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Butler displays its Clyde Singer collection

Painter was Youngstown museum’s assistant director

Clyde Singer was a familiar sight in the halls of the Butler Institute of American Art.

Except for three years in the Army during World War II, he served as assistant director of the Youngstown museum from 1940 until 1999.

For the next three months, his work will be a familiar sight on the walls of the Butler.

Opening Sunday is “Clyde Singer’s World,” featuring paintings by Singer that are a part of the museum’s permanent collection. Executive Director Louis A. Zona said the museum owns about 75 of his paintings, and a majority of them will be included in the show.

“He was part of a group of very underrated artists that dominated the 1930s — American scene painters,” Zona said.

It’s a group that includes such artists as Reginald Marsh, Isabel Bishop and Kenneth Hayes Miller, who was one of Singer’s teachers. He had won a scholarship to the Art Students League in New York during the Depression.

Zona said he still remembers Singer’s reaction after the Butler acquired one of Miller’s paintings for its permanent collection.

“He came in one morning, and I said, ‘I want to show you something.’ Instead of another electrical failure or a hole in the roof, the kind of things you have to deal with in an old building, I walked him over to the Kenneth Hayes Miller painting. He looked at it and his eyes filled with tears. He said, ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you.'”

Singer was winning awards in nationally recognized art shows when he left for the Army in 1942, serving in the Philippines, New Guinea and Japan until his discharge in 1945.

“I often wondered what was going through his head,” Zona said. “When he comes back, the whole art world had changed. Gone was American scene painters and it was replaced by Abstract Expressionism, which was exploding. He told me he tried his hand at Abstract Expressionism and said, ‘Lou, it’s not for me.” He did his own thing. He was a unique personality.”

Singer, who died in 1999, had more than 30 solo exhibitions during his career, and his work is part of the numerous public and private collections. During his tenure at the Butler, Singer also wrote a weekly art column for the Youngstown Vindicator.

The exhibit features many works inspired by his regular trips to New York, but there also are some street scenes inspired by Youngstown. Regardless of the location, there was one recurring element in many of his paintings.

“He loved the ladies,” Zona said. “Most of his paintings that include women, the women are wearing very short dresses. The mini skirt phase really delighted him.”

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