Date of Award

Spring 5-17-2019

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department

American Cultural Studies

Additional Affiliations

University College

Degree Name

Master of Arts (AM/MA)

Degree Type




The Making of Cleveland’s Artist: The Aesthetic and Cultural Politics of Boundary Crossing in the Industrial Landscape Paintings of Carl Gaertner, 1923 – 1952


April Johnston

Master of Arts in American Culture Studies

Washington University in St. Louis, 2019

Dr. Iver Bernstein, adviser

In 1923 Carl Gaertner captivated jurors at the Cleveland Museum of Art’s annual competitive May Show with a painting of a local bolt factory titled Up the River at Upson’s. What made the painting so arresting was its rendering of the elements of factory, nature, and the human spaces that mediated between them, as part of a larger whole, an effect that Gaertner achieves through rich surface textures but also through a wintry snow scape that frames the massive cylindrical structures of the plant and river into visual conversation. This rendering represented at once a borrowing from and a declaration of independence both from his Cleveland School of Art mentor, watercolorist Henry Keller, as well as from the minimalist Precisionists. This thesis explores the making of Carl Gaertner—the shaping of the worlds that contributed to his artistic production, and which he in turn shaped. What is so arresting about Gaertner’s career is that his remarkable images of the borderlands of industrial life—the spaces at once between and connective of workplace and neighborhood—grew out of the synergistic relationships between the communities that produced Gaertner—Cleveland steel workers and their families, local manufacturers (as in the case with Upson’s), as well as local and national art critics and middle class patrons shaping the market for his affordable art. Also critical were the communities which he helped produce as a Cuyahoga valley resident and respected teacher at the Cleveland School of Art between 1923 - 1952. This thesis posits the world of Gaertner as an entry point to understanding what it was about his artistic representation of the milieu of Cleveland labor and city life that was distinctive, garnered him approval from these communities, and formed a potent rapprochement between Gaertner’s fellow Cleveland artists and working people at a pivotal moment in local and American cultural and political history.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Dr. Iver Bernstein

Committee Members

Doug Dowd, Joanna Das


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