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June 12, 2012

Cleveland Artists and Early Play House Promotional Artwork: John Lorin Black

Among the items selected for display at the March 26th event announcing the donation of the Cleveland Play House Archive to the Kelvin Smith Library were several wooden printer’s blocks used in the creation of early publicity pieces for the organization. Of these, one block (below) resonated with exhibit creators and visitors alike. That item, with the simple heading: "You Are Cordially Invited to a Marionette Evening" was the work of Cleveland artist John Lorin Black (possibly 1894-1963).

image detail on reverse of printer's block. Cleveland Play House Archives

Here's what we have learned about our interesting artifact to date:

On March 15, 1918, the Play House puppet group presented two short marionette plays; Shadowy Waters by William Butler Yeats, and, The Soul of Chopin adapted from Liszt's Life of Chopin. Black designed the set and served as a reader for Shadowy Waters in addition to creating the announcement on the aforementioned printer's block. The following amusing description of the evening is from chapter nine of Julia Flory's The Cleveland Play House: How it Began.

"The scene of this first play was the deck of an ancient ship with a golden sail against a purple sky. I was up on the bridge this time manipulating the strings of the queen with "hair the color of burning" while statuesque Martha Yeager, perched nearby, read the lines and provided the forlorn "keening." There was much keening, much Gaelic gloom, weird beauty, poetic grief.

The other manipulators were Emma Joseph, Blanche Nicola, Marian Morris, and Helen Joseph, while the zealous readers were Harry Mereine, Ralph Silver, Lorin Black (Johnnie) and Ray W. Irvin.

With some embarrassment I now chronicle that, after many weeks of these rehearsals in unmitigated gloom, the reaction of the cast was natural and complete. When the final curtain fell, a group of them grasped hands and dashed down to the Roxy (Burlesque) Theatre as an antidote."

Black was a Cleveland artist whose work is occasionally found at auction and/or cited as being held in the Cleveland Museum of Art. Black signed his Play House piece with his initials "JLB" but later signed his paintings Lorin Black. According to contemporary reports in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Black had several entries accepted in the CMA May Show in the late 1920's and early 1930's. He is also listed on the Cleveland Arts Prize web page as a Cleveland region/WPA artist though his work is not represented in KSL Special Collections WPA Artwork holdings.

Little else is known about Black's later career and details about his personal life are also sketchy. Readers with information to share about John Lorin Black are encouraged to leave comments on this post.

Posted by exo2 at June 12, 2012 08:02 PM

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