Print Club of Cleveland
2019 MARTHA JOSEPH PRIZE
The centennial year of the Print Club of Cleveland marks a particularly fitting time to celebrate its accomplishments with a Cleveland Arts Prize. Founded in 1919 by Ralph Thrall King (1855-1926), print enthusiast and benefactor, the group of prints and printmaking aficionados incorporated as the Print Club on December 20, 1919.
Acclaimed as the first museum affiliate group in the United States, the group decided at its first meeting held at the Union Club on January 5, 1920, that it would support the Cleveland Museum of Art through a twofold mission to enrich the institution’s world class print collection via consistently generous gifts and promote interest in the history of printmaking and stimulate interest in collecting prints.
CMA had designated a gallery for print exhibitions when its new building opened in 1916, demonstrating the importance of prints when the museum was founded. The print collections, however, did not officially begin forming until King and 15 men signed the articles of incorporation for the Print Club three years later.
Over the years, the Print Club has given some of the crown jewels of CMA’s print collection, enabling it to boast rare treasures ranging from the beginning of printmaking in 15th-century Europe to the present day. The commitment and support of club members continues unabated since about one-third of the museum’s superb collection of more than 18,000 prints are gifts from the club or its members.
Today, a century after its founding, the club maintains its close relationship with CMA professionals and remains extremely active with a variety of events and programming for members each year, including sponsoring lectures from Cleveland Museum of Art curators about a special exhibit or to provide historical context about a particular artist.
The club’s annual Print Fair hosts print dealers from around the country, giving club members and the public the opportunity to buy art prints right in the museum. It also serves to educate people about printmaking and the fascinating and enjoyable activity of print collecting. The club publishes an annual print which is distributed to every member of the club.
“We all have a common interest in collecting prints, so we enjoy each other’s company and develop long-lasting relationships,” informs President Jennifer Leach, who’s been a member for 12 years, speaking about the benefits of membership. “Some of us have large collections and some are just beginning to collect. Others are artist members who may be printmakers themselves. My original reason for joining was that I’m a printmaker, so naturally I was interested in the club.”
As part of its commitment to reach out to the community and educate people who might become collectors, Jennifer says club members are working to increase their efforts in that area during the next couple of years. For example, they recently connected with Column & Stripe: The Young Friends of the Cleveland Museum of Art to encourage interested members to consider print collecting.
Members are highly conscious of the club’s important role in Cleveland’s art history, so winning a Cleveland Arts Prize was a special honor. “It’s great to be recognized for our 100 years as a club, because we donated to and supported the museum and were instrumental in the beginning of the Department of Prints and Drawings at the Cleveland Museum of Art,” Jennifer declares. “Ralph King and the original founders donated a good deal of the museum’s early collection. We’re proud that we’ve been an asset to the Cleveland art community.”
The club published a history of the nonprofit organization to honor its centennial. Appropriately created in partnership with CMA, The Print Club of Cleveland: 100 Years, 1919-2019 features images of the complete collection of publication prints as well as an illustrated selection of notable gifts over the past several decades.