Hiding in Plein Sight: Tremont’s Illustrious History of Outdoor Art

Plein air painting, simply put, is “painting out of doors.” However, the literal French translation of plein—“full”—does a much better job of summarizing the plein air artist’s mission. In effect, he or she seeks to capture a “full air” experience: painting the out of doors out of doors.

The Tremont neighborhood has a rich plein air history. In 1874, mapmaker D. J. Lake published a large atlas that included line drawings of Tremont street scenes and residences. Ora Coltman’s Little Russia, Cleveland—an iconic 1926 view of St. Theodosius Cathedral—hangs in Tremont’s Jefferson Library. Local artists engaged by the WPA also painted Tremont. A great example is the right panel of Coltman’s Dominance of the City (1934), a tryptic that resides at the Cleveland Public Library.

Nowadays, the plein air tradition is “fuller” than ever, with artists reveling in Tremont’s gritty charm—a sort of Ashcan School Revival. Ron Johnston and Ron Joranko helped blaze the trail. Johnston’s local landscapes have been exhibited nationally. Joranko (1935–2008) left the corporate world in 1993 to pursue plein air painting. Within two years, he landed his first one-man exhibition.

Adrian Eisenhower’s view of Tremont’s St. Theodosious Cathedral.

This tradition is now embodied in the brushstrokes of artists like Adrian Eisenhower, Tim Herron and Glenn Murray. Eisenhower, an instructor at Cleveland School of the Arts, founded Walton Avenue Atelier, a space committed to teaching Cleveland students. Herron, owner of the Manly Pad on Tremont’s Professor Avenue, emphasizes the spontaneity and vitality of plein air: painting (not just making sketches) outside. Tremont resident Glenn Murray, by day an architect with the City of Cleveland, is fascinated by dawn and dusk light. For him, neighborhoods, factories, rivers and bridges have strong “time-of-day personalities.”

Plein air painting is hardly unique to Cleveland. However, Tremont offers a special kind of vibrancy and eclecticism—one that appeals to plein air artists and a fast-growing market of residents who’ve rediscovered the city.


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