Butler Art’s Zona Discusses History of American Art

April 12, 2017

Dr. Lou ZonaALLIANCE, OHIO – Dr. Louis Zona, executive director of The Butler Institute of American Art and professor emeritus of art history at Youngstown State University, is not only and artist, art historian and professor, but also a storyteller, which is an art in and of itself.

Zona spoke to a packed crowd at the Sally Otto Art Gallery on Tuesday for a gallery talk as part of the American Masterworks exhibit on display at the University of Mount Union through April 13. 

Dr. Dick Merriman, president of Mount Union, began the evening by introducing Zona and sharing his excitement for the exhibit. “I cannot encourage you enough to hop in your car and make the drive over to Youngstown to check out this wonderful museum of artwork,” Merriman said. 

Zona began his talk by speaking about some of his favorite works from among the 25 on display at Mount Union from The Butler’s collection. 

“I was very good friends with Chi until his death,” Zona said of artist Chen Chi, whose watercolor work Pink and Yellow Flowers was on display. “I have many fond stories that come to mind every time I see this painting.” 

Directing the audience to the left of Chi’s work, Zona turned the focus onto Paul Jenkins, who spent much of his formative years in Struthers, Ohio. Jenkins’ work was also featured in the 1978 Academy Award-nominated film An Unmarried Woman, part of which was filmed in his New York City studio. 

Zona then moved onto a chronological journey of the history of art in American though a presentation of works from The Butler’s collection. He shared that portraits were the early cornerstone of American art, but only because European artists were not interested in landscapes. However, many American artists began to form their own paths through new forms of art.

Dr. Lou Zona Talks

John Singer Sargent was labeled as, “the greatest artist our country has ever produced” according to Zona. Sargent’s Madame X is on display at The Butler, and its interesting backstory was explained by Zona.

“Singer initially saw the woman and asked her if he could paint her, to which she became offended,” Zona said. “Soon thereafter, Singer asked the subject’s husband if it was ok if he painted his wife. It became one of his proudest accomplishments.” 

As Zona progressed through the 20th Century, he displayed the works of Jackson Pollack, Thomas Hart Benton, who was the art teacher of Pollack, Mary Cassatt and George Bellows. Zona described Bellows, a former Ohio State University football player, as “the most important artist [Ohio] has ever produced.” 

Many of the more than 50 attendees at the event stayed for a reception in the Giese Center for the Performing Arts following the talk. More information about The Butler can be found at butlerart.com. 

The American Masterworks Exhibit will be on display through the evening of April 13. Hours of operation for the Sally Otto Art Gallery can be found at mountunion.edu/sally-otto-art-gallery.

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