Frank N. Wilcox: Artist as Historian


Frank Wilcox, unlike most children, was encouraged to pursue his artistic talents by many members of his large, extended family. Both the Wilcox and Snow families moved to Ohio in the early 1800s after their first stop in New England and became major contributors to the growth of Northeast Ohio.

Frank Wilcox Sr. was a lawyer based in Cleveland, who helped develop the Interurban Railroad system. He was also a playwright. His wife Jesse came from the more agrarian-oriented Snow family, based in the Brecksville area south of Cleveland. Both families held regular reunions with many musical and theatrical activities. Frank Wilcox Jr. was creatively influenced by his early family experiences in the rapidly growing city of Cleveland and surrounding countryside.

After attending the Cleveland School of Art from 1906 to 1910, Wilcox spent time in France, absorbing the European experience prior to World War I. He began teaching at CSA in 1913, providing guidance to young students in design, drawing, painting and printmaking until 1957. He was a beloved and admired teacher, earning the title of “Dean of the Cleveland School” for his noted artistic abilities, intellectual pursuits and genuine kindness.

Wilcox had many interests that he parlayed into artistic projects from the 1920s through the 1940s, including writing and illustrating books: Ohio Indian Trails, Ohio Canals and Weather Wisdom. When he wasn’t teaching, Wilcox traveled extensively throughout the United States, Canada and back to Europe. Wilcox never learned to drive and therefore was able to utilize travel time to record what he saw with his quick and sure drawing skills. However, it was the watercolor medium that Wilcox developed during his career that brought him the most accolades when he exhibited his paintings locally and throughout the United States.

“For my own part, I regard the visible aspects of nature with awe, reverence, wonder and delight, and cannot conceive another attitude sufficiently devotional. Whatever the reactions of others may be to this work, according to natural taste or acquired aesthetic standards, I myself have tried to hold to my belief in the essential value of genre painting in which the human element does not outweigh its environment. I believe the artist may, and often does, see things differently.” — Frank Wilcox

During the last years of his life, Wilcox worked in his studio, producing hundreds of small watercolors that depicted images from all stages of his life. He could no longer work on a large scale, due to arthritis, but each painting told a story. Norman Kent, Editor of American Artist magazine in 1963 wrote, “Now, when so many contemporary artists are making a fetish of large-scale painting, it is refreshing to come on a body of small, intimate works that make no concession to their confinement, either in conception or vigor of execution. These reminded me, as they should every other watercolorist, that some of the finest paintings done in the transparent medium over the centuries – including representative papers of such masters as Durer, Homer, Sargent, Turner, Whistler, to name a few at random – were often small in physical scale but very large in artistic quality. These recent and handsome little-big paintings by Frank Wilcox are a notable case in point.”


It seemed a logical choice to present this exhibition at the Western Reserve Historical Society, since Frank Wilcox’s incredible family history and the artwork he produced during his lifetime has everything to do with the history of this region. He was a master at visual storytelling, from imagining the past Native American times through the changes that came with the development of our country into the twentieth century. The work Frank Wilcox left behind is a testament to his unique abilities as one of Cleveland’s truly great artists. In collaboration with this exhibition, the Cleveland Institute of Art will also be displaying some of Frank Wilcox’s art in honor of his 44 years as a teacher there.


Frank N. Wilcox: Artist as Historian: Curated by William G. Scheele. November 27, 2015 through April 30, 2016


Cleveland History Center

10825 East Boulevard

Clevleand, Ohio



Hours: Tuesday through Saturday 10 am to 5 pm and Sunday noon to 5:00 pm

Admission: $10 adults; $9 seniors (age 62+); $5 students (age 3-12).