The Dominance of the City. Ora Coltman, 1933-34. Image used courtesy of Cleveland Public Library.
When I came across this painting, The Dominance of the City, by Ora Coltman, I was impressed. The canvas, painted in 1933-1934, was the first New Deal mural in Cleveland. The description on the Cleveland Public Library website notes:
The large center panel shows a view of bridges over the Cuyahoga River in the Cleveland flats. The artist's intent was "to glorify the genius of Cleveland which contemptuous of the obstacles of the river and its valley, had thrown across it these broad level highways making one community out of two, the mercantile east side…linked up with the south-side foreign residents. " The right panel of the mural shows the St. Theodosius Cathedral and its surrounding Tremont neighborhood. The left panel is the Ohio Bell building representing Cleveland as a center of commerce.
Detail, The Dominance of the City. Ora Coltman, 1933-34. Image used courtesy of Cleveland Public Library.
My attention was drawn to the right hand panel, illustrating St. Theodosius Russian Orthodox Church. It reminded me of another painting of the church and the Flats, painted in 1912 by Frank Nelson Wilcox, which I discussed in Caboose and Russian Church.
The historic church remains today, while many of the houses around it are gone. But that's not the most significant change in the appearance of the church.
In these paintings, the church is portrayed as sitting at the very highest point in the landscape, while the viewer is placed in the Flats. In such an elevated position, it is impressive, and suggests grander things.
Today, most of those who view the church see it from Interstates 90 and 490. They're (physically) closer to the position of the church, and as a result it loses something of what makes it impressive.
Little Russia, Cleveland. Ora Coltman, 1926. Image used courtesy of Cleveland Public Library.
This can be seen in a lesser degree in Coltman's Little Russia, Cleveland, painted for the Jefferson Branch of Cleveland Public Library.
Am I saying that we should remove the interstate highways for a more appropriate historical landscape? No. I bring this all up to suggest that we can better view the landscape as a whole (and the significance of this church within the community) by visualizing the landscape around it at the time it was built.
Imagine yourself in the Flats in the 1910s and try to see what the visual impact of this church must have been.