Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Clyde Singer

Screenshot of Vindicator art critic Clyde Singer via Google News Archive, September 12, 1971.

This is how I saw Clyde Singer when I was growing up in Youngstown. He wrote articles about new art shows at the Butler. I noticed them but cannot say I paid much attention. What I did not realize was his role at the Butler nor his body of work as a celebrated American artist. In researching him online, I discovered that one of his paintings, “On 14th Street” was sold by Christie’s for $50,000 on October 27, 2020.

Singer was a native Ohioan, born in 1908 in Malvern, Ohio, a small village in Carroll County, about 15 miles southeast of Canton. He was an artist from childhood, and much of his early art captured scenes and people from everyday life around Malvern. After high school, he worked for a time as a sign painter and then went to art school in Columbus before returning to Malvern. In 1933, he won a scholarship to the Art Students League in New York, where his teachers included John Steuert Curry, Thomas Hart Benton, Kenneth Hayes Miller, and Ivan Olinsky.

His style was characterized as Social Realist. While in New York, he painted in some of the same places famous painters of his time like George Bellow and John Sloan, including McSorley’s Saloon. But when he finished his studies, he returned to Ohio with $1.10 in his pocket. Soon, though, he received $500 for a large canvas exhibited at the Chicago Art Institute in 1935. Other exhibitions followed, but a steady income can be elusive for an artist.

In 1940, Joseph Butler III offered him a job. He was able to marry Bernice Shimp, an art student in 1941. Apart from war service from 1942 to 1945, he worked at the Butler until his death in 1999. He rose to the position of associate director. He also took on the work of writing articles for the Vindicator introducing new art shows at the Butler. He contributed a column every week.

He kept painting. He loved painting the blue-collar workers of Youngstown and the scenes of their lives. In all, he painted over 3,000 paintings, many in his basement studio in his home in Boardman. The Butler owns about 75 of them. He helped the Butler acquire a number of important works in its collection. He taught art classes at the Butler. And he made yearly trips to New York.

The advent of Abstract Art spelled the end of Social Realism and Regionalism in the art world. He tried his hand at this, sold some, but returned to what he loved because of his passion to capture everyday American life. The basic character of his paintings, including his humor, did not change–only the clothes–miniskirts and hippies replaced earlier styles.

He lived simply. He didn’t drive, his clothes looked like gifts and hand-me-downs. He could hold his own with other Social Realists but when the Butler acquired a painting of Kenneth Hayes Miller, Lou Zona, Butler director describes what happened in these words:

“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.’”

His reputation has only grown since his death in 1999, purchased by collectors around the country. He is contribution to the cultural life of Youngstown during his nearly 60 years in the city is immeasurable. By the same token, the city and its people contributed so much to his work. In 2008 PBS Western Reserve filmed the video above on the occasion of a joint exhibition at the Butler and the Canton Museum of Art. It is a wonderful tribute to this man who did so much for Youngstown while creating a body of work that makes him one of America’s great artists.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

2 thoughts on “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Clyde Singer

  1. Thank you for this. I was not aware we had such a great talent in our midst all those years. The video is a wonderful tribute to Mr. Singer.

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