Frank Nelson Wilcox (October 3, 1887 – April 17, 1964) was a modernist American artist and a master of watercolor. Wilcox is described as the "Dean of Cleveland School painters," though some sources give this appellation to Henry Keller or Frederick Gottwald.

 

Life

Frank Nelson Wilcox, Jr. was born on October 3, 1887 to Frank Nelson Wilcox and Jessie Fremont Snow Wilcox at 61 Linwood Street in Cleveland, Ohio. His father, a prominent lawyer, died at home in 1904 shortly before Wilcox' 17th birthday. His brother, lawyer and publisher Owen N. Wilcox, was president of the Gates Legal Publishing Company or The Gates Press.  His sister Ruth Wilcox was a respected librarian.

In 1906 Wilcox enrolled from the Cleveland School of Art under the tutelage of Henry Keller, Louis Rorimer, and Frederick Gottwald. He also attended Keller's Berlin Heights summer school from 1909. After graduating in 1910, Wilcox traveled and studied in Europe, spending a year at Académie Colarossi where he was influenced by French impressionism. He joined the Cleveland School of Art faculty in 1913. Among his students were Lawrence Edwin Blazey, Carl Gaertner, Paul Travis, and Charles E. Burchfield. Around this time Wilcox became associated with Cowan Pottery.

In 1916 Wilcox married fellow artist Florence Bard, and they spent most of their honeymoon painting in Berlin Heights with Keller. They had one daughter, Mary. In 1918 he joined the Cleveland Society of Artists, a conservative counter to the Bohemian Kokoon Arts Club, and would later serve as its president. He also began teaching night school at the John Huntington Polytechnic Institute at this time, and taught briefly at Baldwin-Wallace College.

Wilcox died on April 17, 1964, having taught at the Cleveland School of Art (now Cleveland Institute of Art or CIA) for over 40 years. Today CIA awards an annual scholarship prize in his name to students majoring in printmaking.

 

Work

Wilcox was influenced by Keller's innovative watercolor techniques, and from 1910 to 1916 they experimented together with impressionism and post-impressionism. Wilcox soon developed his own signature style in the American Scene or Regionalist tradition of the early 20th century.

Wilcox wrote and illustrated Ohio Indian Trails in 1933, which was favorably reviewed by the New York Times in 1934. This book was edited and reprinted in 1970 by William A. McGill. McGill also edited and reprinted Wilcox' Canals of the Old Northwest in 1969. Wilcox also wrote, illustrated, and published Weather Wisdom in 1949, a limited edition (50 copies) of twenty-four serigraphs (silk screened prints) accompanied by commentary "based upon familiar weather observations commonly made by people living in the country."

The Cleveland Museum of Art lists 36 Wilcox paintings in its collection. One variant of his 1928 still images Fisherman of Percé, Quebec is reposited with the U.S. Library of Congress.

Wilcox displayed over 250 works at Cleveland's annual May Show. He received numerous awards, including the Penton Medal for as The Omnibus, Paris (1920), Fish Tug on Lake Erie (1921), Blacksmith Shop (1922), and The Gravel Pit (1922). Other paintings include The Trailing Fog (1929), Under the Big Top (1930), and Ohio Landscape (1932).

American Art historian and Case Western Reserve University professor Dr. Henry Adams has curated and written an exhibit catalog for "A Buckeye Abroad: Frank Wilcox in Paris and Europe 1910-14," a landmark exhibition with 50 watercolors from Wilcox's first years in France and Europe - paintings that were pivotal in establishing the painter's style.  An NPR interview on the exhibit and artist is in External Links below.

Frank N. Wilcox: Artist as Historian is an exhibition on Wilcox’s work relating to the history of Cleveland and its surrounding Ohio environs. Curated by William G. Scheele, with the assistance of the Wilcox Estate, the exhibition is open from November 27, 2015 through April 30, 2016 at the Cleveland History Center in University Circle, Cleveland, Ohio. Wilcox came from a large family with New England ancestry on both sides, all of whom played a significant role in settling Ohio’s Western Reserve. The Wilcox and Snow families offered young Frank exposure to both city and country life, which is reflected in his work and in family photographs. A companion gallery illustrates the rich Wilcox and Snow family history and takes a look at Frank Wilcox, the man.