Art notes: Gallery’s mural is deemed a sign in Chagrin Falls

By Dorothy Shinn
Beacon Journal art 
and architecture writer

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Chagrin Falls Valley Art Center mural.

When does a painting become a sign?

Chagrin Falls’ Valley Art Center has asked the village council for a continuance until the next council meeting on Nov. 28 regarding its appeal and request for a variance on the ruling by the village administrator that its mural is a sign and as such is out of compliance with village regulations.

Chief Administrative Officer Ben Himes halted work on the mural in August.

In a style called trompe l’oeil, (“fool the eye”), Chagrin Falls artists Lissa Bockrath and Rob Crombie, and Hollis Richardson, an award-winning muralist, have painted the illusion of a partially constructed brick wall exposing the interior gallery wall where several paintings are revealed.

That’s as far as they’ve gotten because the village has ruled their work violates the law. As of Wednesday, Himes had not responded to a request from the Beacon Journal for comment on the issue.

“It’s not finished because Ben Himes sent us a [cease and desist] letter saying that our sign is too big,” said art center director Carolyn Birchenall.

“The problem is that we’re not within the lines,” she laughed. “There are no lines [requirements] in the village ordinances for a mural. There are requirements for a sign and requirements for decorating your building.” There’s nothing for a mural.

“Either it’s a sign and it must meet certain requirements, or it’s a decoration on your building and must meet another set of requirements. Ours is neither.”

“So we had to go before council,” and since they had to rule it was one or the other, “they decided that it’s a sign,” she explained.

“Then they said it’s too big and that it sends a message because we’re an art gallery. They said if we had painted garden tools on the side of our building, that wouldn’t be so bad because we don’t sell garden tools,” she recalled. “So we asked for a site variance — a variance gives you permission to fit in between the lines, so to speak — and they said no.”

On Nov. 4, Himes sent a letter to Mary Ann Breisch, art center executive director, suggesting that the village and the center reach an agreement to paint over the building in a way that’s consistent with the sign code, settling the dispute and allowing the center until June to complete the painting.

Center leaders said village officials should set more specific guidelines for what artwork would be acceptable for the building’s exterior and art that is viewable to the public, including murals.

They said the center is seeking a process that engages village leadership, residents and businesses in a discussion that would include considering successful models in other communities.

“Now they want to find a compromise,” Birchenall said, “so we’re stalled. We must decide what’s a compromise and what we can do.”

Compromise suggestions include: a community art project to paint over the wall; making a few alterations while keeping portions of the wall as is; or creating a call for entry to discuss new design ideas that would be acceptable to village officials.

The center has set up a petition site to save the mural and to accept donations to cover legal fees at

Students’ ideas

In collaboration with Kent State University School of Architecture faculty, Akron Art Museum staff charged third-year architecture students to create a design for the museum’s proposed outdoor sculpture gallery. The challenge involved conceiving an outdoor space that can showcase contemporary sculpture, installation and multimedia work and also accommodate concerts, parties and possibly even a café. The flexibility the museum seeks for the area reflects its embrace of the museum’s role as a cultural hub.

Museum staff members were joined by architects and local landscape architects to critique the students’ projects midway through the semester and at its completion.

Students wrestled with the challenges to make the area a flexible, combined-event venue/art gallery. They also addressed such factors as security and maintenance, landscaping and surface materials.

Selections of the students’ three-dimensional models, digital and hand-worked renderings are on view through Jan. 5 in the Corbin Gallery.


Opening — It’s upstairs/downstairs night at Akron Area Arts Alliance, 140 E. Market St., Akron. Downstairs in the Summit Artspace Gallery, Kaleidoscope 2013, works by Alliance for the Visual Arts in Akron — a group representing more than 500 local artists — opens with a 5-8 p.m. reception. Upstairs on the third floor at the Box Gallery, Clever Little Devils, an exhibit of the work of 50 artists exploring the boundaries between advertising and youth culture, opens with a 5-9 p.m. reception. Information, 330-376-8480.

One Night Only — Derek Hess: Internalize Conflict; Externalize War from 5 to 9 p.m. at Smartspace at 78th, 1305 W. 80th St., Cleveland. There will be a documentary premiere, Forced Perspective, and book signing of Hess’ limited edition book, He Ain’t No Vargas. Information, call 216-288-4868 or email Martin Geramita at


Demos — In conjunction with the Kaleidoscope 2013 exhibit at Summit Artspace, a free artist demonstration, Doreen St. John, oil, Portrait, will be held from 1 to 3 p.m. Registration is not required. Other demonstrations are: Kim Moore, pastel, Sea & Clouds, Nov. 23; Bill Peck, mixed media, Finding Relief, Dec. 14; Shirley Ende-Saxe, collage, Collage at HeART, Dec. 21 and Maryann Mosyjowski, collage, Collage for All, Dec. 28.

Worth Noting

New Shows — The Cleveland Museum of Art, 11150 East Blvd., has opened two new exhibits: Disembodied: Portrait Miniatures and Their Contemporary Relatives through Feb. 16 and Fragments of the Invisible: The René Odette Delenne Collection of Congo Sculpture through Feb. 9. Related activities and more information can be found at and by calling 216-421-7340.

Dorothy Shinn writes about art and architecture for the Akron Beacon Journal. Send information to her at the Akron Beacon Journal, P.O. Box 640, Akron, OH 44309-0640 or

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