Thursday, April 05, 2018

La Wilson: Her Life and Art


La Wilson passed away on March 30, 2018, at her home on the north end of College Street in Hudson, where she had lived for many years. It was here that artist La Wilson (born Mary “La” Purcell in 1924) produced the original art work that made her one of the leading names among modern American artists. She had a long association with Western Reserve Academy, not only from the proximity of her home, but because her father-in-law Robert S. Wilson, longtime President of the WRA Board of Trustees, was the namesake for the science building, Wilson Hall, and her former husband, David H. Wilson ’38, was a member of the Board of Trustees, and his and La’s two sons, David H. Wilson, Jr ’63 and Dr. Robert S. Wilson ’65, are both graduates of the school.

Artist La Wilson at the Moos Gallery Show,
spring 1987, courtesy of WRA Archives
La Wilson began taking art lessons at the Akron Art Institute in 1954, the year her third child, Jenny, was born. Initially she did drawings and student pieces, but at the suggestion of Art Director Leroy Flint, she began creating three dimensional art constructions, which became the medium that La’s work would take for the next several decades. After three of her entries in the Annual Juried Exhibition at the Akron Art Institute won awards in 1967, she became friends with John Davis, who offered her a show at his Akron Gallery and became something of a mentor for her. La went on to exhibit all over the country, including in John Davis's gallery on Broadway Avenue in New York City.
WRA Trustee Willis I. Else looks at one of
La Wilson's larger productions at Moos Gallery,
courtesy of WRA Archives
In the spring of 1987, Western Reserve Academy opened its Moos Gallery at the Knight Fine Arts Center, and La Wilson was the featured artist at that time. She exhibited 22 works, all done in the 1980’s, and at that time art critic David J. Ewers wrote about this gallery show in a short article titled, “Seeing La Wilson’s Art”. In it he said that La Wilson’s work “defies categorization and defies the traditions of modern art history”. Ewers wrote that La’s “art is the result of her creative process unhindered by the baggage of the past, unrestricted by the philosophies dictating the present”. He made the point that children genuinely enjoy La Wilson’s art, to which the delighted artist responded, “they get it right away”.
WRA art teacher Tom Armbruster (back to camera) talks to artist
La Wilson about one of her box creations at the Moos Gallery show,
courtesy of WRA Archives
La Wilson’s neighbor on College Street, Grace Goulder Izant, who also had a long association with Western Reserve Academy, wrote about her artist friend in The Cleveland Plain Dealer and the monumental oak beam that she had placed on the terrace in front of her home. La was also the subject of a 1994 monograph by Elizabeth McClelland, and in 1999 she had a special exhibit at her art dealer, John Davis’s, new gallery in Hudson, New York. La enjoyed the idea of going “from Hudson to Hudson” and her exhibit won her notice by Edward M. Gomez, whose “Arts in America” feature in The New York Times for Feb. 11, 1999, was all about La Wilson and the distinctive art work she created.
"Homage to Jackson Pollock", a piece by La Wilson from the
Akron Art Museum Exhibit, 2014, courtesy of the Akron Beacon Journal
In the spring of 2014, the Akron Art Museum celebrated La Wilson on the occasion of her 90th birthday by mounting an exhibit called, “La Wilson: Objects Transformed,” which was the subject of a long piece about her by art critic Dorothy Shinn in the Akron Beacon Journal. The special exhibit of La Wilson’s work remained on view for four months at the museum. Over the last few years, her work was still seen at the Stanton Harris Gallery in Akron, although there are reports that La Wilson stopped producing her work a few years ago. She died quietly at her home, a historic house in Hudson that once was the home of noted 19th century architect Orrin Porter. A memorial service is scheduled at the Western Reserve Academy Chapel on Saturday, April 7, 2018.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

James W. Ellsworth and the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893

Recently, I gave a talk at the Hudson Antiques Club about WRA's benefactor James W. Ellsworth and Chicago's World's Columbian Exposition of 1893.

I will be giving a similar presentation to the Hudson Heritage Association on Thursday, April 13, 2017, at the Barlow Community Center at 7:30 p.m. The presentation will also include references to The Devil in the White City by Eric Larson and will be taped to show later on Hudson Community Television. This program is open to the public.

The following pictures will be included in my upcoming presentation. The captions depict an interesting time in history, tying together WRA's James W. Ellsworth and one of the most significant events in Chicago's history - the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893.
James W. Ellsworth at age 40, about the time he became a Director of the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893
Bird's eye view of the World's Columbian Exposition at Chicago, 1893
The Agriculture Hall at the World's Columbian Exposition, part of the complex of buildings that gave it the nickname "the White City"
WRA student Ralph F. Portmann '33 with the eagle from the statue of The Republic by Daniel Chester French that stood in the main basin at the World's Columbian Exposition. James W. Ellsworth brought back this eagle and the globe it stood on to his barn at Evamere Farm in Hudson after the Exposition ended. It was used as a decoration for a WRA dance in April 1933.
James W. Ellsworth's Exposition pass. He kept many such souvenirs of the Chicago Exposition of 1893

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Homer Oscar Sluss Named Head of WRA, 1917


Senior year WRA graduation
photo in 1891
No stranger to Western Reserve Academy, Homer O. Sluss had come to our campus from Louisville in Stark County to complete his undergraduate education, and graduated with the class of 1891. He went on to Western Reserve University in Cleveland where he earned a bachelor’s degree, played football for three years, was on the editorial board for student publications, was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and served as class president for his senior year. He then returned to Hudson as a member of the small faculty of Western Reserve Academy, then in its “hardscrabble” days. Sluss was a teacher of Latin and Greek, was coach for both baseball and football, and was a dorm master. As one of the WRA publications stated, “In the classroom, on the athletic field, and in the prayer room the influence and enthusiasm of Mr. Sluss have been equally felt”. In Lucien Price’s classic booklet, Hardscrabble Hellas, Sluss is the “heroic schoolmaster” who made those years golden despite the shopworn condition of the campus and its buildings.

The WRA football team of fall, 1895, when Mr. Sluss was coach and manager.
When the school closed in the summer of 1903, Mr. Sluss found his services were sought by Governor Dummer Academy in Massachusetts, reputedly the oldest boarding school in the country. He taught German and the classics at this school for a year, then returned to Ohio where he taught in Cincinnati. Eventually he became Superintendent of Schools for Covington, Kentucky, with authority over three high schools. When his old alma mater reopened in 1916, he was contacted about returning to Hudson, but remained in Covington until the crisis over a Principal at WRA persuaded him to take the position. He arrived in Hudson in the spring of 1917 and served as Head of the school until he was dismissed in 1924.

Homer O. Sluss as
Principal of WRA in 1917
Homer O. Sluss was just as popular among the students and faculty as he had been when he was a teacher some years ago. Even the yearbook, The Academic, was dedicated to him in 1924 citing his “understanding, justice, and cheerfulness”. But these were difficult years of transition, and the Board of Trustees decided they were looking for a leader with fresh ideas when they told Mr. Sluss that he was to be replaced by Ralph E. Boothby. Sluss was a married man with two young children when he found himself without a job in the late spring of 1924. James W. Ellsworth, the school’s great benefactor, was reluctant to see Sluss leave, and made sure that the Board provided him with a year’s salary and an opportunity to earn a master’s degree at Columbia University. After completing his degree, Mr. Sluss took a teaching job in Cincinnati where he had met his wife, Rose, but died suddenly in 1928 at the age of 57. The WRA trustees eventually extended a scholarship to the son of Homer O. Sluss, William Blackstone Sluss, who graduated with the class of 1934 and began college at Haverford. While he may not be ranked among the most effective Heads of Western Reserve Academy, Homer Oscar Sluss attained an air of immortality through Lucien Price’s little book, Hardscrabble Hellas, where he will always be the Olympian intellect and athlete and the “hero schoolmaster” to many WRA alumni.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

First Chinese student at Western Reserve Academy

As Hudson, Ohio, is such a small town with far-reaching arms, so to is Western Reserve Academy. Family visitors to WRA are always pleased to hear historical information surrounding our beautiful school. Recently, this was realized again, as a prospective student and his family were quite appreciative of our historical story surrounding WRA's first Chinese student.

Tien Wei Yang at the time of his graduation from WRA, June 1941
We welcomed Tien Wei Yang (1921-2012) to Western Reserve Academy in 1938, who had come from Tientsin, China, to escape the Japanese invasion which had destroyed his school. Both of Tien Wei's parents had been educated in Indiana, but they did not know about this school. They sent Tien Wei to a friend in western Pennsylvania who knew about our school and made arrangements for young Tien Wei to attend. He was warmly welcomed to our campus, and even though a bout with tubercolosis put him back one class because of his illness (he was treated at a special hospital, then returned to campus), Tien Wei graduated with the Class of 1941. At WRA he was a top scholar, an outstanding soccer player, and a winner of the Bicknell Prize as a senior. He went on to Oberlin College where he completed a degree in biology.

Biology teacher Tien Wei Yang with student Jim Kaufman '62, taken in the classroom in 1959
Tien Wei Yang eventually earned a Ph.D. degree from the University of Arizona and spent a long and successful career as a teacher and research scientist. He returned to Western Reserve Academy in 1952 as a teacher of biology and soccer coach, and was here for 14 years, leaving in 1966 to teach in Arizona. He was a winning coach in soccer and continued a great interest in the WRA soccer teams for the rest of his life. In 1991, in time for his 50th class reunion, he was awarded The Waring Prize, a top award for an alumnus of our school. He came back to address the student body at that time. Tien Wei Yang died at age 90 in 2012.
Tien Wei Yang as part of the 1939 wrestling team at WRA. He is fourth from left in the back row.
Tien Wei Wang at Western Reserve Academy in June, 1991, after being award The Waring Prize

Monday, October 31, 2016

Community Events

The past month, as well as this upcoming month, I have been busy with many community events.

I will be the featured speaker at Hudson Rotary on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016.

The HCTV network featured two of my programs the week of Oct. 23, 2016. One was WRA's Brick Row Tour and the other was Women's Education in Hudson, taped at Ellsworth Hall in Sept.

Additionally, I served as the master of ceremonies on Oct. 29, 2016, for the celebration of Cuyahoga Fall's Oakwood Cemetery's Civil War monument and men who served from the "Village of Cuyahoga Falls" during the Civil War. Visit this page to read more about this celebration.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

School Reopened in September 1916


The Carroll Cutler House from the 1916 Catalog.
It was then used as a dormitory.
It was 100 years ago on September 12, 1916 that Western Reserve Academy reopened as a coed boarding school. The school had closed down in June, 1903 because of bankruptcy, and alumnus James W. Ellsworth rescued the campus in 1912 by lifting the mortgage, buying the entire campus, launching a restoration effort for the historic buildings, and constructing Seymour Hall as the new “recitation center” for the school. Students have been learning in the classrooms of Seymour Hall for a century. The building itself is scheduled for a major renovation that will begin in the spring of 2017.
Harlan N. Wood at his desk in Seymour Hall.
Faculty member, 1893-1903; 1916-1945
When Western Reserve Academy reopened in the fall of 1916, there was a small faculty that served the student body which numbered just over 50. William Sands Morley of Idaho was the new Principal, but did not last the entire year, and Harlan N. Wood, a member of the class of 1888 and a faculty member before the 1903 closing, took over the school until another WRA alumnus, Homer Oscar Sluss, could come from Covington to take over the headship of the school in 1917. He would remain through 1924. Mr. Wood would remain on the faculty until his unexpected death in early 1945.
The Nutting House on Hudson Street from the 1916 Catalog.
It would be the school dining hall until 1922.
The catalog for 1916 tells the story of renewal and hopes for the future. It notes that the school boasts a “splendid new main building”, a new athletic field, the restoration of all the historic buildings, and an endowment of $200,000, provided by the benefactor, James W. Ellsworth. New trees had been added to the “fine old elms already standing” to make the entire campus beautiful once again. The school had a Board of Trustees that included William M. Fincke of New York, stepson of Ellsworth, and local entrepreneurs and community activists Frank A. Seiberling of Akron, Warren Bicknell and John L. Severance of Cleveland. The catalog concludes that with such strong backing and in such a setting, “a high and fine educational purpose will be accomplished.” Estimated total costs for a boarding student in 1916 was placed at $255 per year.

Morley Cottage on Hudson Street from the 1916 Catalog.
It was a faculty residence.
The photos that accompany this article, except for the one of Harlan N. Wood, are from the 1916 catalog of Western Reserve Academy.