The Butler Institute of Art is of a calibur equal to some of the larger, newer cities outside the Northeast. All of this great art just outside the campus of Youngstown State University is a great example of art being where the money (and population) used to be. The people and city of Youngstown appear to take great pride in their museum and I expect will continue to secure the museum and its great artworks as a catalist for urban rebirth.
I opened the most recent issue of Art and Antiques magazine and on the last page was a work and short article about Charles Sheeler. I recognized it from the Butler’s web site and looked forward to seeing it in person on my upcoming visit. Sheeler has been one of my most admired artists and this Ohio steel town is a great place to hold one of his works. It was a few months ago that I bought a stack of New York art magazines from the 1920s and 30s and noticed that Sheeler contributed quite a few photographs.
There are other works that relate directly to Youngstown including a work by William Gropper about a strike in Youngstown that is reminiscent of Picasso’s Guernica. There are also some paper mache steel workers and a short video from Good Morning America in 1980 about their making. To look at the video and their life-sized images made me think not only about their life and what it must have been like, but the passing of time, both in terms of these men and the artist, but of Youngstown. I suppose its hard to imagine even now, but some day what was once almost the whole of a culture–the making of steel–will be a footnote in history. If time can do that to something as mighty as the steel industry, what can it do to this art, its subject, video, Good Morning America and myself, the viewer?
Perhaps not much of Youngstown is recorded in paint before the mills came, but the collection of landscapes is what I primarily came for. I continue to be captivated by the work of George Innes, and the Butler holds a fine example of his work. I can usually spot an Edwin Church painting from across the room and there’s also a fine example of Eakins work, a prtrait of sculptor Beatrice Fenton, whose work can be seen in Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square.
On the upper level there’s currently an exhibit called the Secret Life of Frames that includes examples of frames designed by Stanford White. It also curiously notes that Thomas Cole thought that a frame was “the soul of a painting.”
After seeing all the great art, its disturbing to get a limpse of what was lost. There’s a photo of paintings lining the walls of a turn-of-the century (20th) mansion. Its noted that when all these great European works went up in smoke, Joseph Butler decided he better build a proper building for displaying artwork, and the current building (designed by McKim Meade and Stanford White) and museum was born.