The Butler Institute of American Art | A Friend to the Pastelist

I recently had the opportunity to visit a gem of an art museum housed in Youngstown, Ohio. The Butler Institute of American Art is internationally known as “America’s Museum.” Built by Youngstown industrialist Joseph G. Butler, it opened to the public in 1919 as the first structure dedicated solely for the purpose of displaying artwork created by the citizenry of America. The original Georgian marble structure, constructed in the Renaissance Revival style, is listed as a landmark on the National Registry of Historical Places. It has continued to expand over the years to accommodate an ever-increasing collection of paintings, sculpture, works on paper and contemporary media. The extent of the collection reflects the dynamics of the nation throughout its four centuries of history and to date exceeds 20,000 works, which includes such notable artists as: Homer, Bierstadt, Inness, Eakins, Vonnoh, Couse, Hopper, Sargent, Chase, Cassatt, Rockwell, Pollack, and Rauschenberg.


A snapshot of the signage at the entrance to the Giffuni Gallery of American Pastels.

A Special Space for Pastels: In 2004, The Flora B. Giffuni Gallery of American Pastels was opened at the Butler Institute of American Art. It is the only museum gallery in the United States devoted solely to works in pastel. Mrs. Giffuni was the founder of the Pastel Society of America (PSA) and the resurgence of the medium’s popularity is due in large part to her generosity and efforts on its behalf. The gallery, which was her life-long dream and bears her name, features exhibitions of accomplished pastel artists, group shows featuring PSA artists, and works from the museums own prestigious collection which includes a large number of Pastel Society of America Hall of Fame Honorees.

Currently On Display: An exhibition of pastel paintings by legendary film actress Kim Novak ( opened in the Giffuni Gallery on May 4th and will run through June 29th. Dr. Louis A. Zona, director of the museum, has described the 27 paintings on display as, “Surrealism meets traditional realism in a effect which is anything but static. Part of the appeal of Kim Novak’s art is that sense of the ethereal. She utilizes the unique qualities of the pastel medium to present a sense of altering states.” Of her portrait Transformation, Nelson Mandela, which portrays the late humanitarian and leader of South Africa, Zona says: “This and other works in the Butler exhibition demonstrate a level of skill that is remarkable. Also revealed is a sensitivity not only to a highly revered subject in Mr. Mandela, but also a gentle touch in the utilization of the pastel medium. It is a difficult material to manage, but Novak handles it with ease.” At the conclusion of the exhibition, the pastel painting of Nelson Mandela will join the permanent collection of the museum.


Transformation, Nelson Mandela (pastel, 18×24) by Kim Novak will become a permanent part of the collection at The Butler Institute of American Art.

I’ve been fortunate to visit many legendary art museums throughout the world, but the pride felt as a pastelist upon entering the Butler was unmatched. The museum’s collection is filled with some of the finest paintings American artists have created and to know that the medium of pastel is given a place of respect next to them is to join in Flora Giffuni’s dream. For more information on the Butler Institute of American Art, visit:

Transformation, Nelson Mandela used with permission of the artist.



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