RICELESS PAINTINGS DON'T TRAVEL
lightly. They have to be handled by individuals wearing white cotton gloves. They are packed into custom-designed crates that cost up to a thousand dollars each.
And then those carefully packed crates are handled by special art carriers, who drive the paintings to their destination in air-conditioned, humidity-controlled, vibration-minimizing trucks.
Before the paintings are displayed, curators meticulously examine them to see if any damage was done in the shipping, and they record even the most minute paint chip.
In fact, that's how more than a dozen European masterpieces recently traveled from the John & amp; Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Fla., to the Butler Institute of American Art here in Youngstown.
The collection of paintings, including works by such artists as Rubens, Hals and Rembrandt, will be on display at the Butler from Sunday through Sept. 8. In turn, now through Sept. 8, "An American Anthem: 300 years of Painting from the Butler Institute of American Art" will be featured at the Ringling Museum.
So how did Youngstown's own Butler Institute get a renowned Florida museum to ship it a prized collection of renaissance and baroque masterpieces? When asked, the Butler's executive director, Louis Zona, smiled confidently and answered with another question, "Do you mean how did they get us to send our collection to them?"
"They're very grateful for the American Anthem exhibit," explained Zona. "This is their way of saying thank you."
But there is a little more to the story. The Butler's American Anthem exhibit is traveling to several museums around the country as part of a grant from The Henry Luce Foundation.
The traveling exhibit didn't include the Butler's best-loved painting, "Snap the Whip," by Winslow Homer, and the Ringling Museum wanted to display that particular work with the American Anthem show. The Ringling Museum offered to lend the Butler a collection of its European masterpieces in exchange for borrowing "Snap the Whip," and Zona accepted.
Although the Butler exclusively collects American art, Zona noted that European art is the root of much American art, and that this upcoming exhibit has great educational value.
"This is an opportunity for our community to see renaissance paintings -- historic European works," he said.
Zona is particularly excited to hang the famous "Portrait of a Young Monk," by Peter Paul Rubens. "It's by one of the great baroque artists, and it's in a baroque frame," he said, adding that the theatrical lighting used in the painting is typical of that period.
The collection also includes a stunning work by Carlo Dolci, "The Blue Madonna," which Zona says is a fine example of the Mannerist style.
The European masterpieces will hang on recently acquired free-standing panels in the museum's main galleries, meaning that the Butler's permanent collection of American art will be juxtaposed with European paintings for the duration of this particular exhibit. In some cases it's easy to compare the paintings -- and to see the roots of American art in the older European paintings. In other cases, the contrast will be stark.
"Butler was a visionary to collect American art when so few people believed in it," said Zona. "The Butler has a national reputation in the art world. It's something we need to be very proud of."
And certainly today, with a heightened sense of patriotism, American art continues to grow in popularity.
"Every day across my desk are letters asking to borrow works, travel a show, or artists wanting their works displayed at the Butler," he said. "Requests have come from as far as Russia and England."
Fortunately for the residents of Youngstown, the demand for American art from the Butler Institute can bring shows like this one to town, featuring paintings that one would normally have to travel to see.
The Butler is open Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 11-4, Wednesdays from 11-8, and Sundays from 12-4.