Special exhibits for Butler

The Butler Institute of American Art will celebrate its 95th anniversary by displaying the original artwork from Maurice Sendak’s ”Where the Wild Things Are” and the paintings of rocker John Mellencamp.

Those and other exhibitions were announced Tuesday in the museum’s spring newsletter.

Butler Director Louis Zona said the shows came together through a combination of luck and planning.

”We were talking about what might be a nice program for the community and then this thing fell into our lap,” he said. ”A former colleague of mine who has organized the Maurice Sendak exhibition asked would we like to be a part of this. Of course.”

The exhibition includes the original artwork from Sendak’s ”Where the Wild Things Are,” one of the most-beloved and best-selling children’s books since its release in 1963. The touring exhibit will open May 18, 2014, and run through July 6.

Zona has been aware of Mellencamp’s art for some time, but it was a representative for the musician who contacted the museum about an possible exhibition.

”Out of the blue, I got a call from an associate of John Mellencamp,” Zona said. ”He said, ‘Are you aware of his Expressionist paintings,’ and I was … He said John would really love an exhibition at the Butler, and I said we’d love to have an exhibition at the Butler.”

Mellencamp, who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008, studied at New York’s Art Students League and has had several solo gallery shows.

”I’ve been fascinated by the idea that some people have talent in more than one direction,” Zona said. ”In the case of John Mellencamp, his dream was to be a painter, but music was another love and, I don’t want to say it was easier, but it made a good living for him … I first saw his paintings quite a while back, and I was impressed how closely his work was tied to the German Expressionists, whose work I really love.”

The Mellencamp show will run in November and December of this year, and Mellencamp is committed to attending a reception during the run of the show.

Hundreds flocked to the Butler in 2010 for a reception featuring the work of Rolling Stones guitar player Ron Wood, and Zona said exhibitions like those by Wood and Mellencamp are a way to reach out to non-traditional art museum patrons.

”It does find a new audience for us,” he said. ”Celebrity does mean something in our culture and the hope is, I don’t know if there is a way of gauging it, that people who come to see the exhibit will come back.”

The Butler Trumbull Branch in Howland will feature the first exhibition of the final painting by Paul Jenkins, who spent his teen years in Struthers and was a leading Abstract Expressionist artist until his death last year at age 88.

”I talked to (Jenkins’ wife) Suzanne Jenkins at Paul’s funeral and asked if he was working to the end,” Zona said. ”Yes, he was, and he has about 20 paintings that have never been seen by anyone. I said let’s show them at the Butler first.”

That exhibition will open on Oct. 13.

Another exhibition Zona is excited about will feature the paintings of Mary Whyte, who recently was profiled on ”CBS Sunday Morning.”

”In my humble opinion, she is as good as Andrew Wyeth,” he said. ”People who love realist art are in for a treat.”

A new exhibition by Larry Kagan, who creates abstract sculptures that cast realistic, recognizable shadows, also is planned for 2013-14. Kagan’s work was featured at the Butler in 2009.