Keny brothers carry
on tradition of supporting, promoting
Sunday, October 19, 2008
By Jeffrey Sheban
The Columbus Dispatch
Ohio lays claim to many
titles: mother of presidents, birthplace of aviation, cradle of coaches, even
The owners of Keny
Galleries in German Village say another should be on our Ohio-made license
plates: the art of it all.
That, they say, is
because few places rival the quintessential Rust Belt state as a talent
factory for the arts.
"People need to
realize the great cultural tradition of Ohio, and that it's ongoing,"
said Timothy Keny, who since 1980 has been in business with fraternal twin
The brothers have built
the city's oldest and best-known fine-arts gallery by focusing on Ohio talents
George Bellows, Charles Burchfield, Elijah Pierce, Alice Schille, Clyde
Singer, James Thurber and others.
one of the most respected galleries in the Midwest," said Louis A. Zona,
director of the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown.
Keny Galleries' latest
exhibition affirms the Kenys' belief in the state: "A Cultural Legacy:
200 Years of Ohio Art" -- featuring more than 100 works from 1775 on --
continues through Nov. 3.
Ohio's glory years for
producing wealth, museums and artists extended from about 1860 to 1930, when
industrialists plowed part of their fortunes into the visual arts. Their
legacy survives in museums and art institutes throughout Ohio.
"These were very sophisticated
industrialists who believed very much in the importance of culture to our
state," Zona said. "We have a lot to be proud of in this
The Butler, the first museum in the
country dedicated to American art, was established in 1919 by iron and steel
magnate Joseph G. Butler Jr., whose mills would eventually become part of U.S.
His and similar investments continue
to pay dividends.
According to Zona, Princeton
University art historian Sam Hunter once said during a lecture at the Butler
that there were four centers of art in America: New York, Chicago, Los Angeles
"We had a very early foundation
for support of the arts here," said Jami Goldstein, spokeswoman for the
Ohio Arts Council.
Evidence of that can still be found
in the number of nationally known fine-arts programs in the state, including
Columbus College of Art & Design, Ohio State University's Department of
Art, the Art Academy of Cincinnati and the Cleveland Institute of Art.
In addition, Ohio, through the arts
council, is one of the few states that provides fellowships for individual
artists, she said.
Industrial wealth helped lay the
foundation for Keny Galleries.
James and Timothy Keny's father,
Gebhard, founded Columbus Plastic Products in 1938, a pioneering company that
produced Lustro-Ware and was eventually sold to Borden Chemicals.
Their home was furnished with art and
antiques, and their parents were close to the family of Columbus artist Alice
Schille. As children, they traveled the world from California to Cairo.
"Wherever we went, Mom and Dad
took us to museums -- that was not optional," Timothy said.
He majored in European and art
history at Colgate University and earned a master's in business administration
from Ohio State University; James graduated cum laude from Harvard University
and spent three years in law school.
The brothers, now 52, gained access
to family funds in their 20s, enabling them to start buying and selling
paintings. After opening their gallery in German Village, they began to work
with Schille's heirs to help establish a market for the previously overlooked
artist, now considered a master.
Besides operating their cozy gallery
on E. Beck Street, the Kenys help wealthy individuals manage their art
collections and work with museums in Ohio and beyond to buy and sell art. But
they also advise people of more modest means.
Prices for 17 contemporary artists
that Keny Galleries represents range from $500 to $10,000; a Thurber drawing
can be had for $8,000, and a Bellows lithograph for $10,000.
"If people are interested in art
and they want to buy intelligently, we can advise them," Timothy said.
Tough economic times can present
buying opportunities for people who invest in fine art, the brothers said.
"There's less money out there
chasing paintings now," James said, "and sometimes during a
recession we can get access to a superb painting for our clients that we might
not otherwise see."
Some of those works will wind up in
The Kenys are on a short list of
dealers whom the professionals say they trust.
"Personally, I think they're a
treasure in Ohio," said Lynnda Arrasmith, curator and registrar at the
Canton Museum of Art. "They've helped us in so many ways -- with
exhibitions, with appraisals and finding paintings for our permanent
When the museum needed help with a
recent exhibition on American Indian art, Arrasmith said, "The first
person I turned to was Tim."
Zona has asked James to write
scholarly essays on artists for catalogs.
"Jim is so knowledgeable that he
is an easy answer to our problem," he said.
For their part, the brothers say
they're happiest when they're educating the public about Ohio art and artists.
"We grew up in Ohio, and we're
happy that we can be a resource for people here," James said.
"It's fun for us."