The Butler: Curator of treasured Youngstown museum talks history, 100 year anniversary

The Butler: Curator of treasured Youngstown museum talks history, 100 year anniversary


By 1919 — Youngstown had solidified itself as one of the world’s leading producers of steel — and one of the men who made a fortune — decided to spend some of his money on America’s first museum dedicated solely to American Art. What we now know as The Butler Institute of American Art — this year turns 100. Tonight we go inside the Butler — and look at it through the eyes of the man who has been the face the Butler for nearly four decades. An Indian statue greets visitors outside the Butler Institute of American Art on Youngstown’s Wick Avenue — while inside it’s a portrait of Joseph G. Butler — who’s idea it was to build it. “HE WAS ONE OF THE FIRST SERIOUS COLLECTORS OF AMERICAN ART. WHILE HIS CONTEMPORARIES WERE GOING TO EUROPE AND BUYING RENOIR’S AND MONET’S, HE HAS BUYING SARGENT AND CHASE AND WINSLOW HOMER.” Lou Zona has run the Butler for 38 years. He has story upon story — like when he found pieces of Poppies in Flanders Field on the floor — and how it took a year to repair it. Winslow Homer’s Snap The Whip is the Butler’s most famous — and most valuable painting. Joseph Butler played the game with future President William McKinley as kids. “SO WHEN MR. BUTLER CREATED THE BUTLER INSTITUTE HE SAID TO A FRIEND THERE’S ONLY ONE PAINTING MISSING. I HAVE TO HAVE SNAP THE WHIP BY WINSLOW HOMER.” Ask Lou Zona to pick his favorites — and he names Norman Rockwell’s “Lincoln the Railsplitter,” “Did You Speak To Me” by William Merritt Chase, and Fitz Henry Lane’s “Ship Starlight.” When it comes to the Butler’s position in the art world — Zona doesn’t mince words. “ANY MUSEUM DOING AN EXHIBIT OF AMERICAN ART, ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD, IS GOING TO CALL THE BUTLER.’ Zona’s a big baseball fan — and a favorite baseball piece at the Butler is Clyde Singer’s painting of the Youngstown Gremlins at the old Idora Park field. Another Youngstown painting is Alfred Leslie’s Americans Youngstown. One of the men in the middle — that’s a young Lou Zona. “THE NATURE OF ART IS VERY DIFFERENT FROM WHEN MR. BUTLER WAS PUTTING HIS COLLECTION TOGETHER.” Lou Zona is 75 — and has played a major part in the development of the Butler’s first 100 years. He’s confident there will be a second hundred. “ONE CAN ONLY IMAGINE WHAT LIES AHEAD IN THE WAY OF PRESENTATION OF WHAT IS CURRENT IN AMERICAN ART. BUT LET’S HOPE IT’LL BEND WITH THE TIMES.” As part of the Butler’s 100th anniversary celebration — the Youngstown Symphony will be holding a concert tomorrow evening at the Butler — called Impressions of the Butler. It starts at 8pm. Tickets are 20 dollars — and there are about 40 tickets left. [B9]TEASE2

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