatrical persona and music that mocks religion. Trent Reznor of industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails was born in Cleveland.
Several notable country music artists have Ohio connections, among them David Allan Coe, Roy Rogers, Dwight Yoakam, and the country rock band McGuffey Lane.
In the 1970s, Dayton and the surrounding southwestern Ohio region became known for funk bands, including Bootsy’s Rubber Band, Heatwave, The Ohio Players, Sun, and Zapp.
Other musicians who were born in or who worked in Ohio include singer-songwriter Boz Scaggs, folksinger Tracy Chapman, hip hop group Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, crooner Dean Martin, Grammy Award-winning blues artist Robert Lockwood, Jr., and adult contemporary pianist and songwriter Jim Brickman.
Toledo’s Art Tatum Jazz Heritage Festival and Gahanna’s Creekside Blues and Jazz Festivalattract prominent jazz artists to Ohio. Pomeroy’s Big Bend Blues Bash and the Cincy Blues Festaccomplish the same feat for blues music. Major rock, soul, R&B, and blues artists converge at Cincinnati’s Paul Brown Stadium for the annual Macy’s Music Festival.
THEATER AND PERFORMING ARTS
Major cities and university towns in Ohio host theater seasons. In Cleveland, Playhouse Squareoperates the Ohio Theatre and the State Theatre, hosting major touring musicians, ensembles, and theater productions.
For nearly a century, Cleveland’s Karamu House has staged thoughtful work. Its colorful history includes hosting poet and playwright Langston Hughes (1902–1967) and activist writer and actress Ruby Dee (b. 1924).
Actor John Lithgow’s father Arthur Lithgow helped found the Great Lakes Theater Festival in Lakewood in 1962. Now located in Cleveland, the professional company stages large-cast productions of classic works, often featuring plays by Shakespeare.
Other theater groups in Cleveland include the interdisciplinary and contemporary Cleveland Public Theatre, Dobama Theatre, and the experimental convergence-continuum.
Columbus’ King Arts Complex specializes in multicultural performances and multidisciplinary events. Also in Columbus, the Victorian Southern Theater hosts touring Broadway productions.
Downtown Cincinnati’s Aronoff Center for the Arts was designed by architect César Pelli (B. 1926). The venue holds three performance spaces, Procter & Gamble Hall, Jarson-Kaplan Theater, andFifth Third Bank Theater.
Know Theatre of Cincinnati, formed by young local actors in 1997, presents multicultural, risk-taking, contemporary work in the Over-the-Rhine Theater. Other local performing arts groups include professional regional theater company Playhouse in the Park, Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati,Cincinnati Black Theatre Company, Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, and Cincinnati Music Theatre.
In Columbus, Contemporary American Theatre Company presents professional productions of classic dramas and contemporary work.
Among the famous films featuring Ohio settings or that were shot in Ohio are the action drama Air Force One (1997), supposedly set in Moscow, but shot in Cleveland; comic book writer Harvey Pekar’s story American Splendor (2003); drama Antwone Fisher (2002); baseball film Major League(1989); and crime comedy Welcome to Collinwood (2002).
Harmony Korine’s (b. 1973) black comedy about disaffected youth, Gummo (1997), followed the lives of several teenagers in the hurricane-torn Ohio town of Xenia.
Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood is home to the A Christmas Story House, the setting of the 1983 movie A Christmas Story. The house now operates as a museum.
Actors who were born in Ohio or who lived in Ohio include Halle Berry, Marion Byron, Drew Carey, comedian Dave Chappelle, Tim Conway, Beverly D’Angelo, Dorothy Dandridge, Doris Day,Ruby Dee, Clark Gable, Teri Garr, Lillian Gish, dancer Joel Gray, Woody Harrelson, Steve Harvey, Anne Heche, Hal Holbrook, Katie Holmes, Bob Hope, Rob Lowe, Martin Mull, Paul Newman, Roy Rogers, comedian Molly Shannon, Martin Sheen, and Debra Winger.
Harvey Pekar (b. 1939) wrote underground comic books including the famous autobiographicalAmerican Splendor comics that inspired a film adaptation in 2003.
Ella Mae Cheeks Johnson (1904–2010) was an African-American social worker who made headlines when she traveled to Washington, D.C., for President Barack Obama’s inauguration. Penguin Books posthumously published her autobiography It Is Well with My Soul: The Extraordinary Life of a 106-Year-Old Woman in 2010.
Other writers associated with Ohio include satirist Ambrose Bierce (1842–1914), Newbery Medal-winning children’s author Sharon Creech (b. 1945), speculative fiction writer Harlan Ellison (b. 1934), novelist and essayist William H. Gass (b. 1924), beatnik-inspired novelist Herbert Gold (b. 1924), and Western writer Zane Grey (1972–1939).
Humorous writer and cartoonist James Thurber (1894–1961) is remembered at Columbus’ Thurber House, a National Historic Place that was Thurber’s home during college and inspired the setting of some of his short stories.
Pulitzer Prize-winning conservationist Louis Bromfield (1896–1956) wrote 31 novels and works of nonfiction. His one-time estate, Malabar Farm, stands on 1,000 acres (405 hectares) on the outskirts of Mansfield. The farm was a prototype for organic, self-sustaining farming. Currently part of the Ohio State Park system, the estate still has a working farm and offers activities such as house tours, hayrides, and fishing.
Artists associated with Ohio include realist painter George Bellows (1882–1925), pop artist Jim Dine(b. 1935), Ashcan School painter Robert Henri (1865–1929), conceptual and text-based artist Jenny Holzer (b. 1950), sculptor and landscape-based artist Maya Lin (b. 1959), and found object collage artist Tom Wesselmann (1931–2004).
A unique visual arts experience awaits visitors to Columbus’ Topiary Garden. Columbus artist James T. Mason created a topiary tribute to Georges Seurat’s impressionist painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. Over 50 larger-than-life human figures, eight boats, and several animals recreate the painting’s composition.
The state of Ohio holds over 70 Indian mounds. Members of the Adena and Hopewell tribes, known as the "mound builders," constructed these as burial sites from 3000 BCE through the 1500s. Some of the sites, found primarily in central and southern parts of the state, support visitor centers and museums.
Cleveland’s Dunham Tavern Museum has the distinction of being the Cuyahoga County’s oldest building still standing on its original site. Also in Cleveland, the 1820 Old Stone Church features two stained glass windows created by Louis Tiffany.
Cincinnati’s National Underground Railroad Freedom Center recalls Ohio’s key role in helping escaped slaves on their passage to freedom. Cincinnati’s location on the Ohio River made it a major hub of the Underground Railroad. Three buildings feature art, educational exhibits, and artifacts that chronicle the struggle for freedom around the world and throughout time. In addition, Batavia’s Ohio Freedom Trail features 33 sites related to abolitionism or that stood on the trail of the Underground Railroad.
German Village in Columbus celebrates the community settled by German immigrants in the mid-1800s. Antique shops, Queen Anne-style homes, and brick sidewalks comprise the historic quarter.
The 1861 Ohio Statehouse, located in Columbus, consists of a Greek Revival building with columns, a major architectural undertaking in the era of the early republic. Elaborate interiors feature marble floors, statues, paintings, and a stairwell lined with murals.
Columbus’ Kelton House Museum and Garden showcases decorative arts from the mid-to-late 1800s.
The historic Victorian Village is a Columbus neighborhood of grand Victorian residences.
National McKinley Birthplace Memorial and Museum pays tribute to the 25th president of the United States, William F McKinley (1843–1901), born in Niles. A Georgian marble structure, built in the style of classic Greek architecture, features a statue of the former president.
Cincinnati’s Carew Tower, finished in 1931, is the city’s tallest building. The art deco structure features an observation deck.
Akron’s Stan Hywet Hall is a 65-room Tudor-style mansion. Goodyear Rubber Company founder F.A. Seiberling had this estate built between 1912 and 1915.
Near Oberlin’s Allen Museum, the Weltzheimer/Johnson House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and built between 1948 and 1950, features his classic Usonian design. The L-shaped structure features built-in furniture.
HANDICRAFT AND FOLK ART
Ohio’s most notable handicraft and folk art traditions come from Amish Country. The world’s largestAmish and Mennonite settlement is in the small town of Berlin. Horse-drawn buggies and home-cooked meals give the region its homespun, folksy flavor. The Amish and Mennonite Heritage Center features a 265-foot (81-m) circular mural depicting the region’s heritage as well as a Conestoga wagon, local handicrafts, and a one-room schoolhouse. Some traditional Amish handicrafts include quilts, baskets, and wooden furniture in Shaker, Mission, and Heritage styles.
HISTORIC ART MOVEMENTS
Southern Ohio’s rich clay, partially due to natural gas deposits, inspired several ceramic artists to experiment with the art form. As working in ceramics gained popularity, the Ohio Art Pottery movement was born. Notable companies that produced art pottery include Weller, Roseville, Rookwood, and McCoy, operating in the Cincinnati and Zanesville (known as "clay city") areas from the mid-1800s through the mid-1900s.
-World Trade Press