Works in the Collection
Born in Oberlin, Ohio, Charles L. Sallee Jr. was the eldest of 14 children and grew up in Sandusky, Ohio. In 1934, he became the first African American admitted to what is known presently as the Cleveland Institute of Art. While in Cleveland, Salleé studied at the Huntington Polytechnic Institute, the Cleveland School of Arts, and Western Reserve University (now Case Western Reserve University) where he graduated in 1939. He also took classes (and taught) at the Playhouse Settlement, soon to become the Karamu House, where he befriended artists Hughie Lee-Smith and Elmer Brown and co-founded the Cleveland Karamu House Artist Association. Salleé exhibited work at Howard University and the Tanner Art Galleries of Chicago, and in 1942, he and other Karamu artists exhibited at the Associated American exhibition in New York hosted by Eleanor Roosevelt.
Between 1935-1941, Salleé worked as a painter and muralist for the WPA, creating a number of murals including one at the nation’s first federal housing projects, Portland Outhwaite Homes. Salleé then expanded his skill set, taking classes in industrial and surface design and beginning work as an interior designer. He soon became known as one of the most successful interior designers in Cleveland. He is best known for his design of the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Cleveland and the clubhouse for the Cleveland Indians stadium, among many other notable locations. Salleé’s work can be found in the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage’s exhibit “Hardship to Hope: African American Art from the Karamu Workshop” and the Cleveland Museum of Art, as well as in private collections throughout the country.