During the first half of the 20th century, there were a large number of talented artists living and working in the Cleveland area. The region was flourishing financially due to war-related industries and Great Lakes shipping. The old School of Design for Women evolved into the co-educational Cleveland School of Art, where many of these artists were educated and many returned as instructors. Besides art teaching opportunities in the area, there was also a strong graphic arts business community, consisting of several design and printing companies. As interest in the arts grew in Cleveland, several art clubs and societies began to emerge. The early "Old Bohemians" had been established in the late 1880's by Archibald Willard, Otto Bacher, Louis Loeb, and Frederick Gottwald. Following them in 1912, William Sommer, Carl Moellmann, Henry Keller, and other commercial artists founded the Kokoon Arts Club in downtown Cleveland. They developed regular "Bal Masque" parties that raised money for the club and gained a notorious reputation for costumes and frivolous behavior. By contrast, the Cleveland Society of Artists was more conservative in their concentration on the pure study of art.
In 1919, William Milliken started the annual "May Show" at the Cleveland Museum of Art, which had a huge positive effect on the local arts scene. Most of the "Cleveland School" artists won numerous awards over the years and developed serious collectors of their work. During the thirties and forties, the best work from the May Shows traveled to other cities, gaining national exposure. Many artists also exhibited in other regional competitions in New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Chicago.
Downtown Cleveland had a number of art galleries that exhibited work by local, national and international artists on a regular basis. Taylor, Rorimer, and Korner & Wood were the most prominent of these galleries. Another cultural entity was Richard Laukhauff's bookstore, which became a meeting place for those interested in the arts as well as artists like Max Kalish, William Zorach, Abel Warshawsky, William Sommer , and the writer Hart Crane.
The core group of "Cleveland School" artists included highly talented draftsmen, painters, printmakers, sculptors, and craftsmen of all types. Here is a listing of some of these artists: Adam Lehr (1853-1924), Otto Bacher (1856-1909), Ora Coltman (1858-1940), Frederick Gottwald (1858-1941), William Sommer (1867-1949), Max Bohm (1868-1923), Henry Keller (1869-1949), Louis Rorimer (1872-1939), Horace Potter (1873-1948), Grace Kelly (1877-1950), George Adomeit (1879-1967), Clara Deike (1881-1964), Walter Sinz (1881-1966), Abel Warshawsky (1883-1962), R. Guy Cowan (1884-1957), August Biehle (1885-1979), Sandor Vago (1887-1946), Frank Wilcox (1887-1964), William Zorach (1887-1966), William Eastman (1888-1950), Paul Travis (1891-1975), Max Kalish (1891-1945), Rolf Stoll (1892-1978), Charles Burchfield (1893-1967), Alexander Blazys (1894-1963), William Grauer (1895-1985), Carl Gaertner (1898-1952), Willard Combes (1901-1984), Lawrence Blazey (1902-2001), Thelma Frazier Winter (1903-1977), Kenneth Bates (1904-1994), Margaret Bourke White (1904-1971), Clarence Carter (1904-2000), Russell Limbach (1904-1971), William McVey (1905-1999), Kalman Kubinyi (1906-1973), Viktor Schreckengost (born 1906), Claude Conover (1907-1993), Stevan Dohanos (1907-1994), Edris Eckhardt (1907-1998), Leza McVey (1907-1984), Elmer Brown (1909-1971), LeRoy Flint (1909-1991), Elmer Novotny (1909-1997), Raphael Gleitsman (1910-1995), Russell Aitken (1910-2001), Frederick Miller (1913-2000), Charles Sallee (1913-2001), Hughie Lee-Smith (1915-2000).