Rustbelt Legacy: About The Project

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About the Project

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About The Project


In 2009, Mary Jo Toles and Mari Hulick joined Scott Kelby's World Wide Photo Walk by leading a group through "The Flats" in Cleveland, OH. They chose the area because of it's visual complexity; located at the mouth of the Cuyahoga River at Lake Erie, this small area has views of Downtown high-rise buildings, the natural beauty of the Cuyahoga's ox-bow twists and turns, and the decaying remains of the once powerful industrial complex of steel mills and heavy manufacturing.

Steel Mill, The Flats
The Flats, Mari Hulick 2009

The area also contained remnants of the entire history of the city. Layers of natural landscape and man-made construction revealed a series of milestones that led to the city of Cleveland's founding, development, growth and decline.


Mary Jo Toles photographed the layers of settlement, development and industry found in The Flats. While she investigated these subtle layers of history, Mari Hulick began collecting the facts of that history. As she compiled the story of the region, Mari was reminded of the phenomenon of a palimpsest—often a writing material (parchment, tablet, or other "permanent" writing surface) that has been used after earlier writing has been erased. In a palimpsest, traces of the earlier record always remain. The photographic studies that Toles created showed the diverse layers easily apparent in The Flats. Their first piece, Palimpsest, is an overview of those layers.

Palimpsest Installation
Installation shot of Palimpsest, 2009


Relocation Installation
Installation shot of Relocation, 2011

Toles and Hulick decided to take the work begun in Palimpsest and deepen their investigation. The first stop in their investigation is Relocation, a look into American Indian Termination Acts of the 1950's and the Relocation Program on the 1950s—1970; Termination and Relocation created the largest movement of Native American Indian people in North America. Even so, it's history and the stories of the relocatees is largely unknown today. In this current phase, we hope to shed light on this history and create a platform for Native American Indian peoples to tell their stories.

Rustbelt Legacy

This is an ongoing project, and will soon cover more "hidden" history of the industrial midwest.

About The Principles

Mary Jo Toles, Photography

Mary Jo Toles grew up in the Great Lakes region. Before joining the Cleveland Institute of Art as a Professor, she worked as a professional photographer in Chicago. She grew up in an industrial landscape that was a constant influence on her visually, physically, and philosophically. Earlier work that parallels this project investigated the Great Lakes waterways. "Getting out into the landscape leads me to people and stories."

Mari Hulick, Design

Mari Hulick grew up in Detroit. Before attending design school, she completed undergraduate studies at the University of Michigan in American History. She has maintained a passionate interest in social history ever since. The Rustbelt Legacy Project brings her professional life and personal interests together fully for the first time.


These artists were awarded an Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award for 2013