Learn About May Show Artists
Callan Swaim-Fox Summer on the Cuyahoga Intern, Ingalls Library
Housewife, neurosurgery professor, art teacher, vagabond: These are a few of the self-proclaimed professions included on the biographical forms of artists who exhibited in the Cleveland Museum of Art’s May Show. From 1919 to 1993, the annual juried exhibition featured the work of hundreds of northeast Ohio artists and craftspeople.
In 1924 the show’s organizers began soliciting biographies from artists whose works were accepted for display. The museum distributed forms requesting each artist’s name, date and place of birth, primary media, art experience and training, and present occupation. In addition to the forms, some artists sent in résumés, headshots, examples of their art, and other personal memorabilia. These records list a wide variety of professions as well as a range of artistic media, previous awards, and experience levels, illustrating the opportunities the May Show provided for a diverse array of Ohioans.
May Show Submissions The logistics of keeping track of all the May Show entries required detailed recordkeeping. That effort over many decades pays off to this day as the Museum Archives makes this information available to worldwide audiences.
Digitization of these biographical materials began this past summer as part of a larger effort to digitize all May Show records; they will ultimately be uploaded to the Internet Archive. However, this initiative is only a small part of the Ingalls Library and Museum Archives’s digitization program. Rachel McPherson, digital projects librarian, devotes her time to scanning books and archival materials, uploading them online, and connecting the materials to CMA artworks. These projects further the museum’s strategic goals to improve access to its collections and resources and to expand its commitment to Open Access. Over the past three years, McPherson and her interns have scanned and uploaded the entry cards and instructions for each May Show. Soon, the biographical files will join them online.
Mildred Watkins The artist submitted this photograph with her biographical form, on which she listed her birth date as “don’t believe in birth dates.”
My Cat Whirling on a Red Cushion In the 1944 May Show, Mildred Watkins (American, 1883–1968) won second place in the Enameling on Metal category. The CMA owns this plate and three other works by the artist. Enamel; diam. 18.4 cm. The Mary Spedding Milliken Memorial Collection, Gift of William Mathewson Milliken, 1944.251
Already one of the Museum Archives’s most accessed collections, the May Show biographical files reveal information about the history of local artists and the stories behind their works. Unlike big-name artists for whom plenty of related materials are available, for many May Show artists these files are the only recorded information about their life and work. Once the files are uploaded to the Internet Archive, a simple online search of a May Show artist’s name will uncover a wealth of information. The artists will have a place not only in the archives of the Cleveland Museum of Art but also on the global online stage, ensuring that their legacies live on and inspire future generations of artists.
Poster Archive One of the recently completed highlights of the archive is a compendium of all the May Show posters over the years.
To access the museum’s digital May Show archives, visit
Cleveland Art, November/December 2019