Kálmán Kubinyi, Cleveland Public Library, and the WPA Print Program

Learn how Cleveland artists during The Great Depression used their skills to help renew their city, innovating in technique and theme and capturing their times through images.

Learn about Cleveland Public Library, the WPA, and the Great Depression.

Linda Eastman Portrait by unknownCleveland Public Library

Director Linda Eastman

During 1930s, Linda Eastman, Director of Cleveland Public Library, collected works by Cleveland and northeast Ohio artists who worked for the Public Works of Art Project and the Federal Art Project. These projects were overseen by the Works Progress Administration. (WPA)

Shovelers (ca. 1936-1937) by Flint, Walter LeroyCleveland Public Library

About WPA and the Federal Art Project

The Works Progress Administration (WPA) was a U.S. Government relief program to provide economic assistance to Americans out of work because of the Great Depression. The Federal Art Project provided government funded jobs to unemployed artists. 

Eviction (ca. 1935-1939) by Rutka, DorothyCleveland Public Library

Print makers from Cleveland's WPA

This online exhibit displays a selection of prints produced by artists who were part of Cleveland's WPA art programs. Numerous talented Cleveland artists were part of the program.

Main Library (ca. 1939-1941) by Kucharyson, PaulCleveland Public Library

Cleveland Public Library's Collection of WPA Art

With hundreds of items, Cleveland Public Library (CPL) has one of the broadest and richest regional collections of WPA art in the United States.

Toilers (ca. 1935-1939) by Silberger, Manuel G.Cleveland Public Library

Innovation in Cleveland

The prints demonstrate that Cleveland was a leading, innovative participant in the artistic collaborations envisioned through the WPA arts programs of the 1930s.

Riverman (ca. 1938-1939) by Flint, Walter LeroyCleveland Public Library

Cleveland in the 1930's

Emphasizing work, industry, technology, shipping, agriculture and more, the prints display rugged detail and technical finesse, providing a unique window into the Cleveland of the 1930s.

Meet a leading WPA Artist from Cleveland, Ohio.

Damaged Soil (ca. 1935-1939) by Kubinyi, KalmanCleveland Public Library

An artist from Cleveland, Ohio

Kálmán Kubinyi was born in Cleveland in 1906 and was child of Hungarian immigrants. He graduated from the Cleveland Institute of Art in 1927.

Railroad Crossing (ca. 1935-1939) by Kubinyi, KalmanCleveland Public Library

Federal Art Project Print Supervisor

Kálmán Kubinyi was appointed Cleveland's Federal Art Project Print Supervisor in 1935.

Work on the Lake Front (ca. 1935-1939) by Kubinyi, KalmanCleveland Public Library

Mentor and Genius

Kubinyi was the genius behind the style and technique characteristic of much the WPA print collection at Cleveland Public Library. As Print Supervisor, he mentored and fostered a productive team of graphic artists in Cleveland.

Skaters (ca. 1935-1939) by Kubinyi, KalmanCleveland Public Library

Artistic Innovator

Kubinyi's generally modernist and social realist work is characterized by technical experimentation, and reflects a dark, immediate view of the region and city.   

Sokar and the Crocodile (cover) (1930) by Alice Woodbury Howard; Kalman KubinyiCleveland Public Library

Illustrator and Teacher

Not only a sharply observant artist,  Kubinyi volunteered during the depression at Cleveland Public Library's Rice Branch. In 1930, he read to children from the book he illustrated, Sokar and the Crocodile. He taught classes in etching and made posters for the children's dept.

WPA Artist Drawing Poster (1937-02-10) by Cleveland Public LibraryCleveland Public Library

Engaged Volunteer

This unidentified image from the mid 1930's may be Kálmán Kubinyi. Here the artist is hard at work creating posters for Cleveland Public Library.

See techniques used by Kálmán Kubinyi when he led Cleveland's Federal Art Project.

Cuyahoga (ca. 1936-1937) by Kubinyi, KalmanCleveland Public Library

The Print Workshop in Cleveland

Kubinyi's WPA workshop partnered art-school trained artists with shop trained artists, and his group became one of the most productive in the Federal Art Project. Art made in the workshop resonated with Kubinyi's influence on theme and technique.

Offset Soft Ground Technique

One technique used by Kubinyi was offset soft ground. Cuyahoga is an example. The initial drawing, made with a dark crayon on a detached ground, can be transferred directly to a plate, producing an exact replica without the intervention of a copyist. 

Shades of Grey

Kubinyi used the technique to good effect. Cuyahoga is a nocturnal meditation on The Flats, with a huge anchor dominating the moonlit river. The print shows the great range of grey tones and textural variations possible in offset soft ground prints.

Calla Lily (ca. 1936-1937) by Kubinyi, KalmanCleveland Public Library

Stylotint Technique

Another example of Kubinyis technique is Calla Lilly, a wonderful example of stylotint.

Detail in Stylotint

The stylotint process is an intaglio technique, like etching, but the coating on the plate is softer than varnish, allowing the artist greater freedom to draw fine details on the plate. The soft coat means that there is little resistance to the artist's needle. 

Cleveland Flats

Kubiniyi combines stylotint with modernist perspective. Calla Lily foregrounds an image of a delicate potted plant standing before and oddly overshadowing the industrial gloom of The Flats.  The image mixes botany,  baseball news, a modern locomotive, and trudging workers

Kubinyi died in1972. An important artist of the Cleveland School, he taught at the Cleveland Institute of Art, The Cleveland Museum of Art, and many other institutions. His work was shown at the Cleveland Museum of Art and the New York World's Fair, and his prints are held in museums across the United States. Many examples of works from the Federal Art Program, including more wonderful prints from the workshop supervised by Kubinyi, can be found online in the Cleveland Public Library's Digital Gallery. Click through and see if you can identify any images that look as if they were influenced by Kálmán Kubinyi's themes or techniques.

Credits: Story

Labels for this exhibit adapted and supplemented from Federal art in Cleveland, 1933-1943 by Karal Ann Marling, D. Michael Gormley, and David R. Gregor. The book was written with the support of the National Endowment for the Humanities and was copyrighted in 1974 by the Board of Trustees of the Cleveland Public Library 

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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