Butler exhibit to feature largest Singer collection

By Rebecca Sloan

The Canton Museum of Art also will feature a Clyde Singer exhibit.

YOUNGSTOWN — It’s easy to recognize a Clyde Singer painting.

Jolly, Rubenesque figures dominate the canvas and cast a happy spell.

These are everyday American folks doing everyday American things — workers returning from a mill, fellows having a drink at a tavern or pedestrians hurrying down a crowded street.

The mood in Singer’s paintings is realistic, optimistic and sometimes humorous.

His America is a fun, wholesome, rollicking place — a place you want to visit just for kicks or nostalgia.

Mahoning Valley residents will have the chance to immerse themselves in Singer’s world during “Clyde Singer’s America,” an exhibition that opens Sunday at the Butler Institute of American Art.

The exhibition, which runs through Jan. 4, will feature the largest comprehensive collection of Singer paintings ever displayed.

Butler Director Lou Zona said Northeast Ohio is an ideal setting for a Singer tribute.

“Clyde Singer had so many ties to this area,” Zona said. “He was a curator here at the Butler for 50 years and also an art columnist for The Vindicator for almost 60 years. This is the first time such a comprehensive collection of his works has been presented to the public.”

A simultaneous Singer exhibit at the Canton Museum of Art will run concurrently with the Butler exhibit. M.J. Albacete, executive director fo CMA, and Zona spearheaded the effort. Canton’s Lynnda Arrasmith acted as curator.

“I encourage people to visit both the Youngstown and Canton exhibits,” Zona said. “This is a wonderful collaborative idea showcasing numerous Singer works from public and private collections.”

Born in 1908, Singer grew up in rural Malvern, Ohio, the son of an ex-coal-miner-turned-farmer. He settled in the Youngstown area in 1940 and lived here until his death in 1999.

From an early age, Singer showed artistic interest and ability. “The Barn Dance,” a painting he completed as a teenager, won him recognition and awards.

After high school, Singer studied at the Columbus Gallery of Fine Art and later received a scholarship to the Arts Students League in New York City.

During his long career, he completed more than 3,000 paintings, and his works appeared in such prestigious museums as the Chicago Art Institute, the Philadelphia Art Academy and the San Diego Art Museum.

Zona said Singer’s style is classified as American Scene Painting.

“American Scene Painting involves an artist making a comment on life around them,” Zona said.

Singer painted both urban and rural scenes, and his works are infused with satire, insight and intimacy.

Zona, who knew Singer personally, fondly remembers him as a “much-loved local artist who was very kind.”

Some of Singer’s most popular works were completed before World War II.

Singer served in the South Pacific during the war, and at the war’s conclusion found that the art world had changed.

“After World War II, the art world turned toward modernism and abstract expressionism, and Singer’s style of painting was no longer in vogue,” Zona said. “Singer tried to paint works that would fit into the new movement, but it just wasn’t him, and so he continued to paint honestly what he observed around him.”

Zona said some of Singer’s works from the 1930s are “very large and complex.”

“I think some of the works in this exhibit will surprise people with their detail. There are so many figures in them,” Zona said.

Several of Singer’s self-portraits are also featured in the show. Singer completed a number of self-portraits and also often included himself in the backgrounds of his paintings.

“He would go somewhere and then paint a scene from the place he’d been, and he would include himself in the background of the scene,” Zona explained, pointing to a painting of a baseball game with Singer in the background watching from the grandstands.

Another painting shows Singer sitting in the shadowy corner of a barroom, watching as a fight breaks out.

Singer loved New York City, and many of his paintings were inspired by the time he spent there.

In 1987, the Butler featured an exhibit titled “Clyde Singer’s New York.”

Zona said the Butler and the CMA are proud to have many of Singer’s most popular works in their permanent collections.

“Most of Singer’s finest pieces were produced during the late 1930s, the 1940s and the early 1950s,” Zona said. “Many of those works are here in Northeast Ohio.”

In celebration of Singer’s centennial birth year, PBS 45 and 49 will air a documentary titled “Clyde Singer: An American Artist.” The documentary airs at 8 p.m. Tuesday and at 2 p.m. Sept. 13.

Kent State University Press has also released a book about Singer’s life and his work.

The book, “Clyde Singer’s America,” features 120 full-color reproductions of his paintings as well as photos of Singer with his friends and family. It’s for sale in the Butler’s gift shop.

Area residents interested in seeing both the Youngstown and Canton Singer exhibits can do so Sept. 13 when a motor coach departs from the Butler at noon for the Canton Museum of Art.

Cost for the roundtrip is $25, and reservations are limited. Call (330) 743-1107 for more information.

At 2 p.m. Oct. 5, Zona and Albacete will present a program, “Remembering Clyde Singer,” and will share their memories of Singer. The program is free, but seating is limited and will be offered on a first-come, first-served basis.

“Clyde Singer’s America” in Youngstown is sponsored in part by National City Bank and Allegiant, PBS 45 and 49, the Mahoning County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and The Vindicator.

XFor more information, visit www.butlerart.com.

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