Four Clevelanders are considered the founders of the Cleveland Museum of Art: John Huntington, Horace Kelley, Hinman Hurlbut, and Jeptha Wade II. Over the course of nine years, Huntington, Kelley, and Hurlbut each separately left bequests for the establishment of an art gallery. Fortunately all three estates had a common trustee, Henry Clay Ranney, who was able to reconcile the three bequests to create a single art museum, which was eventually incorporated as the Cleveland Museum of Art on June 25, 1913. Wade donated the land on which the museum was built.
John Huntington, born in England in 1832, came to Cleveland in 1854. He joined the oil refining firm of Clark and Payne in 1863. When the firm was absorbed by Standard Oil, Huntington received 500 shares of Standard Oil stock. He became one of the wealthiest men in Cleveland and his fortune continued to grow through interests in oil refining, shipping, mining, stone quarrying, and real estate. Huntington’s interests in art developed after making a grand tour of Europe with his second wife.
Huntington died in 1893. His will created the John Huntington Art and Polytechnic Trust to provide for a free public art museum and a free evening polytechnic school.
Horace Kelley was born in Cleveland in 1819 and was raised from the age of four by his uncle Thomas Kelley on Kelleys Island. Upon his uncle’s death, Kelley inherited ownership of most of the island, which he then sold in 1845. Kelley increased his fortune by continuing to invest in real estate. Kelley’s interest in art grew from his wife’s love of art. He was first exposed to art museums in 1868 during a trip abroad.
Kelley died in 1890. His will provided $500,000 for the construction of a fireproof art gallery, which was also to be used as a school for the arts. Kelley envisioned that his bequest would be the nucleus for additional gifts of art and money. Kelley’s bequest stipulated that “no work of art unless of acknowledged merit” be admitted to the gallery.
Hinman Hurlbut was born in New York in 1819. He came to Cleveland in 1837 to work in his brother’s law office. His career shifted from law to banking, and by 1863 Hurlbut owned four banks. In his later years, he was also known as a railroad magnate. Hurlbut’s interest in art began during a restorative trip to Europe in 1865 where he was introduced to the continent’s great art centers.
Hurlbut died in 1884. His will left more than $250,000 in trust for the establishment of an art museum. However, only about $20,000 was left for an art museum after the death of Mrs. Hurlbut in 1910, as much of the bequest was used to supplement the trust left for her support. Happily, Mrs. Hurlbut had amassed a large collection of art, which eventually was gifted to the museum.
Jeptha Homer Wade II
Jeptha Homer Wade II was born in Cleveland in 1857. J. H. Wade II was close to his grandfather, Jeptha Homer Wade I, who was one of the founders of Western Union Telegraph Company and a wealthy industrialist. His family’s gifts of land to the city included the site upon which the museum stands. J. H. Wade II’s interest in art came from his grandfather who was also an artist.
J. H. Wade II was an incorporator of the museum in 1913 and served as president of the board of trustees from 1920 until his death in 1926. He donated many important collections of art to the museum, including the first object, an embroidered lace collar in 1914. J. H. Wade II also established an endowment fund for art purchases and a building fund.
Frederic A. Whiting
The museum’s first director was Frederic Allen Whiting. He was hired by the board of trustees shortly before the museum was incorporated and began work in May 1913. He had been director of the John Herron Art Institute in Indianapolis, Indiana. Whiting’s education in the arts came from working with skilled craftsmen as a social worker in Lowell, Massachusetts. One of his first tasks was to assemble an art collection. Purchases were made with income from trust funds established by the founders’ wills. Whiting stressed the importance of quality over quantity in his purchases. He also had a clear vision of the museum as an educational and teaching institution. Whiting planned for a 10,000-volume museum library, which originated with donations of book collections from John L. Severance and J. H. Wade II prior to the museum’s opening. An assistant in charge of education was hired before the museum was completed to begin working with local schools. The original museum included a children’s museum and classrooms, and the CMA was the first museum to allow children to draw in the galleries. Whiting left the museum in 1930 to become Director of the American Federation of Arts.