Cleve was born in Staten Island, NY to a family of 8 children. His father was a truck driver, his mother a homemaker, and his parents owned their home. He attended Port Richmond High School.

1945 – 1948

Cleve joined the U.S. Army at age 17 and served in Japan. He was among the last Black soldiers to serve in a segregated Army. He served in the HQ Battery of the 933rd  AAA Anti-aircraft Battalion. He earned the rank of Corporal and the following medals: Good Conduct, WWII Victory, and Army of Occupation: Japan. See his memoir “In the Shadow of the Statue of Liberty.”

1948 – Sixties

Cleve married and had 2 daughters, Valarie and Leslie. His brother Gene taught him to weld and that became his occupation and craft. He used the GI Bill to study art at the New School, the Brooklyn Museum Art School and Greenwich House. He co-founded the Staten Island branch of the Congress of Racial Equality, and posed as a prospective renter to expose the discriminatory practice of “redlining” in real estate. Cleve was one the leaders of the “Blacks on Staten Island History Project” at the Staten Island Museum. He participated in Martin Luther King’s 1963 March on Washington. He managed a laundromat and owned a maintenance business in Staten Island. He and his first wife divorced.


Cleve gave pottery classes at his studio, the Potter’s Wheel, then Earthworks. He built kick-wheels for the students, built kilns to fire the pots, dug and blended the clay from local clay pits. In late 1969, he met Jude. He used his welding skills at various job sites in NYC. He was an art professor at Baruch and Staten Island Colleges and a board member of the S.I. Council on the Arts. When fuel prices soared, he designed and welded wood stoves and custom trailers and sold them in a shop he opened in Port Richmond, Stove Works. His wood stove design, which he called Galley Stoves, was UL tested and approved.


Cleve and Jude bought land in Towanda, Pennsylvania and he built a house on it with the help of friends using recycled building supplies without a blueprint. In 1985, Cleve joined Jude where she was working in Zaire. He was always taking photographs, and also bought masks from itinerant vendors. He accumulated a large collection of African art, which inspired his mixed media pieces. They returned to the U.S, bought a home in DC in 1989, and gutted and renovated it by hand with the help of friends. He exhibited in dozens of solo and group shows in NY, DC, MD, and VA.

Towanda, PA


From 1991 – 1994, Cleve and Jude lived in Dakar, Senegal. Lacking art supplies, he used natural materials for collages and began photographing doors (see their book “The Doors of Senegal.”) Cleve’s mixed-media pieces were exhibited at the IFAN National Museum in Dakar, and his photographs were displayed at the Sorano National Theater of Dakar. Returning to DC in 1994, Cleve continued to exhibit his work in the U.S.


The terrorist attack in 2001 provoked many artists to react expressively with their media, including Cleve. His mixed media collage of the World Trade Center after the attack was accepted and featured in several shows in Georgia, Massachusetts, DC and New York, as well as online shows. Cleve’s 9-11 piece is currently on permanent display in the library of the College of Staten Island of the City University of New York (CUNY). Cleve and Jude traveled widely together (Japan, South Africa, West Africa, Egypt, Europe) and Cleve visited friends in Mexico, Armenia, Sri Lanka and Saudi Arabia.
Cleve and Maryland artist Harriet Lesser collaborated on an exhibit they called “Under Surveillance” for the Parish Gallery in Washington, DC (see video under Media tab.) He and Jude also collaborated with Harriet on a DC Arts Project, “Party Animals.” He exhibited his largest solo show, a retrospective of 33 pieces, “Recyclage,” at the Metropolitan Memorial UMC (now called the National United Methodist Church), Washington, DC, Feb. – March 2009 (see video under Media tab.) In January, 2008, Cleve and Jude were excited to be in DC for Obama’s historic inauguration, and Cleve celebrated his 80th birthday in September. (see 80th birthday video under Media tab.)


Cleve and Jude moved to Bradenton, FL in 2915. His last show before leaving DC was a group exhibition in Takoma Park, MD. In Florida, Cleve focused on making collages using the tin he had collected during their 25 years in DC. A few of these colorful and whimsical works were exhibited and sold at the Baobab Gallery in Bradenton. Cleve very much enjoyed the warmth and wildlife in FL. Visiting Cuba was on his bucket list, and friend Mary Beth organized a trip to Havana to make it happen. He and Jude also visited the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Al and the new National Museum for African American History and Culture, of which they are founding members, in Washington, DC. They enjoyed Florida’s museums, art exhibits, concerts, and visits by friends and family. Cleve finished his last book, wrote letters and emails at his computer, and on his last day, he read the New York Times, as always. 

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