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The Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, OH

July 24, 2012

At Country Acres Campground, Ravenna, Ohio

The 158 mile drive from Woodland Campground in Woodland, PA was uneventful except for some rain and three bridges with construction going on, creating some very narrow lanes and brief white knuckle moments.  We chose this location in Ravenna, Ohio because it gave us a central hub for day trips to Youngstown, Cleveland and Akron.  We spent three days on the go, visiting the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown on Friday, took a look at Lake Erie and the Rock & Roll Hall of fame in Cleveland on Saturday, and enjoyed a canal boat ride on the old Erie Canal southwest of Akron on Sunday.  I’ll break those day trips down into three separate posts, beginning with Friday at

The Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio

From Country Acres Campground near Ravenna, Ohio, the drive to Youngstown took about an hour.  The Butler Institute parking lot butts up to the grounds of a large old church, and this flower bed greeted us as we got out of the car.  Huge pink and white blooms covered the shrubbery.  It was a nice welcome on a gray day.

Inside, in the first gallery, we were greeted by this huge painting by Norman Rockwell.  The Butler had been mentioned to us by Robert Bohne, who toured the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford with us.  It is devoted completely to American artists, which gave us a unique opportunity to narrow our focus.  On the same wall is Edward Hopper’s Pennsylvania Coal Town.

There is no way to do this place justice in this written description, so I’ll just hit some highlights from my point of view…

It didn’t take long for me to run afoul of museum security.  When we came through the front entrance, I asked about the photography policy.  “No flash photography.” I was told.  So I kept my camera at the ready and took lots of photos.  Two Burton Silverman studies for his Mickey Mantle paintings were in a corner, not far from the first floor security guard’s desk at the back of the main room.  Like any good artist, I study original work both from afar and as close up as I can get without my nose touching the work.  I had taken one photo of the Silverman studies, and was leaning in for a closer look when the guard appeared next to me.  “You’re too close,” she said.  “and no flash photography.”  I assured her I wasn’t using a flash, and stepped back.  Later, close to the end of our visit, I was studying another painting, leaning over the little rope that was in front of some of the pieces.  An electronic voice said “Please step back from the display.”

Seeing these works in person gave me the opportunity to study the paint application and the brush work up close.  It’s quite an education every time.  This is a detail of Stockbridge Meadows by Hugh Bolton Jones.  While the Butler exhibits a full range of art, from very abstract to photorealistic, you’ll see from the examples I’ve included that my preferences lean toward representational art, just as my paintings do.

Also in the first gallery, we were met by this guard.  He sits in the middle of the room, and it takes a second look to realize it’s a very realistic piece of sculptor.

I wasn’t familiar with the work of Chuck Close.  This portrait, Georgia, was done in 1984.  It is collage: watercolor on hand-made paper pulp.  What appear to be brush strokes are actually, for lack of a better term, chunks of wadded up paper.

Louisville Slugger, James Del Grasso, Oil on canvas

Louisville Slugger is a real eye catcher when you walk in the room.

A Summer Moment, Albert Handell

This piece by pastel master Albert Handell hangs in a little transitional hallway between two galleries.  There was no question it deserved its own little place apart from the rest.

New Castle on The Delaware, Edward Moran

I’m not normally a big fan of old ship paintings, but this piece by Edward Moran had me mesmerized.  From the water in the foreground to the building on the point, it is a wonderful piece of work.

Hazy Morning, Montclair, New Jersey, George Inness

Most modern day painters count George Inness as an influence.  I’d never seen one of his paintings in person, and was fascinated by the softness of his edges.

Snap The Whip, Winslow Homer

Snap The Whip has always been a favorite of mine.  On the wall next to this painting was the original pencil sketch, and a preliminary value study.  Both were the same size as the final painting.  Even though this painting was done in 1872, Snap The Whip was still a game being played when I was a boy.

Detail from Mrs. Knowles and Her Children, John Singer Sargent

The Image above is a detail from this very large painting.  What I found interesting was the focus on faces, with the clothing treated very loosely.  Even the hands are painted in a sketchy manner.

This was a great opportunity to see a large portrait by Sargent, as well as one by William Merritt Chase.

In The Andes, Frederic Edwin Church

An Arizona Sunset Near the Grand Canyon, Thomas Moran

Frederic Church and Thomas Moran were both considered part of the Hudson River School of painters.  And both of them were among the artists whose work I studied when I first started painting.  I still go back and look at Hudson River painters when I’m trying to accomplish something specific in a painting.  Seeing these paintings in person was a real treat.

Rain Clouds, Kristin Kesting, Hume, VA

We were fortunate to visit the Butler while its Annual National Juried Show was on display.  This was the 76th National Midyear Exhibition.  There was some truly great work in this show.  One that especially caught my eye was Rain Clouds by Kristin Kesting.

We spent several hours working our way through the Butler.  They’re all here: in addition to those already mentioned, we saw work by Emil Carlsen, William Trost Richards, Andrew Wyeth, James McNeil Whistler… and many more.

I think we both came away with a greater appreciation of the work done by American painters over the last two centuries.

Next:  Lake Erie and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

One Comment leave one →
  1. sally sweeney bryenton permalink
    July 24, 2012 11:06 am

    what a wonderful collection…on my list for next visit to Ohio

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