One of Zona's goals is to include more works by post-World War II artists.
By SEAN BARRON
YOUNGSTOWN -- John Smolko has known Lou Zona for only a few months, but that's been long enough for the director of the Butler Institute of American Art to make an indelible impression on him.
"He's a very giving, exemplary individual," Smolko said of Zona. "The respect he has from everyone is phenomenal."
Smolko and his wife, Gigi, drove from their home in Kent to attend a two-hour ceremony Sunday at the Butler to honor Zona for his accomplishments over his 25 years as the museum's director, as well as to recognize his 25th anniversary at the post. A few hundred people from the Mahoning Valley and elsewhere came to the event to shake hands with and honor Zona.
Smolko, an artist and art teacher at Aurora High School in Aurora, said he met Zona last June when the two judged an art show in Boston Mills, Ohio, near Cleveland. From there, a friendship ensued, Smolko continued.
"This is not a job for him; it's a lifestyle," Smolko said, adding that he plans to bring one of his classes to the Butler for a field trip.
"[Zona] has done so much for the museum and the community," added Gigi Smolko, a third-grade teacher for the Kent school system. "He knows people by name, which makes people feel comfortable."
Sharing similar sentiments was William Slocum, a professor of music at Youngstown State University's Dana School of Music. Slocum said he and Zona collaborated on a course that combined art and music and that ran from the early 1980s to the mid-'90s, a move that set the stage for a close friendship to blossom.
Slocum, who also directed the Cleveland Philharmonic Orchestra, added that he appreciated recalling some of Zona's plans for the museum's growth and expansion and seeing many of them become a reality. Zona has invited the orchestra to play at the Butler, Slocum said.
Even though she lives within walking distance of several museums, the Butler is Elinore Sherwood of Pittsburgh's favorite largely because of Zona's influence, direction and accomplishments. Sherwood has been a 10-year member of the Butler and tells people in her hometown about the local museum, she added.
John MacIntosh, a member of the Butler's Board of Trustees, credited Zona for making the Butler accessible to more than art. Thanks to the director, MacIntosh said, the facility has become a place to host weddings, receptions and other special events, including the annual Pittsburgh Pirates caravan luncheon each winter.
For his part, Zona said he is excited about the recent acquisition of the former First Christian Church, which is now the Dennison Education Center. Classes are being taught there but, Zona added, he's looking forward to the center's hosting lecture series, ballets and other artistic endeavors.
Zona said one of his goals is to "fill the gaps" in the museum's permanent collection holdings by including more works by post-World War II artists as well as more from the 19th century. The Butler will house an exhibition of artwork by actor Peter Falk beginning next month, Zona added.
Zona said one of his long-term goals is to have the museum "represent every American artist."
The director added that he plans to continue teaching at YSU, and he counts among his passions writing articles pertaining to art, helping young people develop an appreciation for art and sharing what the Butler has to offer.
"I love the idea that people without an art background can come in here and enjoy the day," Zona said.