Picturing Depression Era Cleveland

October is Archives Month!

This year’s theme is Ohio in the Depression. This is the second in a series of blog posts highlighting photographs of people and places in Ohio during the 1930s.

The Great Depression of the 1930s hit the city of Cleveland particularly hard. After years of steady growth and economic security, the citizens of Cleveland could only watch as it all slipped away. By January of 1931, upwards of 100,000 were unemployed. The various federal relief and assistance programs that were established as part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s Depression-fighting domestic programs under the New Deal, such as the Civil Works Administration (CWA) in 1933 and the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in 1935 were desperately needed in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County. In a fight for its very survival, the county applied the federal aid to a variety of public works projects, employing its people in a vast capital improvements program that saw the building of schools and streets, bridges, sewers and waterworks, and the establishment of the Cleveland Metroparks System. Included in the WPA was the Federal Arts Program (FAP) which provided jobs for artists, musicians, actors and writers. The Cleveland area put its unemployed artists to work creating murals, sculptures and paintings for public spaces, art that celebrated Cleveland’s heritage.

Scene o.n ... , Cleveland, Ohio

Scene on Scovill Avenue at East 32nd St. on a warm afternoon, Cleveland, Ohio by John Steinke.

One of the goals of the FAP was the completion of the American Guide Series, a compilation of guide books to each of the then 48 states. Created as part of the Federal Writers Project, each guide was to provide the history of the state and the major cities, as well as sections on art, architecture, music, literature, points of interest and touring information. Also included was a portfolio of photographs. Work on the Ohio Guide Project began in 1935 and completed in the fall of 1939. First published in 1940, the Ohio Guide was reprinted for several editions. The project employed 132 researchers, writers, photographers, editors and typists.

Dockworkers eating lunch ...

Dockworkers eating lunch by the Cuyahoga River by Frank Jafa.

While working under the Ohio Writer’s Project, Frank Jaffa took this photograph of Cleveland dock workers along the Cuyahoga River in 1940. The image was published in the Ohio Guide. Titled “Lunch at Riverside,” the photograph captures the workers in an idle moment, enjoying a break from their labors, having their lunch on a sunny day along the water’s edge near the Main Street Bridge. The dark days of the Great Depression may have brought Cleveland to its knees, but as “Lunch at Riverside” suggests, the 1940s would see the city rise again.

Matt Benz, Manuscripts Curator

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Victorian Mourning Culture: What Was It?

The Victorian Age, which roughly corresponds to Queen Victoria’s reign in England (1837-1901), was a time of many elaborate cultural rituals and societal expectations. From birth to marriage to social calls, many men and women acted in roles expected of them in society. Death and “mourning”, the time spent in grief over a death, was no exception. The Cult of Domesticity – a Victorian social system for the middle and upper class that emphasized femininity and specified a woman’s sphere of influence to the home and family, designating the greater world as the man’s sphere – heavily influenced mourning practices during the late 19th century. This culture of mourning will be explored throughout the month of October in a series of blog posts.

Handkerchief (H 21190) from circa 1867.  Item ranging from handkerchiefs to stationary were given dark borders to indicate that the user was in mourning.

Handkerchief (H 21190) from circa 1867. Item ranging from handkerchiefs to stationery were given dark borders to indicate that the user was in mourning.

How did this culture of mourning start?

The simple answer to this is one familiar today, the public followed the mannerism of a famous figure. Funerals were already elaborate and used as a way to display a family’s wealth. The death of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband, in 1861, and her subsequent mourning practices drastically increased the prevalence of such practices in both in the British Empire and in America. Queen Victoria plunged herself into “mourning”, only wearing black and refusing to leave her estates for years. She insisted on keeping her husband’s rooms intact as when he was alive and commissioning dozen of statues to be made of him.

Parasol (H 75792) from 1850-1875.  When in morning, parasols would be black and have limited decoration in jet, expressing that the woman using it was in mourning.

Parasol (H 75792) from 1850-1875. When in morning, parasols would be black and have limited decoration in jet, expressing that the woman using it was in mourning.

While Queen Victoria and a select minority of women chose to stay in mourning for the rest of their lives, for the rest of the public, there were set expectations as to how long it was proper to mourn. This varied depending on the relationship with the deceased. For example, a first cousin would warrant between six weeks and three months of time spent in mourning, whereas a husband would be mourned for two and a half years. These rules for lengths of time were varied and complicated, prompting help manuals to be published in ladies’ magazines to ensure they were following the correct protocol for the death of their loved ones. These manuals also included what was appropriate to wear, how the mourner should act, and when it was appropriate to move through the various stages of mourning. These magazines had advertisements for mourning clothing, accessories, and popular forms of memorialization. Books, such as A History of Mourning, published in 1890, contextualized the idea of mourning to largely middle and upper-class women, justifying seemingly bizarre traditions by connecting them to historical events of the past. Today, these magazine, manuals, books, and advertisements help historians and curators figure out the culture of mourning and the importance of the material culture left behind.

Hair comb (H 80253) from the 1890s.  Jet stones, like those featured on this comb, were one of the few decorations allowed on mourning attire.

Hair comb (H 80253) from the 1890s. Jet stones, like those featured on this comb, were one of the few decorations allowed on mourning attire.

Check back throughout the month to learn more about the differences in male and female mourning, the various accessories and popular forms of memorializing, and how this culture of morning changed throughout the centuries.

Caitlin Smith, History Collections Intern




MacKethan, Lucinda. “The Cult of Domisticity.” America in Class: from the National Humanities Center. 2014. http://americainclass.org/the-cult-of-domesticity/.
National Park Service. “The Custom of Mourning During the Victorian Era.” National Park Service (2011): 1-5.


Taylor, Lou. Mourning Dress: A Costume and Social History. London: George Allen and Unwin, 1983.

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New Death Records Now Available Online in the Ohio History Connection’s State Archives

The Ohio History Connection’s State Archives’ online catalog of death records has expanded. On October 1, the Ohio Department of Health transferred nearly two million death certificates from the years 1954 to 1963 to the Ohio History Connection.

Previously, these records were only available in paper form and could only be obtained through a request with the Ohio Department of Health’s Office of Vital Statistics.

Visitors can view the expanded online collection by visiting the Ohio History Center’s Archives/Library. Death certificates from December 20, 1908 to December 31, 1953 are also available in the online catalog.

Death certificates from December 20, 1908 to December 31, 1953 are also available in the online catalog.
The new accessibility and availability of these documents could make it easier for family researchers to develop and discover new information regarding their family’s history. A death certificate can include information like the date and place of birth of the deceased, parents’ names, last known address and last known occupation. Each piece of information can be integral in the completion of a family’s story.

“These records provide an important tool to family researchers working to uncover their family’s history,” says Liz Plummer, manager of research services at the Ohio History Connection. “Making them available online makes it that much easier to learn key facts about specific family members.”

Death certificates can be viewed online for free at the Ohio History Center’s Archives/Library at 800 E. 17th Ave. in Columbus. Those unable to visit the Archives/Library can purchase a copy online from the Ohio History Store by visiting http://www.ohiohistorystore.com/.

The Archives/Library is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday at the Ohio History Center. Admission is free with an Archives/Library card. For more information about the Archives/Library at the Ohio History Center, or to learn about obtaining a library card, call 800.686.6124 or visit http://www.ohiohistory.org/collections–archives/archives-library.

The Ohio History Connection
As the State Archives of Ohio, the Ohio History Connection’s Archives/Library collects, preserves and makes available to the public written and graphic information concerning Ohio’s history. It is the designated repository for state government records of enduring historical value. For more than 50 years, the Ohio History Connection has been working with state and local governments to preserve the history of Ohio and its citizens. The State Archives at the Ohio History Center contain over 70,000 cubic feet of records, thousands of printed materials and several online collections that help people connect with Ohio’s past.

Ohio Historical Society is now Ohio History Connection
On May 24, 2014, the Ohio Historical Society changed its name to the Ohio History Connection. Established in 1885, this nonprofit organization provides a wide array of statewide services and programs related to collecting, preserving and interpreting Ohio’s history, archaeology and natural history through its more than 50 sites and museums across Ohio, including its flagship museum, the Ohio History Center in Columbus. The Ohio History Center is located at I-71 and 17th Ave. in Columbus. For more information about programs and events, call 800.686.6124 or go online at http://www.ohiohistory.org.

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New Papers on Chronicling America!

Fall is officially here, and so are more Ohio newspapers on Chronicling America, the Library of Congress’s free digital newspaper database!  Issues from the following newspapers are now online and keyword-searchable:

Check out these and Ohio’s other digitized newspapers for articles about fall-related happenings of all kinds: festivals and fairs, elections fought (then won or lost), corn bread recipes for Thanksgiving, school being back in session and much more!


Celebrating the 1844 victory of the Democratic presidential candidate James K. Polk over Republican candidate Henry Clay. (Cadiz Sentinel, November 27, 1844, p. 2)

Chronicling America is brought to you by the National Digital Newspaper Program, a partnership between the National Endowment for the Humanities, Library of Congress and state projects to provide enhanced access to United States newspapers published between 1836 and 1922.  National Endowment for the Humanities awards support state projects to select and digitize historically significant titles that are aggregated and permanently maintained by the Library of Congress at Chronicling America. As part of the project, the Ohio History Connection contributed over 300,000 newspaper pages to the project between July 2008 and August 2014 and will contribute an additional 15,000 pages by the end of June 2015.  For more information about this project and resources for searching Chronicling America, please visit the National Digital Newspaper Program in Ohio Project Wiki or Ohio Digital Newspaper Program Website.

Jenni Salamon, Coordinator, Ohio Digital Newspaper Program

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Farm Security Administration Photographers in Ohio

October is Archives Month!

This year’s theme is Ohio in the Depression. This is the first in a series of blog posts highlighting photographs of people and places in Ohio during the 1930s.

Ohio in the Depression: Farm Security Administration Photographers in Ohio

Main Street in Lancaster, Ohio, August 1938 by FSA photographer Ben Shahn.

Main Street in Lancaster, Ohio, 1938 by FSA photographer Ben Shahn.

Photographs can help form or challenge our notions of a place, people, or time. In many ways, Dorothea Lange’s photograph of Florence Owens Thompson and her children defined the image of America during the Great Depression. Lange was one of several photographers that worked for the Farm Security Administration (FSA), first known as the Resettlement Administration. The agency commissioned a photographic survey of the country led by Roy Emerson Stryker to document rural poverty during the Great Depression from 1935-1943. The project, however, did more than document rural conditions; it also described a diversity of American experiences during those difficult circumstances. The FSA’s aim was to use the photographs to show both the poverty and prosperity of the country in order to justify support for government programs to alleviate economic hardship. Consequently, the captured images illustrate very different experiences during the 1930s. For instance photographs documenting Ohio’s experiences during the Depression are very different from Lange’s photographs of the Dust Bowl migration in California.

FSA photographers Ben Shahn, Arthur Rothstein, Carl Mydans, Theodor Jung, John Vachon, Russell Lee, and Marion Post Wolcott documented Ohio’s experience during the Great Depression from 1935-1941. Each photographer covered different regions of the state, segments of society and even the different seasons. The three photographs displayed here of Main Street in Lancaster, Ohio (August 1938), the Thaxton family near Mechanicsburg, Ohio (Summer 1938), and farmers waiting for dinner during the wheat harvest in Central, Ohio (August 1938) were all taken by Ben Shahn. The FSA assigned Shahn to document the harvest in Central Ohio. Some of the themes included: abundant farmland, the hard-working farmer, and the quaintness of small town life. (Ohio: A Photographic Portrait 1935-1941, Carolyn Kinder Carr).

Photograph of Virgil Thaxton and family near Mechanicsburg, Ohio, Summer 1938 by Ben Shahn.

Photograph of Virgil Thaxton and family near Mechanicsburg, Ohio, Summer 1938 by Ben Shahn.

Shahn’s photographs demonstrate the diverse experiences in Ohio during the 1930s. The image of a grim farming family and a group of happy farmers cleaning up for dinner during harvest seem at odds with one another. However, as the photograph of bustling Main Street shows us, some rural communities were prosperous at the time. The caption on the Main Street nitrate negative, held by the Library of Congress, notes that “Lancaster is a very prosperous town, the county seat of Fairfield County, which is considered to be one of the richest farmland areas in the Middle West.” Whereas the image of the worn out Thaxton family is more representative of the iconic sentiment of the Depression. The caption for the nitrate negative of the Thaxton family notes that Virgil Thaxton had already rented four farms to date and each year he hoped to make enough for his family. The FSA photographers that documented Ohio didn’t only capture 1930s rural life. For instance, Mydans and Vachon both documented 1930s Cincinnati; Mydans photographed the city slums and Vachon street life and suburban living. An exhibit of FSA photographs held by the Akron Art Institute in the 1980s showed the different 1930s Ohio experiences, along with an almost smiling photograph of Virgil Thaxton (Ohio: A Photographic Portrait 1935-1941).

Farmers coming to dinner  by Ben Shahn.

Farmers coming to dinner during the wheat harvest, August 1938, by Ben Shahn.

Although the Library of Congress holds the FSA photograph collection, other government programs, like the Federal Writers’ Project (FWP), collected prints of the photographs. These prints of Shahn’s photographs, for example, were collected by the FWP to potentially use in the Ohio Guide as well as other publications. The FWP was, like the FSA, a program that came out of the economic hardships of the 1930s. Initiated by the Works Progress Administration, the FWP helped provide employment to writers from 1935-1939. One of the aims of the FWP was the completion of the American Guide Series, which was a compilation of guidebooks for each state. Shahn’s prints displayed here along with more than 4,000 others prints collected by the Ohio FWP can be found in the Ohio Federal Writers’ Project State Archives Series at the Ohio History Center (State Archives Series 1039 AV).

Adria Seccareccia, Processing Assistant


Akron Art Institute, Exhibition organized by Carolyn Kinder Carr. Ohio: A Photographic Portrait 1935-1941 Farm Security Administration Photographs. Akron, Ohio: Akron Art Institute, 1980.

Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives. Library of Congress. http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/fsa/ (Accessed September 24, 2014).


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What happened on May 4, 1970?

A controversy recently arose surrounding the clothing company, Urban Outfitters, when they began advertising the sale of a Kent State University sweatshirt, with  what appeared to be blood stains splattered across it. While reporting on the controversy, Several established media outlets inaccurately reported the date, details, and even location of the school.  While there are many excellent accounts and sources of information about the events of May 4, 1970, we want to take this opportunity to share the story of the tragedy and correct any misinformation that has been disseminated.

National Guard troops lined up on the Kent State University campus, May 4, 1970.

National Guard troops lined up on the Kent State University campus, May 4, 1970, May 4th Collection, Ohio History Connection Archives.

What exactly happened on May 4th,1970?

On May 1, 1970, students at Kent State held an anti-war protest prompted by President Richard Nixon’s announcement  on April 30 that the Vietnam War was expanding and the United States had invaded Cambodia. That evening, several incidents occurred, including rocks and bottles being thrown at police officers, the closure of bars by authorities before normal closing time to reduce alcohol consumption, and lighting bonfires. Eventually students, other anti-war activists, and criminals began to break windows and loot stores.

The mayor of Kent, Ohio, Leroy Satrom, declared a state of emergency on May 1. He requested that Governor James A. Rhodes send the Ohio National Guard to Kent to help maintain order. Rhodes agreed, and the National Guard members began to arrive the evening of May 2. As soldiers arrived, they found the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) building on the Kent State campus in flames. It is unclear who set the building on fire. Kent State officials had already boarded up the ROTC building and were planning to raise it.

Anti-war protesters demonstrate on the Kent State University campus.

Anti-war protesters demonstrate on the Kent State University campus, May 4th Collection, Ohio History Connection Archives.

On May 3, approximately one thousand Ohio National Guard soldiers were on the Kent State campus. Tensions remained high, and Governor Rhodes further escalated them by accusing the protesters of being unpatriotic. He proclaimed, “They’re the worst type of people that we harbor in America. I think that we’re up against the strongest, well-trained, militant, revolutionary group that has ever assembled in America.” Some Kent State students assisted local businesses and the city in cleaning up damage from the previous night’s activities, but other students and non-students continued to hold protests. The National Guard continued to break up these demonstrations, including threatening students with bayonets.

On Monday, May 4, classes resumed. Anti-war protesters scheduled a rally for noon on the common area at the center of campus which meant that m any students who were not participating in the protests were also in the area.  University officials attempted to ban the gathering but proved unsuccessful in their efforts. As the protest began, National Guard members fired tear gas at the demonstrators. Strong wind blew tear gas away from the protesters. Some of the protesters threw the tear gas canisters, along with rocks, back at the soldiers. Some of the demonstrators yelled slogans, such as “Pigs off campus!” at the soldiers.

Eventually seventy-seven guardsmen advanced on the protesters with armed rifles and bayonets. Protesters continued to throw things at the soldiers.

Self portrait of killed student, Sandra Scheuer.

Self portrait of killed student, Sandra Scheuer, May 4th Collection, Ohio History Connection Archives.

It is not quite known how the next series of events happened, even to this day. What is known is that just after noon twenty-nine soldiers opened fire without an explicit command to shoot. The gunfire lasted just thirteen seconds, although some witnesses contended that it lasted more than one minute. The troops fired a total of sixty-seven shots. When the firing ended, nine students were wounded and four students were killed Jeffrey Miller, Allison Krause, William Schroeder, and Sandra Scheuer.William Schroeder and Sandra Scheuer were not participants in the protest. In later interviews the soldiers stated that they were afraid.

What happened afterwards?

After the shooting ended, Kent State University professor Glenn Frank pleaded with the National Guard to let the faculty talk with the protesters who had convened on the commons. Once in front of the protesters, Frank explained, “I don’t care whether you’ve never listened to anyone before in your lives. I am begging you right now. If you don’t disperse right now, they’re going to move in, and it can only be a slaughter. Would you please listen to me?”[1]

After 20 minutes, Frank and the faculty convinced the crowd to leave the commons. At the site of the shooting, ambulances were brought in to assist the injured students. One student, Dean Kahler, was permanently paralyzed.

Kent State University was immediately ordered to close. Classes were finished by correspondence and students who were scheduled to graduate at the end of the spring semester were mailed their diplomas. All state universities in Ohio, except for Bowling Green State University, closed their campuses for the remainder of the semester as well.

What effects did the events have on Ohio and the nation?

The photograph taken by John Paul Filo, a Kent State photography major, of activist Mary Ann Vecchio screaming over the body of Jeffrey Miller was published in magazines and newspapers around the world. Filo won a Pulitzer Prize. The events of May 4th shocked the nation. Federal, state and local authorities conducted lengthy investigations in the shootings in an attempt to understand what lead to the tragic events of May 4, 1970. A few months after the shootings occurred, the Urban Institute conducted a national study concluding the events of May 4th were the single factor that caused the only nationwide student strike in U.S. history.  Over four million students protested and over 900 American colleges and universities closed during the student strikes.

Just 11 days later at Jackson State College, a historically black college, in Jackson, Mississippi, city and state police opened fire on a group of student protesters.  Two students were killed  and 12 were injured. This event did not get as much national attention as the shootings at Kent State University despite the fact that the gunfire lasted for 30 seconds and at least 140 shots were fired.

Letter sent from President Nixon to Kent State University President Robert White, May 4th Collection, Ohio History Connection archives.

Letter sent from President Nixon to Kent State University President Robert White, May 4th Collection, Ohio History Connection Archives.

On June 13, 1970, President Nixon established the President’s Commission on Campus Unrest which investigated the events. The commission issued a report in September 1970 that stated,

“Even if the guardsmen faced danger, it was not a danger that called for lethal force. The 61 shots by 28 guardsmen certainly cannot be justified. Apparently, no order to fire was given, and there was inadequate fire control discipline on Blanket Hill. The Kent State tragedy must mark the last time that, as a matter of course, loaded rifles are issued to guardsmen confronting student demonstrators.”[2]

Charges were eventually brought against eight of the guardsmen.  In 1974 U.S. District Judge Frank Battisti dismissed charges against all eight. Eventually, a civil trial was brought against Governor Rhodes, the President of Kent State University , and the Ohio National Guard. The civil case was settled in return for payment of a total of $675,000 to all plaintiffs and the defendants’ agreement to state publicly that they regretted what had happened.

In 2012, Kent State University opened the May 4th Visitor’s Center as “…an expression of how we have written our own history. It remembers the past so future generations may remember it as well.”[3]

What objects do you have in your collection related to this event?

The Ohio History Connection has several objects in our collection related to this event. A jean jacket (catalog number  H 52549) worn by student protester Alan Canfora on May 4, 1970 when he was struck in the arm by a bullet fired by an Ohio National Guardsman on the campus of Kent State University. After being shot, Canfora became a prominent public speaker, advocating for more legal action to be taken against the U. S. government for their role in the shootings.

We have several objects that belonged to shooting victim Sandra Scheuer, including her freshman beanie (catalog number H 53198),and a corsage ( catalog number H 70425).  The Archives/Library also holds papers from her parents, Martin and Sarah Scheuer, that include more of their daughter’s personal effects and material they collected about her death .  Scheuer was an honors student at Kent State University majoring in Speech Therapy and active in many student organizations. She was walking in between classes on May 4th when she was fatally shot.

A rifle used by National Guard troops at Kent State University on May 4, 1970.

A rifle used by National Guard troops at Kent State University on May 4, 1970.

In addition to objects from the students, we have several objects used by the National Guardsmen that day including a case cartridge (catalog number H 73985), a gas mask (catalog number H 46653), a pistol (catalog number H 46654), and a rifle (catalog number H 46659).  These items were used as evidence in the trial of the Guardsmen that followed the shootings.  These objects compliment the Kent State University Trial Records (State Archives Series 2062) and nine other record series in the State Archives documenting the events of May 4, 1970 and the aftermath.  You can view examples of digitized documents from the Kent State records in our digital library, Ohio Memory.

The impact of these events is still being felt in Ohio and across the world today.

As a Kent State University alumna myself, I hope this current controversy leads to greater conversation and education of the events that happened on and around May 4th, 1970. Through understanding our own history, we can learn and grow, preventing more hurt from occurring and making our world a better place.

Emily Lang, History Curator

[1] Grack, Rachel A.. The Kent State Tragedy. Edina, Minn.: Abdo Pub., 2005.

[2] “The Report of the President’s Commission on Campus Unrest.” PDF. http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED083899.pdf (accessed September 17, 2014).

[3] Nobile, Jeremy . “Kent State University Dedicates New May 4 Visitors Center.” News Leader. http://www.the-news-leader.com/regional/2013/05/08/kent-state-university-dedicates-new-may-4-visitors-center (accessed September 17, 2014).

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Emerson Burkhart and Self Portraits

“It’s cheaper than hiring a model and it’s reliable. It’s always there when I want it.”

Emerson Burkhart on Self Portraits

Photo of Emerson Burkhart working on a self portrait, from the Ohio History Connection Collections, SC 22.

Photo of Emerson Burkhart working on a self portrait, from the Ohio History Connection Collections, SC 22.

Reflections of an Artist: Emerson Burkhart opened last week in our 3rd Floor Library Lobby and First Floor Spotlight Gallery. Emerson Burkhart (1905-1969) ruled the Columbus art scene during the 1950s and 1960s with his honest portraits and depictions of life in the city.While Burkhart was praised for his artistic skill, conflicts in his personal and professional life prevented him from receiving national attention.  Reflections of an Artist: Emerson Burkhart displays never seen artwork by Burkhart, including the original sketches for the controversial mural Music.

In his lifetime, Burkhart estimated he painted between 200-400 self portraits. It may never be known how many self-portraits Burkhart completed due to his own myth building. According to writer and friend Ben Hayes, “He (Burkhart) said that he was his cheapest and handiest model, and claimed to keep precise count on Burkharts-by-Burkhart. But I have heard him give total as 173, another day as 227.” [1]

A crowd gathers around a self portrait of Burkhart on exhibit at the Ohio State Fair, from the Ohio History Connection collections, SC 22.

A crowd gathers around a self portrait of Burkhart on exhibit at the Ohio State Fair, from the Ohio History Connection collections, SC 22.

Burkhart was fascinated with documenting his own progression through life. His earliest known self portrait dates back to his childhood on a farm in Kalida. From a young age, Burkhart was encourage to experiment with art from his teachers; one of his first subjects, at the age of 12, was himself. As art historian Michael D. Hall explains in his book about Burkhart, “For an artist concerned with both the truth of nature and the power of imagination, the self does present the most reliable subject. Many self-potrait painters have studied their favorite model since childhood and, as a result, are directly in touch with the subjective emotions of their preferred “sitter.” “[2]

Three Wrecks.

Three Wrecks.

During each period of his life, Burkhart reflected on how he was physically changing. Sometimes he painted a full body length portrait of himself; other times he focused on just one angle of his head. Burkhart enjoyed painting himself so much, he entitled a 1945 self portrait “My Favorite Model”. As technology changed and many artists began to use photos to paint self portraits, Burkhart continued to use his reflection from a mirror, capturing himself as a whole instead of a moment.

Two self portraits of Burkhart are currently on exhibit in Reflections of an Artist: Emerson Burkhart. The first self portrait, painted in 1947, was originally entitled, “Three Wrecks” referring to the two crashed cars and himself. The self portraits plays with the idea of his own self destruction.

Self portrait, 1960.

Self portrait, 1960.

The second self portrait, from 1960, shows a softer side of Burkhart. After his wife’s, Mary Ann, death in 1955, Burkhart struggled to make sense of his career and his artistic style. After years of painting death and decay in dark colors, suddenly, his art became bright and lively. In 1956, he was approached by friend Karl Jaeger to become the “artist in residence” for the International School, a program that took young Americans abroad. Burkhart traveled with the International School the rest of his life, visiting places like Japan and Italy. His style continued to lighten as he spent months traveling coastal regions and places where the sun shined brightly. This new take on life is reflected in this self-portrait from 1960. Though he is still truthful about his own aging process, Burkhart uses softer colors and brush strokes to portray himself in a gentler manner than his previous self-portraits.

Spotlight Gallery located on the 1st floor of the Ohio History Center.

Spotlight Gallery located on the 1st floor of the Ohio History Center.

In Reflections of an Artist: Emerson Burkhart, visitors have the opportunity to create a self portrait of their own. Located in the Spotlight Gallery on the first floor, visitors can use mirrors to try creating a vision of themselves to understand the methods behind this form of art. Follow the fun at #emersonohc !

Have you ever seen one of Burkhart’s self portraits before? What do you think he was trying to express about himself?

Emily Lang, History Curator

[1]Hayes, Ben . “Emerson Burkhart by Hayes.” Emerson Burkhart by Hayes. http://www.shortnorth.com/BurkhartHayes.html (accessed September 10, 2014).

[2]Hall, Michael. Emerson Burkhart. London: Scala, 2009


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