Making the Cleveland Museum of Art

Hubbell & Benes Archictects, Cleveland Museum of Art (1916)  (and Me Holly Witchey)  Photo Credit:  Adam LaPorta.

Hubbell & Benes Architects, Cleveland Museum of Art (1916) (and me, Holly Witchey) Photo Credit: Adam LaPorta.

My drive to work each morning is historical.  I work in University Circle named for a long gone trolley car turnaround.  In Cleveland and Cleveland Heights, as elsewhere in the world,  street names are indicative of the ideas, hopes, and aspirations of the residents.  So each morning I get into my car and drive down Scarborough to the intersection of Scarborough and Coventry.  Lifted up by notions that my neighborhood is somehow a magic reproduction of idyllic locales in the United Kingdom, I take a slight right onto Fairmount Boulevard  (Fair + Mount) and head down out of the Heights towards University Circle via Cedar Hill.  I cross Euclid Avenue some 75 blocks east of the now-vanished part of Euclid Avenue known as “Millionaire’s Row,” and “The Most Beautiful Street in America” and turn right onto Martin Luther King Drive (once Liberty Boulevard) for a brief span.   Just a few blocks shy of work I always choose a slightly longer path turning right to drive up Jeptha Drive, past the Cleveland Museum of Art, and left onto Wade Oval Drive,  and finally right onto Magnolia before turning into the parking lot for the Western Reserve Historical Society.

There are no doubt historians of American business who live on Rockefeller Parkway, or Frick Drive, or J.P. Morgan Avenue.  There are no doubt authors who love the frontier novels of James Fenimore Cooper and find offices in buildings romantically called Fenimore Place, or others who chase their favorite voices from the past and set up shop in Washington Irving Manor, Louisa May Alcott Alcoves, or Emerson Gardens. Scientists and physicians are used to putting their feet up on desks in offices in wings and buildings named for icons of an earlier age:  Einstein, DeBackey, Sagan.   In my case the  drive reminds me to contemplate one core question.

How do we tell the stories of philanthropists of the past to inspire the philanthropists of the future?

Today I’ve been thinking about Jeptha Homer Wade II.  Here he is  with his natty mustache.

Jeptha Homer Wade II (1857-1926) Photo Courtesy of Western Reserve Historical Society

Jeptha Homer Wade II (1857-1926) Photo Courtesy of Western Reserve Historical Society

In 1916 the Cleveland Museum of Art will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the beautiful neoclassical  Beaux Arts building designed by the architectural firm of Hubbell & Benes. You won’t find a Jeptha Homer Wade wing, although you will find a pillar with his name (and the  names of the other “pillars of the institution) inscribed on it in the rotunda of the 1916 building.  Look closely it’s way up there.  Jeptha Homer Wade II wasn’t interested in having his name on things–but he was concerned that the City of Cleveland have an art museum.  So here are a few things you might, or might not know about Jeptha Homer Wade II and the Cleveland Museum of Art.

  • His grandfather, one of the founders of Western Union, was an itinerant portrait painter before developing an interest in telegraphy.  If you are a regular visitor to the CMA you are probably already familiar with his grandfather’s work, although you are likely to think of it as “the man in the funny green glasses.”

    Jeptha Homer Wade (1811-1890), "Nathaniel Olds," (1837).  Cleveland Museum of Art, 1991.134.2

    Jeptha Homer Wade (1811-1890), “Nathaniel Olds,” (1837). Cleveland Museum of Art, 1991.134.2

  • His grandfather Jeptha Homer Wade (1811-1890) gave the land upon which the art museum sits and the surrounding park (Wade Park) as a gift to the city of Cleveland after the death of his father, Randall Wade. 
  • Jeptha Homer Wade II’s father, Randall Wade (1835-1876), quite clearly trained Jeptha Homer Wade II as a collector and a connoisseur during a 15 month tour of Europe in 1870-71
  • His father’s journals from the trip, along with Jeptha Homer Wade II’s letters to his grandfather back home, include rich descriptions of museums in Europe and visits to studios of American artists (many represented by works in the Cleveland Museum of Art collection)
  • Jeptha Homer Wade II was instrumental in the decision to keep the museum free
  • He believed galleries should be organized chronologically, or thematically, rather than centered on collections by specific donors
  • He provided the seed money for the original endowment for the Cleveland Museum of Art
  • He provided the seed money for the endowment for purchases
  • He gifted close to 3000 works to the museum and gave the works to the museum free of any restrictions with the understanding that they could be sold off if better objects were found, or if in the future the museum had greater needs.
  • Among his many gifts to the museum are key pieces including: Puvis’ “Summer,” “The Stroganoff Ivory,” and the Burgundian Table Fountain

    Burgundian Table Fountain, ca. 1320-1340, Gift of JH Wade, 1924.859

    Burgundian Table Fountain, ca. 1320-1340, Gift of JH Wade, 1924.859

  • He collected portrait miniatures and a majority of the works in the traditional section of the recent sensational portrait miniature exhibition were gifted to museum by JH Wade or members of his family, including his daughter Helen Wade Greene and his son-in-law Edward Belden Greene
  • His granddaughter, Helen Wade Perry, supported Sherman Lee in the creation of the Cleveland Museum of Art’s collection of Asian collection
  • And if art museums aren’t your thing, but you’re a big fan of natural history museums, why just step outside of the Cleveland Museum of Art, take a stroll across Wade Oval and head into the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.  Jeptha Homer Wade’s gem collection forms the core of the Cleveland Museum of Art’s  gem and mineral collection.

Just a few years shy of a century ago, on June 6, 1916, the Cleveland Museum of Art opened its doors to the public.  Jeptha Homer Wade II was there to proclaim the institution, ‘for the benefit of all people, forever.’   You go Jeptha!

Honestly,  I love my job.





8 thoughts on “Making the Cleveland Museum of Art

  1. Had never seen one of J.H. Wade’s portraits before; he was much more talented as an artist than I was led to believe…. Are there other one’s extant? We were always told that there was a house fire (?) and that many of his paintings were burned. Thank you for putting together this blog…. What a treat…..

    • Dear Mr. McBride – Thank you for your kind comments and your question. There are other portraits extant by J.H. Wade, may probably undiscovered given the number we know he completed. The one in the CMA just happens to be particularly fine. Most of his portraits were completed for those who commissioned them so I can imagine that there are portraits still to be found in Michigan, in the Finger-Lakes region of NY, and in Mississippi and parts south as we know from a tiny notebook here at WRHS (MS. 3292) that records the names of his clients. I was excited to see your name on this letter. We’ve found several interesting Wade-related items in the Donald McBride (MS. 4585) papers here at WRHS as one of Jeptha Homer Wade’s nieces married Ralph Augustus Harmon. Are you that Don McBride I wonder?

      • Thank you for answering my questions about J.H. Wade’s extant paintings. How wonderful to think that there exists a notebook with listings of the sitters, etc. Look forward to reading more of your blog….
        As for the Donald McBride and Ralph A. Harman family papers, Yes, I am from that family. The Donald McBride (1884-1927) referred to above was my grandfather. He married Mary Helen Harman (1892-1988) in 1913. It was through Mary Helen’s mother, Grace (Fleming) Harman (1860-1920) that there are Wade and, for that matter, Fleming family connections. Grace’s mother, Mary Horton (Moore) Fleming (1829-1912) and her father, Jesse Leighton Fleming (1829-1870), were first cousins once removed through their common Fleming lines. In addition, Jesse’s mother was a Phebe WADE (1795-1892), one of J.H. Wade’s sisters, thus making Grace’s father a nephew to J.H. and a first cousin to Sue. Mary Horton Moore’s parents had both died by the mid-1850’s, leaving Mary as the oldest in charge of her three younger sisters. Two of her mother’s sisters took in the youngest two children. Aunt Sue and Uncle Wade adopted Susan Delphine Moore (1846-1862), who died suddenly from fever in the early 1860s. Today her grave can be found in the Wade lot under the name of Della Wade. I have since discovered the Wades took in several other orphaned relatives. After Jesse L. Fleming died in 1870 in Michigan, the Wades invited Grace Fleming to stay in Cleveland where she could have a “proper” education. She would live with the Wades until her marriage to Ralph A. Harman in 1882, and in fact she would be married in the old Wade house. When Wade Park was being planted with trees, Grace used to accompany her “Uncle Wade” to the park early in the morning to plant seedlings. The street along which she did most of her planting was later named “Grace Street” by Uncle Wade in her honor….

    • Hi Don,

      I am also related to you. Harman Wright McBride is my grandfather, and Harman Forbes McBride is my father. I understand that you have researched and compiled an impressive McBride family history. Is there any way I can obtain a copy (or 3)? I would love to be able to give this to my dad and sister for Christmas – and of course keep one for myself.

      Look forward to connecting!


  2. Dear Mr. McBride:

    My apologies for the delayed response to your wonderful, information-filled response. Thank you so much for taking the time to put all this down on paper. It is much appreciated.

  3. This is indeed a lovely post; however I had to breath deep to get past the implied description of Scarborough (run-down coastal resort) and Coventry (industrial city which suffered massive bombing in WWII and was rebuilt in the ugliest possible style, and which is proverbially the location of someone who is ostracised) as “idyllic locales in the United Kingdom”.

    Then again, perhaps my vision of Euclid Avenue, The Most Beautiful Street in America, might not exactly match current reality.

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