The Ohio School (c.1935) is often viewed as a minor excursion in the "Regionalism" movement that produced better known painters such as Grant Wood and Thomas Hart Benton. It is much more important for watercolorists — a collection of painters and ideas that produced some of the most innovative and interesting American watercolors of this century.

The Ohio School is closely linked to the establishment of the Ohio Watercolor Society in 1925 and William Milliken's role as curator of the Cleveland Museum of Art and director of its art school. The museum instituted travelling exhibits of regional watercolor works. These activities belie Robert Hughes's claim that "Regionalism" was only an invention of the New York media machine. Perhaps no other painter is more closely associated with the watercolor style of northern Ohio than Henry Keller (1869-1949). Keller's Cliff Rhythms (1913) combines the directness and simplicity of much regional art with an unsettling intensity and confrontational clarity. Elements of naiveté — such as the photographs of his mother adorning the dresser behind him or the simple patterns of lace tablecloth and wallpaper — contrast with the claustrophobic effects of lighting, the flat panels of table top, watercolor board, mirror and wall, and the partly occluded reflection revealing a dark window facing the artist. The impact is searching and uncompromising, yet perfectly rendered in the transparent light that watercolor can create so effectively.

Enthusiasm for watercolor surged in the late 1920's, and August Biehle (1887-1964) emerged as one of the region's leading watercolorists. A student of Frank Keller, Biehle's Rocky River Hillside (1933) is an example of his work after he abandoned a post-impressionist style for landscape paintings in which the transparent watercolor style is carried to a high level of spontaneity and movement.

Perhaps no other painter is more closely associated with the watercolor style of northern Ohio than Clarence Carter (b.1904). Carter's Self Portrait (1928) combines the directness and simplicity of much regional art with an unsettling intensity and confrontational clarity. Elements of naiveté — such as the photographs of his mother adorning the dresser behind him or the simple patterns of lace tablecloth and wallpaper — contrast with the claustrophobic effects of lighting, the flat panels of table top, watercolor board, mirror and wall, and the partly occluded reflection revealing a dark window facing the artist. The impact is searching and uncompromising, yet perfectly rendered in the transparent light that watercolor can create so effectively.

A third (and today more widely known) member of the Ohio School was Frank Wilcox (1887-1964). Generally exhibited through his mid-career works that express an unsettling alienation from rural life with a realism similar to Edward Hopper's, Burchfield began and ended his career with a visionary and almost electric style that was very effective in the depiction of nature. His Under the Big Top (c.1930) is characteristic. The natural forms are rendered with angular, nervous outlines more suitable to a wood block print; the grass is depicted with a woven, agitated pattern that resembles an ikat rug from Tashkent, without nuanced washes or shadows.

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Enthusiasm for watercolor surged in the late 1920's, and Charles Burchfield (1893-1967) emerged as one of the region's leading watercolorists. A student of Frank Keller, Burchfield's Ice Glare (1932, 78x63cm) is an example of his work after he abandoned a post-impressionist style for landscape paintings in which the transparent watercolor style is carried to a high level of spontaneity and movement.

The Ohio School artists were individualist visionaries and technical innovators in the use of watercolors. They created a variety of distinctive styles. In their works you will find inspiration to be yourself, and breakthroughs that may inspire you to innovations of your own.

The American Art Review (April, 1999) includes a fine article on the Ohio School by William Robinson.