Richard Cleaver is a Baltimore-based artist who creates elaborate figurative sculptures full of hidden compartments to capture the lives and secrets of historical figures and personal acquaintances. The artist is fascinated by monarchies, mythology, and religion, and these themes form the subjects of his work. Constructing the sculptures in clay, Cleaver paints meticulous patterns and applies precious and semiprecious stones to create the sumptuously decorated surfaces. Tableau: The Art of Richard Cleaver, on view September 16, 2017-January 7, 2018, surveys 14 installations of more than 50 sculptures (2005 – present) and the private worlds they reveal.

Queen’s Closet (1995), is a very popular work in our permanent collection,” explains Margaret Winslow, Delaware Art Museum’s curator of contemporary art. “The work explores Henry VIII of England, famous for divorcing or executing his wives when they failed to produce a male heir to the throne. When compartments are opened and knobs turned, the cabinet’s interior reveals portraits of Henry’s six wives. This work inspired Tableau: The Art of Richard Cleaver, and we are excited for visitors to experience more of the artist’s sculptures and the scenes they portray.”

The artist spent countless hours studying medieval and Asian art. The symbolism of these, along with Cleaver’s interest in Northern and Italian Renaissance styles and Catholic imagery, have served as inspiration for the artist.

“When I was very young I loved to draw. My brothers and I would draw together, coming up with stories informed by television,” remembers Cleaver. “We would create comic strips of new endings and then compare them as a competition of sorts. As a child I also made little dolls–usually kings and queens–and I kept them in shoeboxes under my bed.”

Cleaver began combining his painting and ceramic practices early during his undergraduate study at Maryland Institute College of Art. Experience as an illustrator, portrait painter, and later theater dresser supported the artist’s coalescence of elaborately painted surfaces and figurative clay sculpture. The addition of wire, pearls, semiprecious and precious stones, patterned mark making, and decorative stitches are used to enhance the surface and expand the forms. The artist often uses eggshells to mimic porcelain and fabricates architectural details, resulting in horror vacui, the complete covering of the sculpture’s surface with ornamentation.

“Cleaver’s sculptures traverse the fine, craft, and visionary art fields,” explains Winslow. “His personal vision is foremost in his creative act, and Cleaver incorporates other skills, such as woodworking, in a self-taught fashion.” Cleaver conflates his myriad interests and inspirations, creating figures that, with “staring eyes and glaring teeth,” reveal and conceal their hidden stories.

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About Richard Cleaver

Richard Cleaver received his bachelor of fine arts degree from Maryland Institute College of Art and his master of arts degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The artist has been exhibiting in group exhibitions throughout the mid-Atlantic since 1990, and his work has been the subject of solo shows at The Noyes Museum of Art, the Baltimore Museum of Art, the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, and the American University Museum, among others.

Cleaver is the recipient of numerous awards and grants including several Maryland State Arts Council grants since 1992, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 1994, the inaugural Trawick Prize: Bethesda Contemporary Arts Award in 2003, a grant from the Franz and Virginia Bader Fund in 2008, and the Mary Sawyers Baker Prize in 2010. Solo exhibitions of the artist’s work have been presented at the Steinbaum Krauss Gallery in New York, and Cleaver is represented in corporate, private, and public collections throughout the United States, including the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Crocker Art Museum, the de Young in San Francisco, and the Delaware Art Museum.

Related Programs

Pop-up Artist Chat: Richard Cleaver at the Creative Vision Factory
Friday, October 6 | 7:00 p.m. | Creative Vision Factory

In conjunction with the special exhibition Tableau: The Art of Richard Cleaver, ceramic and mixed media artist Richard Cleaver will be onsite at the Creative Vision Factory during Wilmington Art Loop to share insights about his work and process. Fascinated by monarchies, mythology, and religion, Cleaver creates elaborate figurative sculptures full of hidden compartments to capture the lives and secrets of historical figures and personal acquaintances. Free.

Artist Gallery Talk: Richard Cleaver
Saturday, October 14 | 10:00 a.m.

Join exhibiting ceramic artist Richard Cleaver on a personal gallery tour of his elaborate figurative sculptures featured in Tableau. Space is limited. Free with Museum Admission.

Teacher Workshop: Secret Relic Sculptures
Saturday, October 14 | 10:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.

In this hands-on workshop, educators will begin their training by walking through the exhibition Tableau: The Art of Richard Cleaver with the artist . Participants will take inspiration from the secret-keeping relics into the studios where they will create their own “Story Box.” Topics covered will include ways in which color, pattern, texture, scale and composition can be used to enhance storytelling. Register through the Delaware Teacher Center for re-licensure hours by calling 302.736.6723 or visit for info. $25.


Tableau: The Art of Richard Cleaver was organized by the Delaware Art Museum. Support was provided, in part, by a grant from the Delaware Division of the Arts, a state agency, in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts. The Division promotes Delaware arts events on


Founded in 1912, the Delaware Art Museum is recognized for its cornerstone collection of works by celebrated American artist and illustrator Howard Pyle, a Wilmington native, complemented by hundreds of works by some of the most talented illustrators.

Also renowned for British Pre-Raphaelite art, the Museum is home to the largest and most significant Pre-Raphaelite collection outside of the United Kingdom, assembled by Samuel Bancroft, Jr., a Wilmington textile mill owner with a taste for Dante Gabriel Rossetti and other contemporaries of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

The Museum is famous for the preeminent collection of urban landscapes by American painter John Sloan and his circle. The Sloan collection lives alongside an esteemed survey of American art–spanning more than 200 years–from early 19th century through the present, including masterworks by Raphaelle Peale, Frederic Church, Thomas Eakins, Edward Hopper, Robert Motherwell, and Dale Chihuly. Visitors also enjoy the outdoor Copeland Sculpture Garden, featuring large-scale works by Tom Otterness and George Rickey.

For more than 100 years, the Museum has occupied a vibrant place in the life of the Brandywine Valley. More than a collection of beautiful objects, the Museum is a vital source of experiences and discoveries for visitors from around the world.

The Delaware Art Museum is at 2301 Kentmere Parkway, Wilmington, DE 19806. Wednesday: 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m., Thursday: 10:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m., and Friday – Sunday: 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Monday and Tuesday: Closed. Adults (19-59) $12, Seniors (60+) $10, Students (with valid ID) $6, Youth (7-18) $6, and Children (6 and under) free. Admission fees are waived Thursdays 4:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. and Sundays 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. thanks to support from generous individuals. For more information, call 302-571-9590 or 866-232-3714 (toll free), or visit

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