Cleveland Mourns the Passing of Two Giants in the Arts Community

A fog descended upon the city on June 2, 2017. It brought the funeral of one friend and dear member of the Cleveland arts community and the reception of another, on her birthday no less. The two deaths dealt a blow to the gut of the community that was made all the better for the excellent creators' lives.

I knew Dan Tranberg from working with him at the Cleveland Free Times. In addition to writing for the alt-weekly, he also documented and wrote for daily and national publications in more than 750 articles, including the wonderfully written "Art Matters" column in the Plain Dealer's Friday! Magazine. Needless to say, it was a huge deal to have Dan review your show. He was a deeply respected arts journalist, not just an arts writer. Here was a guy who really knew his stuff to the core. When he wrote about your show, he gave balanced critique. If the review didn't come to the conclusion that you were as awesome as you thought you were, you took notice. He wrote think pieces, stuff you could really masticate, and wrote them on everyone's level. His interview with the great Julian Stanczak, who passed earlier this year, was one of my favorite reads. I ingested nearly article he wrote. It is easy to detect what an excellent professor he was by the comportment of his interviews, and for that his readers and students were lucky.

The last I saw of Dan was a post on social media of him working in an ad-hoc studio at University Hospitals. He was busting out so many paintings, it was hard to believe that he was even ill, a fact that shocked many in the arts community. His dedication and love of painting was obvious in that post and one can only respect him more for working until he couldn't work anymore. His paintings were expertly and painstakingly crafted. "Tilework," created in 2016, was the image on his memorial card. The blocks of color, along with his choice of media, have movement and luminosity. They are positively striking. I'm sure I speak for many when I say that we hope there will be an exhibition of those last paintings.

Karen St. John-Vincent was a collaborator, and I was privileged to be one of the models for her work. Her photographs are deeply saturated with color and atmosphere. Her ability to create tableaus through her subjects, whether they be equine or human, was astounding. As a result, dreamscape qualities emerged. Her master use of color was evident in everything she created.

A film still from the yet-unfinished oeuvre Vacancy, "Dottie Mae: 4 AM" is a story within a story. A woman in her pastel pink and yellow pajamas crouched awkwardly next to a window at twilight. The hunter green drapes pulled to the right. What is the mechanism that exposes us to Dottie Mae's crepuscular state? According to the blog associated with it, the film portrays the story of two women who become conscious of the rigid and hegemonic cages that they have put themselves in — based on a desire to conform to patriarchal and hetero-normative embodiments of what it means to be an acceptable female. Cinematographer Robert Banks and St. John-Vincent spoke during her last weeks, and an agreement was struck to complete the film posthumously.

Unfortunately for us all, these two mentors, colleagues, and peers have moved on from this mortal coil. However, they leave us with legacies through their teaching and their artwork. Truly, that is immortality.

Donations in honor of Dan Tranberg can be made to the Dan Tranberg Memorial Scholarship Fund at the Cleveland Institute of Art online at; donations in honor of Karen St. John-Vincent can be made at

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