‘Cultures’ Exhibit Shows Range, Skill of Maple Turner III

YOUNGSTOWN – Anyone who views the “Cultures” exhibition could be forgiven for assuming it includes works by several artists.

There are paintings that range from wall-size to notebook, plus sculpture, fashion drawings, delicate Asian watercolors, collage,  African folk art and more.

But the exhibition features the work of only one artist: Maple Turner III. The Youngstown native is a prolific master of many genres.

Louis A. Zona, director and curator of The Butler Institute of American Art, calls Turner “a rare talent who seems capable of doing most anything within the art realm.”

Turner’s “Cultures” exhibition opened Nov. 15 on two floors of the Lemon Grove gallery, Knox Building, downtown. The lively and interesting show by one of the region’s greatest artists will run until Dec. 31.

About 100 to 150 people attended the opening reception. Those who missed it can check it out on Dec. 6 during the city’s downtown Holiday Parade and tree-lighting festivities. Tours can also be arranged by contacting gallery director Jacob Harver at jacob.harver@gmail.com.

All pieces are for sale. Entrance to the gallery is through The Federal restaurant, 110 W. Federal St.

Zona, who spoke at the opening of the exhibition, later described the show as “proof positive that Turner’s talent level is in the elite category. He has flown under the radar perhaps because he has spent so much time studying in Europe and New York.”

Turner, a graduate of East High School and Youngstown State University, lived in New York for 10 years and in Paris for a few years. He returned to Youngstown about a dozen  years ago. Throughout his five-plus decades of producing art, Turner has created about 20,000 pieces. 

The “Cultures” exhibition encompasses works made in the past 20 years. It is separated by continent: works in African and North American styles are on the second floor, while those reflecting European and Asian influences are on the third floor.

The centerpiece of the show is the 10-foot by 12-foot painting “Let us Not Forget 9/11” (2005), a larger than life and spellbinding piece that compels viewers to linger and then return. The ebullient Turner, 65, says it is inspired by the terror attacks on New York’s World Trade Center.

The painting depicts three men in the foreground, with chaotic colors in the background. It has an iconic quality, and calls to mind a stained glass window in a cathedral.

“Some see the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost,” says Turner. “Others see Peter, John and Paul, or Jesus and the two thieves. It’s open to interpretation.”

Nails are a theme in this piece and in quite a few others. They are symbols derived from African spiritual culture, explains Turner. 

As an artist, Turner says he will delve into a theme and produce many variations of a piece.

“I will do a whole series, and then never do it again,” he says. As an example, his show includes a handful of African-influenced busts, which are a sampling of the 65 he made.

Turner grew up on the East Side and, like his father, went to work in a mill after graduating high school. After 11 years with LTV Steel, he lost his job when the plant closed in the mid-1980s. While Turner had been producing art since he was a child, it was only then that he began his formal studies, enrolling in Youngstown State University as an art and theater major.

After graduating, he moved to New York and was accepted at Parsons School of Design. He would become the first YSU graduate to also receive a degree from the prestigious New York institute.

Turner moved to Paris in 2000 where he continued his studies, and returned to New York in 2003, where he earned a master’s degree from City College. He later returned to Paris.

Zona says that Turner’s studies at Parsons and City College enabled him to polish his natural gifts.

“They used to say about [the artist] Robert Rauschenberg that he could go into a closet and in 20 minutes could come out with a work of art,” says Zona. “The same could be said of Maple Turner. He possesses that level of skill and creativity.”

Turner’s work has been shown in exhibitions in the United States and Europe. In his hometown, he has exhibited at The Butler Institute of American Art and at YSU in the past decade.

Pictured: Maple Turner III’s “Cultures” exhibit will run at the Lemon Grove gallery through the end of the year.

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