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Pretentious Artists Persevere Through Pandemic

Tim Herron draws Delaney Miller [Brian Pierce]
Tim Herron tries drawing model Delaney Miller as seen on his computer monitor

A longstanding Northeast Ohio art tradition carries on during the pandemic shutdown. Since 2005, the Pretentious Cleveland Portrait Artists have gathered in area taverns and studios to render volunteer models in paint, pencil and pastel. But in the past few weeks, the group has temporarily moved their weekly session online.

A little after 7:30 p.m. last Friday, Roger Miller called the roll for the weekly gathering of the Pretentious Artists.

We’ve got Luke, Barb, Lisa,” Miller said, starting to scroll through the names on his computer screen.

Delaney Miller as photographed by her father [Roger Miller]

A few feet away, Miller’s daughter, Delaney, sat motionless in front of a white backdrop, as several dozen artists started to work on capturing her likeness on paper and canvas. Usually, everyone’s in the same room, but COVID-19 concerns forced a change in plans. Delaney Miller’s image was streaming live, while each artist painted and drew her from separate studios. Roger Miller helped save a 15-year tradition, said Tim Herron, one of the founders.

Tim Herron drawing Roger Miller [Tim Herron]

Roger has a podcast on Facebook. It's called Tues@ 7,” Herron said. “And he asked if he could interview me. I said, 'sure,' and I told him all about the Pretentious Artists. We sat around and talked for about 45 minutes.”

When Herron’s regular Friday night public sessions were canceled due to the pandemic, Miller volunteered to host models out of his studio, streaming them on Facebook.

Nancy Dinger Aikens saw Delaney Miller this way [Nancy Dinger Aikens]

And ironically, now that we're doing it online, we're able to get artists from all over to draw with us,” Herron said. “Where we might get 15 to 25 artists live drawing, with this online, open up to anybody, we've had about 50 some drawings this week and over 40 artists involved. We had this great artist from Cincinnati, Bob Pauly. I haven't met the woman, but someone from Singapore, joined us.

Bob Pauly of Cincinnati drew Delaney this way [Bob Pauly]

Herron admitted that he was a little hesitant when Miller suggested making a move to the web.

I did have some reservations. I didn't know how I was going to turn out,” Herron said. “You know, we all draw from a live model and something on a flat screen is no longer live in front of us. But as it turned out, it was, you know, considering the circumstances, it really was interesting. And I enjoyed it. It seemed like from the response that other artists enjoyed it too.”

Juan Quirart's rendering of Delaney [Juan Quirart]

Another change from the live sessions was the inability for artists to break into smaller groups and discuss technique or give advice. But, Herron said people are able to constantly send messages and pictures for everyone to share.

“They'll send snapshots of their studio, the drawings they are working on, just like conversation,” he said. “So, it actually is a little more involved than you’d think it would be.”

Karen Petkovic shared this shot of her studio with the group (Karen Petkovic]

The group started out in 2005 as the Pretentious Artists of Tremont, holding their weekly gatherings in the Literary Café. When the owners closed that bar, the artists started meeting at several different places around the city and became the Pretentious Cleveland Portrait Artists. Now, with the addition of new technology, might there be another name change?

 “We might have to consider that, but we still want to represent Cleveland,” Herron said with a chuckle. “We might go national. America's Favorite Pretentious Artists?"

David C. Barnett was a senior arts & culture reporter for Ideastream Public Media. He retired in October 2022.