This retro cigarette machine dispenses $10 works of art by Cleveland creatives

Cigarette machines may be a thing of the past, but Avon-based artist R!ch Cihlar has reinvented the relic in a way that feels like a breath of fresh air. Making its debut August 29 at the Sandusky Cultural Center, the Cleveland Artifact Machine—aka a restored 1960s-era cigarette machine—will dispense more than 400 pieces of pocket-sized art as part of an innovative exhibition.

“It’s a novel show, a little bit different than other exhibitions,” explains Cihlar, who co-owns E11Even 2 gallery inside 78th Street Studios. “The goal is to jumpstart artists’ work into the community and inspire people who may not have been collectors before to start collecting at a great price point.”

This is the third time Cihlar is partnering with the Sandusky Cultural Center to mount the exhibition, which will feature 21 Ohio-based artists including Cihlar's E11Even cohorts Christina Sadowski and Billy Nainiger. Buoyed by the success of the first installment—which sold 75% of its inventory on opening day in 2015—Cihlar is excited for the third go-round. “We’re the only show that the Cultural Center has put on twice, let alone three times,” says Cihlar.

For Cihlar and the artists involved, the Cleveland Artifact Machine has truly been a labor of love. In mounting the exhibition, Cihlar worked with his dad—a retired mechanic—to repair a dented cigarette machine and give it a fresh coat of automotive paint. Cihlar also praises the participating artists for their dedication, as each commits to producing 20 pint-sized pieces of art that match the dimensions of a cigarette box (7/8 x 2 1/8 x 3 ¼). 

“It’s a great mix of mediums and styles and imagery,” says Cihlar, adding that the works span fused glass, small sculptures, paintings, and more. “The name Cleveland Artifact Machine is inspired by finding these great art gems in Cleveland—a little piece of Cleveland spirit, if you will.”

Each piece costs $10, and patrons also receive a free commemorative coin with their purchase. (Cihlar initially designed the coins to be used as tokens for purchasing the artwork, but later learned that cigarette machines can only accept actual coins.)

Additionally, patrons may find a “golden ticket” inside select boxes, affording them the chance to choose a more expensive piece by the same artist, and there is also a “second-chance showcase” in which patrons can buy pieces of $20 art.

“The show is almost like a carnival—there are a lot of ways to win,” says Cihlar, who also runs the Berea Arts Fest. “It’s really an immersive experience that gets everyone involved, whether you’re watching as a spectator or a client making a pull [from the machine].”

Cleveland Artifact Machine III runs from August 29-September 26, 2021, at Sandusky Cultural Center. There is an opening event scheduled for August 29 from 1 to 4 p.m. Can't make it to Sandusky? Visit Cihlar's E11Even 2 gallery to see a machine exclusively featuring his artwork, or stay posted for the debut of a brand-new machine at Graffiti Heart this fall.

Read more articles by Jen Jones Donatelli.

As an enthusiastic CLE-vangelist, Jen Jones Donatelli enjoys diving headfirst into her work with FreshWater Cleveland. Upon moving back to Cleveland after 16 years in Los Angeles, Jen served as FreshWater's managing editor for two years (2017-2019) and continues her work with the publication as a contributing editor and host of the FreshFaces podcast. When not typing the day away at her laptop, she teaches writing and creativity classes through her small business Creative Groove, as well as Literary Cleveland, Cleveland State University, and more. Jen is a proud graduate of Ohio University's E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.