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Paul Travis (1891-1975): A Retrospective

December 8, 2001 - February 16, 2002



Over a period of 50 years, Paul Bough Travis, one of the most adventurous talents of the Cleveland School, produced a remarkable visual diary of his life. In its major exhibition of the year, the Cleveland Artists Foundation will present the full scope of Travis's achievement in the first full-scale retrospective exhibition of his work and in its accompanying catalogue. Highlights at the show are Travis' World War I drawings in France which have never before been shown, art from his 1927-28 trip to Africa from Cape Town to Cairo, and his daring later work that responded to abstraction and postwar styles. Curated by Henry Adams of the Cleveland Museum of Art and Case Western Reserve University, the exhibit features over 60 paintings, drawings, prints and watercolors.


From rural beginnings in Wellsville, Ohio, Paul Travis traveled to the "big city" of Cleveland in 1913 to study at the Cleveland School of Art. There, largely as a protégé of Henry Keller, he put all the energy he had previously devoted to the family farm into his artistic education. At the time, the school's curriculum was strongly academic and stressed the importance of drawing, which became the backbone of Travis's artistic achievement for the rest of his career. Armed with his freshly honed drafting skills, Travis enlisted in the army at the outbreak of World War I, and served as a machine gunner in France. Although the military duty was a somewhat irregular way of making an artistic "Grand Tour" of Europe, Travis made the most of his opportunity abroad. In small sketchbooks, he produced over 160 exquisite drawings of the great cathedrals and picturesque landscapes, as well as poignant portraits of his fellow soldiers. In one haunting sheet, he made a careful pencil sketch of a gas mask beside the faces of two friends. (left: Cathedral, c. 1920, pastel and graphite, 7 1/2 x 12 3/4 inches)

After the war in 1920, Travis returned to teach at the Cleveland School of Art where he remained for the next 37 years, all the while regularly submitting his work to the Cleveland Museum of Art's May Show. In the history of the May Show, Travis earned the distinction of having his work accepted for over 30 consecutive years.

In 1927-28, when he was 36 years old, Travis embarked on an eight-month trip to Africa in search of a place whose landscapes, people, animals and vegetation hadn't been mined to death by generations of artists, or spoiled by the intrusion of western culture. His experiences would forever change his life and work. Funded in part by the Karamu Theater and the African Art Sponsors (two important African-American arts organizations in Cleveland), Travis's trip yielded an Impressive body of work. In addition to hundreds of sketches and watercolors, Travis also produced 100 large-scale photographs (lantern slides) now in the collection of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, and nearly four hours of film recording life in Africa's coastal regions as well as the interior Belgian Congo. His trip consequently yielded ethnographic, botanical, entomological, zoological and sociological information as well. Travis continued to draw upon his African experience years after he returned to the US. (right: Southern Rhodesia, 1931, watercolor, 17 x 22 1/2 inches)

Even in his nearly abstract, symbolically charged paintings from the 1950s on, the impact of his African experience is still present in a boldness and intensity of color not found in any of his early efforts. In 1955 and 1956, Travis won awards for his abstract paintings submitted to the May Show.

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