The Cosmopolitan Art Association was a nationally-recognized organization founded in 1854 in Sandusky, Ohio, by C.L. Derby. It was modeled after similar Art Associations in Philadelphia and London. The purpose of the Association was “for the encouragement and general diffusion of literature and art.”
Subscribers paid three dollars a year to belong to the Cosmopolitan Art Association. For this fee, they received an annual periodical subscription or an engraving, as well as a ticket for a chance to win a work of art in a lottery held each year.
At the end of its first year of operation, the Association had 22,418 subscribers, and had distributed over one hundred works of art. In 1855 the grand prize was a sculpture entitled “Greek Slave” by Hiram Powers. Mrs. Kate Gillespie of Brady’s Bend, Pennsylvania, was the winner of this sculpture. (Later, after touring the country with the sculpture, Mrs. Gillespie sold the it back to the Cosmopolitan Art Association.) The Association printed a list of the winners and their prizes in the local newspaper, as well as its own publications.
The third annual art drawing was held at Sandusky’s Norman Hall on January 28, 1857. The Honorable Eleutheros Cooke, then president of the Association, gave an opening address. Next, a poem by Metta Victor was read. The annual address was given by Ralph Waldo Emerson. His theme was “Beauty.” The Sandusky Daily Commercial Register had this statement about Emerson’s visit to Sandusky: “The undoubted and superior attainments of Mr. Emerson as a scholar and lecturer, is a sufficient guarantee of the rich intellectual treat which my expected, and the procurement of such an accomplished gentleman to pronounce the Annual Address is a strong testimonial of the high aim and objects of the enterprise.”
Eventually the Cosmopolitan Art Association moved its office to New York. By August, 1861, a local news article in the Sandusky Daily Commercial Register read “The Cosmopolitan Art Association in New York has been obliged to suspend its operations and discontinue its journal.”
A paper, titled A Study of the Cosmopolitan Art Association, 1854-1861, by Doris Preis Rubinow is available at the Archives Research Center of the Sandusky Library. There are also several articles and other primary sources related to the Cosmopolitan Art Association in the historical files.