The Butler Celebrates 100 Years of American Art

By Frances Clause

Since 1919, the Butler Institute of American Art has preserved and collected art by citizens of this country, currently exceeding 20,000 individual works. On its 100-year anniversary, the Butler remains nationally known as “America’s Museum.”

Founded by Joseph G. Butler Jr., the Butler continues to bring art enthusiasts to its galleries that provide a walk through American history. The museum celebrates its anniversary with new exhibits, various accomplishments and events for the community to enjoy.

Under the direction of Louis Zona, executive director and chief curator at the Butler, the museum has received national accreditation, opened two branch museums, added more works to its collection and acquired the neighboring church, Butler North, where folk art is shown.

Zona said visitors can expect to see more new exhibits this year.

Pictured: “Flabbergasted” by Todd Gray | Photo by Frances Clause/The Jambar

“There are three new exhibits, with the most popular being the art of Winfred Rembert, a 75-year-old African-American artist from Georgia and an exhibit of the greatest pastels in America from the Pastel Society of America,” he said.

Visitors can also view an exhibit by Todd Gray, a contemporary pop artist whose work features 20 mixed media wall and floor sculptures.

The bold colors and patterns of this exhibit revisits the Pop Art Era through its comic book exclamations, emoji and hashtags. Gray, with his unique visual language of sampling classic pop art ideas, said he is proud to have his exhibit at the Butler.

“[The Butler’s] collections are second to none, and the way their collections are displayed is really very nice,” he said. “To be showing my work in the company of such esteemed artists was and is a great honor for me.”

Gray’s exhibit has been traveling for over two years, and the Butler has been his favorite stop along the way.

“The Butler is one of the finest museums in the entire United States, and as Youngstown continues to evolve and prosper, the Butler will continue to be among the very epicenter of its artistic and cultural soul,” he said.

Along with viewing the Butler’s classic or new exhibits, visiting Collections Café and stopping at the gift shop, art classes are offered to those who are interested in creating their own masterpieces.

Mary Pat George, lead art instructor of children’s art classes, has been teaching at the Butler for 42 years and said she believes the classes leave a positive impact on the community.

“The arts have always been linked with higher test scores as well as therapeutic benefits,” she said. “It can be very calming for students with ADHD, as well as a release for those students who may be suffering turmoil or other issues in their lives.”

Michelle Gabriel, a senior graphic design major at Youngstown State University, is happy to see the Butler continues to stress the importance of art education to the community in its 100th year.

“I have been going to the Butler since I was in seventh grade,” she said. “It is right on campus, and people can learn as much as they want about different styles in between classes.”

Gabriel believes the Butler is unlike any other museum with its interactive components and contrasting styles.

“I love the upstairs exhibits because they’re always changing,” she said.

“[The exhibits] make me feel like I’m visiting new friends who moved in with old friends,” she added, referring to new works among the Butler’s classics. “Every great city has a great art museum, and the Butler is ours.”

It is the Butler Institute of American Art’s 100 year anniversary. A woman is pictures above (left) observing a piece of artwork at the institute. Todd Gray’s “Flabbergastged” pop geometry piece (right), along with 19 other mixed media wall and floor sculptures will be showcased at the institute until March 3. Photos by Frances Clause/The Jambar