Kathleen Nightengale contacted me through my website, and after some discussion, drove a trunk-load of artwork over to my house. Great Uncle Kenneth Tussing was born in 1906 and died in 1998, after which his life’s work was appraised and divided up among the family. He was a welder by day, painter by night, all of his life. Early on he studied with Karl Kappes, renowned teacher of many Toledo artists. He was also a member of the Art Klan, and friends with Earl North, Howard Schuler and Mark Shalow. Kathleen needed to give the paintings a good home, and I was thrilled to have the first acquisition of the Artists of Toledo Museum — not only are the paintings interesting as folk art, but they are also informed. The story of this artist is equally interesting. Until the Artists of Toledo Museum has its own four walls, I’ll look for a museum outpost, such as a restaurant or library, that can hang a temporary museum wall so that public can enjoy these paintings and the story.
I saw artwork on my friends’ walls, and I was interested in knowing more about the artists, so I looked them up at the library. I’d see Abramofsky, John Noble Richards, Earl North, Ruskin Stone, Joe Ann Cousino — these were some that I noticed early-on and whose style I could always recognize.
My mother, Audrey Gentieu, passed away last year. She was a really good artist. When she was young she had a teacher who was a well-known artist, Karl Kappes, and he had other students who became well-known artists, including Earl North and Ruskin Stone. It amazed me when I first looked up Kappes — he was born in 1861 and studied in Germany and Paris. Only then did I fully understand my mother’s refined sense of color and impressionistic style.
Toledo has such a rich history of artists. It was artists themselves who created the Toledo Museum of Art. They got together a group and decided to call themselves the Toledo Museum of Art without owning a single work of art or having a location or a bank account. With such a lofty name they had to live up to it, and within just a few years they had their museum. My logo for Artists of Toledo is inspired by a story by Thomas Shrewsbury Parkhurst, an artist in the Tile Club and a journalist, about how they raised their funds. The story goes like this — the museum had but one painting, and nowhere to put it. They placed the painting on the floor, and borrowed a chair to put in front of it. Then they invited all their well-to-do friends to sit in the chair, one by one, as they espoused the virtues of building a museum for the citizens of Toledo, and how awful it would be for the future of Toledoans if there would be no art museum. So the museum raised thousands of dollars this way, which Edward Drummond Libbey matched and tripled.
Toledo is a big city yet small enough to be embraceable. The history is not too daunting that you cannot take it all in, and it’s extremely interesting to put in perspective the several generations of matured artists with their careers behind them. It’s all so connected with the community and I love finding the descendants of these artists and getting to see the treasures that they have.
The history of the museum is really interesting. Created by artists, it was further defined and developed by the visionary modernist couple, George and Nina Stevens, and in turn it has nurtured many thousands of young art students, some who grew up to have long notable careers in the arts such as Edith Franklin, Paul Perlmutter, Joe Ann Cousino, LeMaxie Glover and Robert Freimark. The museum used to reward these artists with one-man art shows in Gallery 21 and Gallery 8. Instituted by Nina Stevens, local one-person shows were a regular thing, and they were monthly from 1933 to 1970.
With the one-man shows at the art museum came press for the artists in the form of announcements and reviews in the paper, parties and coverage of such parties in the society section, personal telegrams, congratulatory notes, flowers, and sales — lots of sales. It did a great deal to spur the artistic growth of the artists, as well as of the community. Now all of that is gone. If artists don’t have inspiration and reward, it’s hard to keep it going. There is no bar to raise, there are no challenges to rise to.
It’s difficult to buy art. People need a little help; some education. I’d like Toledoans to get to know the treasures they have around them and the talent that Toledo itself has spawned — and that’s why I am making artistsoftoledo.com.