National Midyear Exhibition Opens at The Butler

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The Butler Institute of American Art’s National Midyear Exhibition provides a snapshot of the national contemporary art scene.

The summer show, now in its 87th year, opened June 25 and runs through Aug. 20. It features 80 works by artists from 15 states.

Glen Hanson of South Jamesport, New York, won Best in Show for his painting “World Trade Center.”

This year’s exhibition was curated by renowned printmaker and painter Gary Lichtenstein of New York, who exhibited his own works at the museum earlier this year.

The National Midyear accepts two-dimensional works by adult artists living in the United States and its territories. This year, more than 300 artists entered a total of 810 works. The show is in the Macintosh and Finnegan-Hynes galleries. Admission to The Butler is always free.

The oldest artist in this year’s show, 92-year-old Joan Sonnenberg of Naples, Florida, is represented with her mixed media work “Totem Brave,” which received an honorable mention.

Louis A. Zona, chief curator and executive director of The Butler, said the National Midyear is a


“It presents both traditional works as well as the highly inventive abstractions that are always crowd pleasers,” Zona said.

One such abstract piece is “Ukraine,” a massive triptych by Poland-based artist Ron Barron. The piece received an Invited Artist Award.

“Ukraine” is three large pieces, each painted a bright but different color, displayed together and submitted as a 54-inch-by-125-inch work of art.

As with much of Barron’s work, it makes a sociopolitical statement and is made from found items.

The overall effect of “Ukraine” is that of shards of a building that has been blown apart but still stand together. Barron says it’s about Russia’s attack on the country, which he calls a crime against humanity.

Ron Barron works on a painting in his studio in Poland.

The abstract piece was a direct result of Barron’s habit of “scavenging” through discarded items for inspiration. But creating a piece about Ukraine was not his intent as he started the piece. It was only after it was finished that he realized it made a statement about the war-torn country.

Barron began his process by obtaining permission to sort through wood scraps at the Ace Lumber Co. in Youngstown.

“I asked [his friend and Ace Lumber owner] Herb Soss if I could dumpster dive for scrap lumber and make art out of it,” Barron says.

“When you submit art [for The National Midyear], you have to list the medium,” Barron says. “Mostly, it would be oils, or acrylic paintings. Mine said scrap lumber and snow fencing.”

When he started working, what stood out was how the pieces were frayed and looked shattered and broken. 

“I was fascinated by it,” Barron says. “I did not set out to connect it to Ukraine. Once I spray painted it, I tried to figure out what to call it. It had so many feelings associated with it. The blue center and the gold piece next to it were kind of like the colors of the Ukrainian flag. That got me thinking. The silver piece seemed like it represented the spirit of the Ukrainian people.”

Barron had his work accepted in the National Midyear in the past as well. He has also had exhibitions at The Butler, including 2012’s “Trashscans,” which drew national media attention.  The exhibition comprised dozens of collages of trash and other found items from neighborhoods in New York City and was a commentary on climate change and pollution.

Barron also collaborated with Youngstown artist Ed Hallahan for a 2021 exhibition at The Butler titled “Earth Air Fire Water.” That show further developed his concerns about climate change. It contrasted and combined Barron’s “trash” art with Hallahan’s totemic sacred wooden sculptures.

Barron’s body of works also includes his “Adrift” series, which is made of objects that washed ashore all across the country.

Barron graduated from Carnegie Tech in Pittsburgh in 1959 with a degree in painting. But he did not seriously take up art until 2011, while living in the Pocono region of eastern Pennsylvania.

The Winners

Here is the complete list of winners of the National Midyear Exhibition:

  • Best in Show: Glen Hansen, South Jamesport, New York, “World Trade Center.”
  • First Place: John P. Smolko, Kent, “John.”
  • Second Place: Michael Jackson, Wooster, “Brothers Fireside Reunion.”
  • Third Place: Diane Beatty, Campbell, “Helen’s Chair.”
  • Allied Award: Sharon Moody, Delray Beach, Florida, “Personal Guardian Angel.”
  • Staloff Award: Harold D. Zabady, Camp Hill Pa., “Below NYC.”
  • Desind Award: Mark Giangespero, Stow, “Angela.”
  • Director’s Choice: J.R.C. Dorchester, Media, Pa., “Harmonica Man.”

Honorable mention:

  • David Dorsey, Pittsford, New York, “Anabasis/Ascent.”
  • Steven M. Leahy, Beloit, “Three Amigos.”
  • Dan Spahn, Moline, Illinois, “Stream.”
  • Kenneth P. Cobb, Mansfield, Pa., “Stated Grounds.”
  • Autumn Joi Ellis, Youngstown, “Culture.”
  • Debrah Butler, Kent, “Prince Among Princes.”
  • Marc Winnat, Nashua, New Hampshire, “Brooklyn, From Above.”
  • Joan Sonnenberg, Naples Florida, “Totem Brave.”
  • Bre Barnett Cropwell, Charlotte, North Carolina, “An Ocean of Emotion.”

Invited artist:

  • Ron Barron, Poland, “Ukraine”;
  • Thomas McNickle, Volant, Pa., “Winter Reflections.”

Pictured at top: Ron Barron’s abstract triptych “Ukraine.”

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