Creative Neighbors

Storefront barber retires after 57 years

“The barber school thought I was 16 years old and I started training,” said Dominic Giammaria, 87, who retired this past Dec. 31 from cutting hair at his Dominic’s Barbershop at 1908 Lee Road.  

He has 72 years of hair cutting experience. Just after he completed ninth grade at Observation School (now the location of the Cleveland High School of the Arts), and 14 years old, he pursued a certificate in Barber Science. After graduating from the old Cleveland Barber College in 1944, he started cutting hair with Joseph Marx in the Cedar-Taylor area. Giammaria's father Joseph died at age 51, when Dominic was about 20 years old—and was six years a barber.

Then his mother Josephine dated Charles Fanna, who was a barber entrepreneur with several shops around town. “Charles was like a father to me and gave me a few tips,” Giammaria said.

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Volume 10, Issue 3, Posted 9:45 AM, 02.14.2017

Heights resident Bachtell shines on Broadway

Cleveland Heights resident Barbara Bachtell began steering the venerable Broadway School of Music and the Arts (BSMA) 18 years ago, in the same Slavic Village neighborhood where her mother lived as a baby. Bachtell’s mother, an artist and writer, was descended from Bohemian immigrants who settled there. One of her mother’s first cousins was Cleveland mayor Ralph Perk. As Bachtell put it, “They didn’t agree on politics but enjoyed lunching together occasionally.” Perhaps it was this mixture of art and politics in the family lineage that resulted in one of Bachtell’s brothers becoming The New Yorker’s Talk of the Town cartoonist, another brother becoming chair of the U.S. Communist party, and Bachtell herself becoming an artist and community arts administrator.

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Volume 8, Issue 8, Posted 10:49 AM, 07.31.2015

Raymond Bugelski's art is on the streets

One idea in the minds of Heights Arts’s founders 15 years ago was that a city of creative residents should reflect that creativity in its streetscape. Today, Cleveland Heights is unique in the region, with murals, signage, fences and benches designed and implemented by artists who live here. One such artist is Raymond Bugelski, who designed the iconic Coventry benches and street signs, as well as the signage in the Cedar Fairmount Business District.

Bugelski first encountered the concept of public art at Cleveland State University in the 1970s, when he organized an ice sculpture competition at a public library as a class assignment. He quickly realized that public art was a lot more than art. The project involved organization and involved the public, not just aesthetically, but “from the heart.” It even necessitated buying gloves for the 60 children who joined professional artists in participating.

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Volume 8, Issue 5, Posted 5:56 PM, 04.30.2015

Discover migratory birds with Julie West

I lived in northern Ohio for more than three decades oblivious to an amazing natural wonder that literally flew by my eyes if only I knew where to look: the spring migration of North American wood warblers. The first that I saw of the colorful species in 1989, a Yellow Warbler, weighs less than half an ounce yet can fly nonstop over the Gulf of Mexico at night, while we sleep.

Since then, each May I have joined people from all over the world at Magee Marsh, a refueling habitat for migrants before they cross Lake Erie to their Canadian breeding grounds. Magee Marsh is 100 miles west of Cleveland, but if you walk around the Shaker Lakes once or twice a week in May, you can see the same 30 warbler species that stop at Magee. 

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Volume 8, Issue 4, Posted 12:36 PM, 03.30.2015

Rick Szekelyi invites you to play

There’s something very special happening Sunday afternoons at Stone Oven Bakery on Lee Road. Musicians from near and far come together for an open mic presented by Rick Szekelyi. Each plays three pieces for an audience of faithful listeners, other musicians, and those who just stop in for the daily soup or a sweet afternoon treat. 

Szekelyi, a twinkle-eyed 60-something, is an operational and financial management consultant for companies experiencing difficulties. His father, an accountant like himself, was a professional musician who bought him his first guitar at age 8. Szekelyi taught guitar in high school and college, and played in bands throughout, but while raising a family played only occasionally for himself. He recently picked up his guitar after a hiatus of several decades and began writing songs again.

Last summer, he attended a Steve Earle workshop near Woodstock, N.Y., and for the first time ever performed in public at an open mic. “It went okay and I didn’t die,” he reported. “I liked it.”

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Volume 8, Issue 3, Posted 11:45 AM, 02.27.2015

Tamar Gray is a musician and educator

Tamar Gray is a talented member of a musical family dynasty. Her grandfather, Clark "Deacon" Hampton, was a self-taught musician who moved his wife and 12 children from Ohio to Indianapolis in 1938. For decades, the whole family toured as the Hampton Family Band and second- and third-generation Hamptons are still performing today. Notable among them are Gray’s uncle Slide Hampton, a trombone player and composer, and brother Pharez Whitted, the Chicago trumpeter. Gray and her husband, Leonard, who have three grown sons and four grandchildren, perform together for parties and weddings as Etiquette. Leonard also plays locally at Rockefeller’s with the Lenny Gray Trio and elsewhere with the Totally Rhythm Syndicate. 

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Volume 8, Issue 2, Posted 10:02 AM, 02.02.2015

Barbara Claas turns bottles into blooms

How do you keep those pesky squirrels out of the bird feeder? One winter several years ago, Barbara Claas simply installed an empty plastic beverage bottle with the bottom cut off onto the feeder pole. Squirrels attempting to climb the pole came to a dead end (literally, not figuratively) inside the bottle. As she held the bottle bottom, she mused about what to do with it. Yes, it could be picked up by Cleveland Heights’s stellar curbside recycling program. But some Heights artists, such as Debbie Apple Presser and Catherine Butler, have made amazing things from discarded beverage bottles and cans, and Claas began to play with the materials. “They must be good for something other than crumbling and putting into the garbage,” she said. Today, she creates intricate and beautifully crafted flowers, earrings and necklaces. Only a very close examination reveals the materials’ original use.  

Living near pedestrian-friendly Lee Road, Claas sources bottles and cans while walking down the street. Her husband, biologist Jeffrey Dean, collects them for her while bicycling to and from his job at Cleveland State University (CSU). Only rarely does Claas purchase a beverage, seduced by a can’s color and texture.

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Volume 8, Issue 1, Posted 11:28 AM, 01.05.2015

Steve Cagan: activist photographer

When Cleveland Heights photographer Steve Cagan says he is socially engaged, it doesn’t mean that he shoots weddings, nor does it mean that he is a documentary photographer. Cagan is an artist who is engaged in social issues—an activist photographer. He stands on the shoulders of sociologist Lewis Hine (1874-1940), who used photography to influence child labor laws, W. Eugene Smith (1918-1978), who turned an unflinching eye on war and disease, and the Worker Photography Movement of the 1920s and '30s.

Perhaps his current project with artist Mary Kelsey, “Gold Mining in El Chocó, Colombia,” explains best what it means to be a socially engaged photographer. In 2003, Cagan’s friend, activist Rev. Bob Begin, invited him to the first anniversary of a massacre in Colombia, promising that his spirits would soar in spite of the grim occasion. Cagan was uplifted by the resiliency of the survivors, who confronted tragedy and change through community organizing.

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Volume 7, Issue 10, Posted 11:58 AM, 09.30.2014

Artist Jeanetta Ho's unconventional path

“Some artists' work is like a car tooling down the road—it heads out in a specific direction, and there may be twists and turns along the way, but it always follows a single path from one end to the other. Others (daVinci was one) work like trees—along this branch, along that branch, along another branch . . . simultaneously, wherever the muse touches. No, I'm no daVinci, but I most certainly am one of the Tree People.” —Jeanetta Ho's website.

Hawaiian-born visual artist Jeanetta Ho has lived in Cleveland since 1971. “I wasn’t supposed to be an artist. I was supposed to marry well,” said Ho. Although she studied photography as early as high school, her aptitude in math (“I was a math genius”) landed her in engineering school during the Vietnam War era. But calculus stumped her, and she changed her major to art. 

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Volume 7, Issue 8, Posted 2:38 PM, 07.31.2014

Our famous local poet George Bilgere

Poet George Bilgere, who began college as a pre-med biology major and played professional racquetball after grad school, has read his poetry on “A Prairie Home Companion” more times than his good friend Billy Collins, poet laureate of the United States from 2001–3. But who’s keeping score? (“Billy is very bitter about it,” reports Bilgere.)

Born in 1951, Bilgere grew up among book-covered walls in St. Louis. He remembers walking to the library to fill a wagon with books on summer weekends and becoming a voracious reader of novels. He had some thoughts about writing, but, having done well in biology in high school, entered the University of California, Riverside, as a pre-med student. Unfortunately for medicine, Bilgere “had a problem with chemistry.” His advisor told him to drop the course for an elective, a “no-brainer such as creative writing.”

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Volume 7, Issue 7, Posted 7:19 PM, 07.01.2014

Ben De Rubertis' passage to India

Ben De Rubertis’ interests are archaic, obscure and utterly relevant. His world ranges from sitting at a drawing board hand-lettering calligraphy in Cleveland Heights, to portraying an 18th-century French-Canadian fur trapper as a historical interpreter at Hinckley Lake, to collaborating with local artists in collective projects in India.  

His unusual vocation as a calligrapher began when he graduated from the University of Dayton with a degree in accounting in 1980. His father, Ben Sr., was in business as a calligrapher and had recently lost his assistant. Ben filled in, and for the first year drew pencil lines for his father’s work then moved on to the full range of calligraphic work. Today the two Bens both work at the Calligraphy Studio on Lee Road, one of the last of its kind, where they hand-letter testimonials and tributes for companies and professional associations, and occasionally wedding invitations.

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Volume 7, Issue 5, Posted 5:13 PM, 05.02.2014

Mickie McGraw, pioneering art therapist

Mickie McGraw had no plans to be a pioneer. Nevertheless, not by putting one foot in front of another but by the sheer momentum of her life on wheels, she became one.

As McGraw puts it, she’s been on wheels her whole life. Growing up on the East Side of Cleveland she was a tomboy, always on a bike or roller skates. In 1953, at the age of 11, she contracted polio and has wheeled in a chair ever since.  

McGraw was tutored at home through high school. Through the Society for Crippled Children, now more aptly named The Achievement Centers for Children, professional artists volunteered to come to her house. Painter Martha Horvath, enamelist and photographer John Puskas, and a ceramic artist she remembers as Mrs. Boorse nurtured McGraw’s innate talent and interest. As a result, she embarked on an arts-centered life and enrolled in the five-year Bachelor of Fine Arts program at the Cleveland Institute of Art, where strong young men would lift McGraw and her wheelchair into the building.

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Volume 7, Issue 4, Posted 9:22 AM, 04.03.2014

JCU's Christopher Sheil is a scientist of many talents

Take a look at this man. Is he a:

a) musician

b) artist

c) biker

d) herpetologist
e) all of the above?

Christopher Sheil is all of those things: a mandolin-playing, bicycling herpetologist who is also a scientific illustrator and painter. Which came first, the turtle or the egg? Sheil’s family background holds some of the clues.

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Volume 7, Issue 2, Posted 3:12 PM, 01.30.2014

Eric Coble: a playwright's journey from Dobama to Broadway

What do Clint Eastwood, Sonny Bono and Eric Coble have in common? All are professional artists elected to public office. Playwright Coble’s presence on the Cleveland Heights-University Heights Board of Education, and painter Jeffrey Coryell’s recent election to Cleveland Heights City Council, give our city more artists as elected officials than almost anywhere else in the country. Coble, in the middle of his second four-year term, has promised not to write a play about the school board while he is a member. “Self-preservation,” he claimed.

Coble began storytelling as a small child in New Mexico, when he would dictate stories blending Alice in Wonderland and Captain Kangaroo to his mother, who would write them down for him to illustrate.

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Volume 7, Issue 1, Posted 1:50 PM, 01.02.2014