By Janet Dodrill
It is believed that in the 1890s, a promising artist left his family and relatives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and made his way to Cleveland, perhaps attracted to its thriving art community. He was Hugo Max Schmitz (1867-1938), my great grandfather, and in his mid-30s. Hugo, of German descent, joined Cleveland’s Art Club (formerly know as The Bohemians) and attended regular drawing sessions in its location above City Hall, and participated in their exhibits and possibly traveled abroad with other artists.
President of the established Art Club (and also co-founder and trustee) at the time was notable northeast Ohio artist Archibald MacNeal Willard (1836-1918). He was best known for his painting of The Spirit of ’76. He was born in Bedford, Ohio and at the age of 17 moved to Wellington, Ohio. There is a museum in Wellington in his honor.
Archibald Willard was a prolific artist who worked in a variety of mediums and subject matters. He was a talented portrait artist as well as landscape artist.
In addition to the Wellington museum, several Cleveland museums carry his work including the Cleveland Museum of Art and Cleveland History Center/Western Reserve Historical Society. A dedicated plot just east of Cleveland City Hall is known as Willard Park.
A search in Cleveland’s The Plain Dealer archived newspaper articles, resulted in stories about Cleveland artists which included Archibald Willard and photos of him working in his studio.
He had a friendship with Hugo, and gave him a portrait photo of himself, plus as a wedding gift in 1902 an original landscape oil painting, which resembles the area’s Chagrin River. In addition my great grandfather received a small statue of The Spirit of ’76 from Mr. Willard, which may be a one of a kind working prototype in porcelain by Stanway.
Hugo Max Schmitz co-founded the Schmitz-Horning Company in 1905, a well-regarded scenic wall paper and mural manufacturing firm, and was president of the company until 1938, when his son Warren Reynolds Schmitz ran it until the company’s closing around 1960.
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