Janet Moore, Teacher and Curator, Cleveland Museum of Art, 19061992


An apocryphal story: During a visit to the Louvre with her family at the age of three, Janet Gaylord Moore was suddenly nowhere to be seen. A frantic search finally located the child standing thoughtfully before the Mona Lisa. It’s a pity we don’t know what was going through her mind, introduced as she was to the best work of da Vinci at an age when most children are just discovering Curious George. As it turns out, this adventurous little girl would become a legendary expert in the language of painting who would show two generations of Clevelanders how to look at art and indeed become known as one of the foremost art teachers in America.

Janet Moore was fond of quoting the 17th-century Chinese poet Li Li-Cheng: “First we see the hills in the painting; then we see the painting in the hills.” One can picture young Janet walking up to the local schoolhouse in Hanover, New Hampshire, slate and books swinging by a strap from her shoulder, and beginning to notice things in a new way. As an art teacher, first at Miss Hewitt’s School in New York, then at Laurel School in Shaker Heights, Ohio, and later at the Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA), Moore would repeatedly urge her students—and the adults she led through the museum’s galleries—to “get out into the country, or into a park, into the woods, onto water, anywhere where you are in direct contact with the world of nature.”

In so doing, she promised, they would encounter an infinite variety of forms that would provide an antidote to a narrowing of the sense of possibilities induced by mass-produced (and therefore standardized) culture. This was also, she said, the best way to learn how to look at art. “Without such a personal awareness of nature’s forms, many of the delights and rewards of painting, sculpture and architecture will be forever lost to you.”

A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Vassar, Moore pursued graduate studies in fine arts at Columbia University (where her father had been a professor of classics), and studied painting in France, Italy, and China, and with George Grosz at the Art Students League in New York before moving to Cleveland. It was during her 15 years as head of the art department of Laurel School for girls (1947–1961) that she began to gain attention—both as a visionary teacher and as a gifted artist in watercolors, inks and pastels (she took a first prize in CMA's 1948 May Show). She was invited to speak at a conference on “The School and the Museum” organized by the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York in 1958, and was asked by MOMA to serve on a national committee on art education.

Moore spent the next 15 years at the Cleveland museum, first working with clubs and adult groups, then as associate curator (1967–72) and finally as curator of the department of art history and education. From 1967 until her retirement in 1975, she also held the position of adjunct assistant professor at Case Western Reserve University. She had made the move to the musuem for the chance to work closely with its eminent director, Sherman E. Lee, an international authority on Asian art who was building a world-class collection of art representing Asian cultures. Moore, who made many trips to China and Japan, produced a perceptive and helpful guide. She was awarded the 1980 Cleveland Arts Prize for Literature for two books that encapsulate much of what she had learned about looking at art and understanding what makes great art great. Janet Moore died in 1992 in Stonington, Maine, where she enjoyed taking long walks along Penobscot Bay. In her last years she served as secretary of the Deer Isle Artists’ Association and as a juror on an annual school art competition.

—Dennis Dooley


Cleveland Arts Prize
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