Clyde Singer Artist Capturing Small Town America

Clyde Singer Artist Capturing Small Town America  by Rosemary McKittrick

Photo courtesy Garth's Auctions.

If you want to get the feel of small town life in early-20th century Ohio Clyde Singer is the artist who could provide it.  Clyde was born in 1908 and grew up in the hills of Malvern, Ohio, 40 miles south of Akron. From his first set of crayons it was clear Clyde’s passion was art.  When he couldn’t find an easel to use, he tacked oilcloth to an outhouse wall and finished his study of a tree.  

Clyde started out painting the people and shops of Malvern.  He paid locals 5 cents to sit for him.  As an artist-storyteller he literally visually preserved the village through his art.  Viewing his work is like stepping back in time and seeing what the town looked like in the 1930s and who the people were who lived there.

In his later years Clyde’s oils and watercolors turned more to urban scenes.  People having fun at the carnival, sitting on a bench reading the paper; standing on windy street corners, chatting in hallways, talking in bars, there wasn’t much he missed.   

Clyde was all about capturing what he called the “juice of life.”  He was a realist painter, a Regionalist with a satirical eye who painted people in their everyday comings-and-goings. 

He liked catching people off-guard.  He used movement and color to reveal things about them they probably would have preferred to leave unsaid.  

His characters are frozen in time as they head for the subway or dine at an intimate table for two.  But you get the sense of them moving.  Their personalities also emerge from the canvas.  The artist captured time and place in his paintings with historical accuracy. 

After finishing high school he worked as an apprentice to a sign painter.  With the money he earned painting signs Clyde enrolled at the Columbus Museum of Art School.  He received a scholarship to the Art Students’ League in New York in 1933 where he studied with John Stuart Curry and Thomas Hart Benton. 

He was only in New York for a year but he continued to paint urban scenes when he returned to Ohio.  He insightfully and magically captured everyday people doing everyday things. 

He was the country boy at heart who loved painting the “man on the street.”   

He was the country boy at heart who loved painting the “man on the street.”   

Clyde settled in the Youngstown area in 1940 and became the assistant director at the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown.  Except for military service he remained there until his death in 1999.

He painted more than 3,000 works of art.  His work has been exhibited at the Chicago Art Institute, The Whitney Museum, the Corcoran Gallery, the Massillon Museum, the Canton Museum of Art, the Butler Institute of American Art and the San Diego Art Museum.  He has been called the last great master of the Ashcan School.

On May 20-21, Garth’s Auctions in Delaware, Ohio, featured a selection of Clyde Singer’s work in its Ohio Valley Auction.  

Clyde Singer

Standing Nude #6 and Bounced; etchings on paper; 2; signed and titled; 10 ¾ inches by 8 ¾ inches and 7 inches by 9 inches;  $783. 

Sunday Dress; oil on wood panel; woman in white dress; signed and dated 1956; 24 ¼ inches by 14 inches framed;  $1,446.

Blonde in Yellow; oil on wood panel; portrait of young woman; signed and dated 1960; 22 ½ inches by 8 ¼ inches framed;  $1,446.   

Girls Hailing a Taxi; oil on canvas; double full-length portraits; signed and dated; 1952; 45 inches by 24 inches framed;   $6,463.

Campus Queen; oil on canvas; blonde woman walking on sidewalk; signed; 36 inches by 42 inches;  $7,230.

Rosemary McKittrick is a storyteller.  For 26 years she has brought the world of collecting to life in her column.  Her website is a mother lode of information about art, antiques and collectibles.  Rosemary received her education in the trenches working as a professional appraiser.

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