Peeking in at the Kokoon Arts Club

January 25th, 2013 Posted in Antiques and Vintage, Art, Downtown, Painting/Decorative Arts


Clevelanders today would be more than a little surprised at a Cleveland legend that began in August, 1911, the Kokoon Arts Club (originally spelled with a K). From the looks of the actual photos and reports, conservative Clevelanders certainly learned how to throw wildly popular parties at their annual Bal-Masques. One absolute requirement to attend the Bals was an original costume. That meant in 1925, eighteen hundred people attended… with eighteen hundred unique costumes. Impressive.

The Western Reserve Historical Society is holding their “Somewhere in Time” fourth annual fundraising event this year to honor  the memory of the Kokoon Arts Club’s 100th anniversary of their first Bal-Masque. Let’s take a closer look at the Kokoon Arts Club…

Quite the crowd in 1919!

 Modeled after the Kit Kat Club in New York City, the Kokoon Arts Club was founded principally by two lithographers who moved to Cleveland to join  the city’s pre-eminent printing company, Otis Lithograph. At the time, Cleveland was the country’s premier center of commercial printing, producing theater and movie posters and billboards that were quickly sent out with ease to the rest of the country because of the city’s central location. Carl Moellmann and William Sommer were the leaders among the founding members. The group was founded with the goals of providing a site for artists to gather and draw models in the nude as well as to promote modern art. As the Cleveland Museum of Art did not open until 1916, the group was one of the only outlets for artists interested in the modern movement to come together and learn from each other.

1,800 attended this1925 Bal-Masque at the Masonic Temple

The first Bal-Masque was held in 1913 as a fundraising costume ball. The Bals continued their annual Cleveland presence, growing each year in size until they filled Cleveland’s largest ballrooms. Between 1913 and 1938, only one Bal was cancelled- in 1923. Kokoon Club members produced the posters, tickets and Bal decorations, with a contest held yearly to determine the winning poster. Their works are an amazing collection of modernist art which today command impressive prices. 

Here are a few of these gorgeous, colorful posters:

1917 Bal-Masque poster by William Sommer  

1924 Bal-Masque poster by Joseph Jicha

1926 Bal-Masque poster by Joseph Jicha

1927 Golden Bal poster by Joseph Jicha

1928 Bal des Arts poster by Joseph Jicha

1929 Bal Dynamique poster by Rolf Stoll

1930 Bal Bizarre poster by Rolf Stoll

1931 Bal Papillon poster by James Harley Minter

If you want to learn more about the Kokoon Arts Club, we highly recommend Out of the Kokoon by Henry Adams, professor of American art at Case Western Reserve University, and Lawrence Waldman, the retired psychologist and noted art and history buff. Many posters can be seen at 78th Street Studios and the Kokoon Arts Gallery, owned by William Scheele. They recently produced a video on the Kokoon Arts Club.


Thank you to Out of the Kokoon, the Cleveland Public Library and the Kent State University Special Collections and Archives.

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