Cleveland, OH: “The Jazz Age” @ the Cleveland Museum of Art

Yes, I’m still on Ohio posts, but this is the last one, for now (though I am getting so tired of London that I’m very seriously debating moving back to the US in the next year or two (yes, even with stupid awful Trump there, sigh), and editing this post made me homesick). I love the Cleveland Museum of Art, and I love 1920s fashion, so I knew I had to make sure to see this exhibition whilst I was back home. “The Jazz Age: American Style in the 1920s,” ran from September 30, 2017 – January 14, 2018 – I visited Cleveland in the fall, and it started right around the time I left, so I’m glad I was able to catch it this time around before it finished, especially because it was so popular that tickets were selling out most days.


I actually contemplated booking advance tickets, but they charged a booking fee, and when I looked at the website, it looked like all the time slots for the remainder of the day were still available, so we risked it. And the gamble paid off, probably because it was midday on a weekday before most people had started their Christmas vacation.  Admission was a hefty $15 (which is why I didn’t want to pay a booking fee on top of it) and parking was another $10, though that was because we couldn’t be bothered to drive around looking for a spot, and just used the museum lot (there’s often metred parking around University Circle, which is just a couple of bucks). Although I hadn’t been to a special exhibition at the CMA in years, I remember always really enjoying them when I was younger, so my hopes were high.


And fortunately, I wasn’t disappointed this time around either. The exhibition was held in the basement galleries of the museum, which I don’t think I had even seen since their major remodel, and they’re actually really nice.  And big!  I lost track of how many rooms we walked through. And it wasn’t just clothing – there was furniture, art, textiles, jewellery – even household objects like perfume bottles and cocktail shakers – really, anything that encapsulated the style of the period was here. (The bowl above was commissioned by Eleanor Roosevelt for FDR’s gubernatorial inauguration. And how gorgeous is that dress?! I love the goat chandelier too!)


I liked that we were allowed to take photographs, and that the exhibition wasn’t at all crowded by London standards (though maybe by Cleveland ones, because I really hate crowds, but people there seem to get even more fed up with a crowd than I do). It was busy to be sure, but the exhibition space was large enough that we could spread out and I didn’t have to queue to read anything, which is always a plus, because there was a decent amount to read in here (I do wish that some of the clothing had more information, but the descriptions of the furniture and art were pretty detailed).


This is one of those exhibitions where I want to show you all the things, because they were all so damn fabulous and displayed so beautifully. They had a lot of pieces by the Rose Iron Works, which was based in Cleveland, including this “Muse with Violin” screen. They were all on loan from the Rose Iron Works collections, which makes me wonder if there’s a secret room full of these pieces somewhere that I could go and look at.


I love skyscrapers built in the 1920s and ’30s (the Terminal Tower is my favourite skyscraper ever, although it is admittedly Beaux-Arts rather than art deco), so I loved the skyscraper motif on many of the pieces, like that mural and the skyscraper book desk (the desk is pretty ugly, I will concede, but I would still have it on account of how many books I could cram in that thing).


Another motif was methods of transport, because people were fascinated by all the new technologies. I’m not a big car or plane person, but I would absolutely carry either of those adorable purses, and oh my god, that Zeppelin cocktail set is amazing. There was also a chair with a WWI plane embroidered in the back (you can glimpse it just to the left of the yellow dress in the photo above the third paragraph).


There were of course a lot of cocktail sets disguised as things, like the owl shaker, above, and even more interestingly, there was a perfume set made to look like a bar set (above right), where you could mix the scents just like a cocktail to produce your own perfume (I don’t even wear perfume (or drink cocktails more than a couple of times a year, for that matter), but I kind of want this).


To be honest, the jewellery, whilst gorgeous, was less interesting to me than many of the other objects, and was certainly difficult to photograph (shiny + behind glass is not a great combo), so I hope you enjoy this selection of fans and cigarette holders instead (I especially love the fan with the stars and moon on it, which is of course the hardest one to see, because it’s shiny).


A lot of the furniture was admittedly not really to my taste (ugh, avocado green!), but it was still neat to look at, even if I wouldn’t want it in my house (I wanted pretty much everything else though (as you can probably tell). Especially that bathing suit).


This quilt represented the quilter’s hope of how Hoover was going to end the Depression (sorry to burst your bubble lady, but it ain’t gonna happen), with people of many different professions all looking towards Uncle Sam, who strolls in at last in the bottom right square with a big barrel of “Legal Beer.” (“Beer. Now there’s a temporary solution.”)


I want to keep showing you things, but we’ll be here all day, so suffice it to say it was a wonderful exhibition, with a good amount of explanation about the trends and themes of the era, and obviously fantastic objects on display, though I’ll downgrade it a teeny bit because it was so expensive, and I wanted to see more clothes! 4/5. I also REALLY wanted to buy that hat in the gift shop at the end, but it was like $95, so I had to let it go. I think it suited me though (since first writing this post, I have given into temptation and purchased an elaborately beaded flapper dress for myself (seriously, it must weigh at least ten pounds) that I will probably never be brave enough to wear anywhere. I need to start going to fancier places I guess, and then I could justify buying the hat too).


There was also a free temporary exhibition of Depression-era photography in a gallery upstairs which we stopped to see (I love old photos), and it was a good counterpart to the excesses of the Jazz Age exhibition, since it more accurately represented what most people’s lives were like towards the end of that era. We were meeting friends nearby later that evening, and had originally planned on going back home for a few hours in between, but then I discovered the new interactive gallery at the art museum (I think it had been there on my last visit, but it was busier then so I didn’t get to try anything out). Well, there went those plans, because we ended up spending almost two hours in there, which worked out well because it meant by the time we grabbed dinner, it was time to meet my friends, and we saved ourselves a drive home and back again.


They had a bunch of different stations which all seemed to have slightly different games on them, and because there were only a handful of other people there, we were able to try them all. They had computers that scanned your face to track your reaction to different works of art, and others that followed your eyes to see how you looked at a piece of art, which you could compare to how other visitors looked at the same piece.


There were also games where you had to decide what various objects in a painting were meant to represent, and an activity where you got to mash up your face with a painting (by the way, I’m super jealous of people in America who can use that face match thing in the Google Arts and Culture app, and I’m really annoyed that it’s not in the UK). As you can probably tell from the above photos though, the most fun game of all was Match a Pose, which is just what it sounds (and looks like), with points given for how accurately you matched the painting. This was pretty much the best thing ever, and I spent way, way too much time doing this, but all the games were great. Go at a quiet time and play them all, you won’t be disappointed!  I love the Cleveland Museum of Art anyway (as I said at the start), and by adding so much interactivity to an art museum, they’ve made the experience practically perfect (if they lowered the price of parking, it would be very close to perfection indeed).




  1. If you do move back, I don’t believe you’ll be seeing any great change to Ohio under Trump. Things are same old/same old here in Florida. So get that flapper dress and shake it on back to Cleveland!

    1. It’s not quite that simple when you’ve been living in another country for the best part of a decade, and have a partner who is solely a British citizen, but I’ve been looking into it. I still haven’t reached a firm decision on what I’m going to do though!

  2. So many wonderful things there. You really suit the hat, though would you have worn it? (Didn’t you say before you had a cloche hat which you were nervous about wearing?) Definitely, you should wear the dress – it sounds amazing!

    1. Thank you, and yes, you’re right, I already have a cloche that I don’t wear, but blue is my favourite colour, so I would have enjoyed wearing this one only around the house even more than the black one. My main issue with wearing the dress out is that it has no zip and seriously is insanely heavy, so it’s a bit like lowering chain mail over my head, and I worry I’m going to rip off some of the beading when taking it off, so I don’t want to just throw it on all willy-nilly. I think it’s more of a special occasion thing. Now if I could find a nice, light-weight embroidered one, like some of the dresses in this exhibition, I’d wear it all the time!

  3. My god, this is too much. I get what you mean about just wanting to show photos of the items – I feel like all I can do is tell you how many of these things I want desperately. Okay, so it’s a given it’s pretty much all of them, right? But I especially love Eleanor’s bowl, the owl and zeppelin shakers, the perfume bar, and (if you can believe it) the avocado desk. I agree about not loving the colour – but the lines kill me.
    And I’m sad that you didn’t get the hat, but I’m so glad you’re building up to it with the beaded dress. I can only imagine how fantastic it is.

    1. I have a bad history with avocado green. My orthodontist had this horrible avocado green chair (probably because all his equipment was from the ’60s or ’70s…hell, that chair might have even been left over from the ’20s…his x-ray machine looked like it was!), and I hated him and hated being there so much, I ended up writing a poem about the experience for my creative writing class in high school, titled “Avocado Green.” I do quite like the cactus candlesticks on the desk though!
      I’m sure I’ll eventually get around to posting a photo of the dress, if I ever wear it anywhere. I did try it on and take a little video of myself dancing around in it, but it’s not the sort of thing I really want to post on the internet. Maybe just Snapchat or something, so the evidence disappears…

  4. Oh wow, does this look like a wonderful show. Those dresses are fabulous, but so is the furniture (even the avocado green desk) and you rock that hat. I also have a ten ton beaded flapper dress that needs work and that I’ve never worn. But I also have 20s-30s green number that I have worn – so maybe the right occasion will come for your dress. Not sure I’d recommend moving back – wish I could move elsewhere, but my partner doesn’t want to move! Good luck with whatever you decide. (Of course, I’m so far behind in my reading that you probably have decided by now!!)

    1. Thanks! I try to rock hats, but I feel like I don’t always succeed. Still undecided about what I’m going to do long term – whenever I’m actually in the States, I really want to move back, but once I’m back in London for a while, I start to think about all the things I’d miss if I did go back to the US. Like cheap chocolate that actually tastes good, free museums, a sensible attitude towards gun control, and socialised healthcare. So I don’t know.

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