The Westmoreland Acquires Three Works Thanks to McKenna Foundation Gift in Honor of Judith O'Toole

GREENSBURG, Pennsylvania (June 22, 2018) – The Westmoreland Museum of American Art has acquired three works of art purchased by Richard M. Scaife Director/CEO Judith O’Toole using funds donated by the Katherine Mabis McKenna Foundation in honor of her retirement following 25 years of leadership.
Linda Boxx, chairman of the Katherine Mabis McKenna Foundation, facilitated the gift, which was designated for art acquisition selected by O’Toole. Boxx was a member of the Museum’s Board of Trustees from 1994-2001 and the president of The Westmoreland Society from 1999-2001.
“Paul Chew, as the first director of the Museum, began to build the Museum’s impressive collection from scratch,” Boxx said. “While the collection continued to grow under both directors, we wanted to honor Judy’s tenure as its leader with an opportunity to leave her distinctive mark on the collection.”
O’Toole selected works by Larry Poons, Mickalene Thomas and Michael West, which have been added to the Museum’s post-1950s collection.
“It is rare that a donor has such insight into a meaningful opportunity for a departing executive,” O’Toole said. “This grant gave me the ability to leave an impression on the collection that was singularly my own. I used it to advance The Westmoreland’s holdings in post-1950s American art, a new area of collecting made possible for us by the gifts and promised gifts of Peter and Diana Jannetta, and to add diversity to that collection.”
Larry Poons’ painting career spans more than 50 years, with his early work consisting of optical arrangements of dots and ellipses against vividly painted monochromatic backgrounds. In the 1970s, he began pouring, throwing and splashing paint onto canvas surfaces, resulting in works that resemble waterfalls of color. With Stanley’s Traveler (1973), one of his earliest drip paintings, Poons left the top of the canvas open to breathe, showing the action of pouring. The spattering of paint at the top provides a sense of light coming to the surface, evoking a deeper sense of space.
Mickalene Thomas is a painter, photographer, videographer and collage artist from Brooklyn, New York, whose artistic vision draws on art history and popular culture to create a contemporary vision of female sexuality, identity, beauty and power. For her work Shug Kisses Celie (2016), Thomas photographed a still from the movie The Color Purple, a complicated tale of male dominance, female empowerment and the healing power of love. She then lithographed the photograph onto a grid of mirrored surfaces using several layers of ink, leaving one small triangle free of image at child’s height.
Michael West is considered to be one of the female artists who helped shape the arts culture of America following World War II. A pioneer of Abstract Expressionism, West used heavy brushstrokes to bring movement and expression to her canvases. Her work Red Squares (1971) is a composition in which the artist tests the boundaries between reality and spirit, a subject area that she explored later in her life. She accomplishes this by using heavy brushstrokes to create a lattice-like structure out of white paint in the foreground, which viewers must look through to see what lies beyond it.
Shug Kisses Celie by Mickalene Thomas and Red Squares by Michael West are currently on view in the Museum’s Post-1950s Gallery. Stanley’s Traveler by Larry Poons will be on view in the coming weeks.