By CYNTHIA SCHUSTER EAKIN
It is always inspiring to see an art lover put his money where his dreams are.
Entrepreneur Richard Barone, chairman of The Arch Eagle Group and chairman emeritus of The Ancora Group, has invested considerable time and money in preserving the American strand of porcelain arts, an art form that took root in Han Dynasty China and flourished in continental Europe and Great Britain.
A private collector of porcelain, Cleveland native Richard Barone established the Museum of American Porcelain Art, a registered not-for-profit organization. Considered to be the first museum of its kind, it is located in South Euclid, less than four miles from University Circle. The Museum of American Porcelain Art, opened to the public in January, 2019, occupies a 26-room mansion that is a designated Ohio landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places. The 28,000-square-foot structure is a work of art in itself, built in 1928 by William Telling at a cost of $700,000. The county library purchased the Telling mansion in 1951 and occupied it until 2015, when the library announced plans to relocate. Barone and the museum staff worked extensively with the city of South Euclid to ensure that the property would not only maintain its historic character, but also continue to serve as a public meeting site and educational resource.
Barone said that he was a minor collector of porcelain until 2004, when he became aware that American porcelain studios had begun to close. “These studios were run by artists and not businessmen,” he noted. “I went to see the dealers that still existed.” One of the largest American studios, the Edward M. Boehm Studio, closed in 2010. “I was able to buy the assets when Boehm closed, and the most valuable assets were the archives,” he said. “In those archives are letters from former presidents, first ladies and even a letter from a Pope.”
“My advantage is having a starting point when the studios closed. I have no competition because I have the archives,” Barone said. The museum now owns 800 porcelain pieces and about 120 are museum quality artwork, he said. Barone estimates that there are about 1,500 pieces of important American porcelain in existence. “It will take me another five to 10 years to get to about 1,400 pieces. From then on, we may find one or two additional pieces a year,” he added. The Museum of American Porcelain Art showcases hundreds of rare and priceless pieces of American porcelain art, including private collections owned by or on loan to the museum. Highlights of the collection include works by several of America’s greatest porcelain artists including Edward Marshall Boehm, Boleslaw Cybis, Laszlo Ispanky and Bronn. Pieces from the Museum of American Porcelain Art’s collection are currently on display at the White House, Buckingham Palace, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian and other private collections around the world.
To put American porcelain art in its historic context, the museum’s collection also includes examples of porcelain from China, Europe and Great Britain. “The idea of a museum is to encompass everything that we can. We are going to display all of the pieces that we own because it makes the collection complete,” Barone said.
Education is key to the mission of the Museum of American Porcelain Art. The museum makes its art accessible and enjoyable, serving as a resource to area schools and colleges. On a pre-arranged basis, the museum also opens its collection for scholarly research, documentation and interpretation of American porcelain art. School visits are welcome. Friendly, knowledgeable museum staff members are available to lead students and teachers on tours. Located at 4645 Mayfield Rd., the museum is open free of charge on Saturdays from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Phone 216.223.7024 or visit www.americanporcelainart.org for additional information.
“The importance of the museum will be realized sometime in the future,” Barone said. “The art is gone and it is never coming back. If we didn’t establish this museum, in 20 years it would all disappear.”