Akron Art Museum
photo by Richman Haire
Akron, OH / 330-376-9185
Raphael Gleitsmann: Recent Acquisitions
Through January 23, 2000, the Akron Art Museum is hosting a new exhibition, Raphael Gleitsmann: Recent Acquisitions. This survey of Gleitsmann's career provides a new and intimate glimpse into the mind of one of Akron's best-known artists. Over the past few years, donations by Gleitsmann and two local collectors, Akronites Louise Fayash and Jean Dougherty, have made it possible to present a more comprehensive overview of the artist's career.
This exhibition is particularly timely in lieu of downtown Akron's recent resurgence. One of Gleitsmann's most well known works (see left above) is Winter Evening, also known as Akron Square and Big Town. A gift to the museum from Joseph M. Erdelac, this painting depicts a snow covered downtown Akron from Main and Bowery Streets at twilight, and is reminiscent of American Scene painter John Sloan. To view it now takes one back to the bustling activity of downtown Akron while providing a glimpse into what may be its future.
Gleitsmann, born in 1910, spent most of his life in Akron. He was a self-taught artist whose only "formal" training came from Miss Calvin at Central High School and Paul Travis at the Cleveland School of Art. Although he favored oil painting, he also worked in watercolor, photography and other media. The artist's earlier works were idealized presentations of life in Middle America. These paintings were created during the Great Depression in the realistic style of regionalist painters such as Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood. Gleitsmann's decision to paint in a simplistic style that focused on the familiar was not based upon a rejection of modern aesthetic (like Benton and Wood who had studied in Europe). Rather, it was the choice of a young man who had seen little of the world outside of Ohio.
Gleitsmann's art was radically changed by his experiences as a combat engineer in World War II from 1943-1945. While in Europe he created quaint sketches that also recorded the devastation caused by the war. Wounded at the Rhine River, Gleitsmann received the Purple Heart and returned to Akron. Although he initially returned to painting in his signature realistic manner, he quickly began to grow into a more abstracted, expressionistic style, based on imagination and memory, which focused on post-Apocalyptic imagery such as ruins and cemeteries. "The war experience put something into the work that it had never had before-a greater awareness of such things as the attrition of time . . . what happened to us," said Gleitsmann in a 1982 interview. "It's something deep in the experience that does shift focus around, and you are different and often better."
These new paintings gained Gleitsmann national recognition when he edged out Andrew Wyeth for first prize in a 1948 Carnegie Institute exhibition of international contemporary painting, but they also may have led him to end his career as an artist around 1954. Perhaps it became necessary, instead of dwelling on the horrors of war, for Gleitsmann to put them behind him. "it's something like having a belief-believing that what you're doing is of importance . . . when you lose the belief, it seems there's no return . . . mostly I just found I really had nothing to say anymore," said Gleitsmann. After Gleitsmann retired from painting, he first tried framing and then focused on restoration work on oil paintings and works of paper. The artist passed away in 1995.
This exhibition is generously sponsored by Joseph M. Erdelac and Paradox Enterprise Group Inc.
Read more about the Akron Art Museum in Resource Library Magazine.
For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.
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