Alliance Art Gallery invites all who know Toto Foster Rendlen, a founder and member artist of Alliance Art Gallery, to attend a retrospective celebration of her work from 5 to 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 14.
Although a Yankee girl whose father made his living plying the Atlantic waters, Rendlen always yearned to go West.
“I’m overwhelmed by prairies and huge plains and fields more than the ocean. The colors, winds, clouds. I feel connected to land,” Rendlen said.
She sees her art through a spiritual lens, one outcome of her training as a spiritual director.
“I began by painting my dreams,” she said, and often uses intensely saturated pastels. Anyone looking at the rich history of her decades-long love affair with art notices the frequent appearance of hay bales, fields under blue skies, billowing white clouds, her beloved 200-year-old “Dancing Oak” tree that shades her home and a cat. For Rendlen, the passionate connection to what she paints must be there. In life’s stresses and moment of depression, she adds, “It can be very healing and freeing.”
She once wrote of the whimsically painted furniture she creates.
“Following the phrase of the Australian Aborigine, I believe each of us has his/her own storyline — a sacred word — God’s song-seed sown within us. Our lives are the unfolding of that song, an infinite word that is sung-spoken through us.”
For Rendlen, “Painting is purely and simply my grateful response to life.”
Part of Toto’s song, accompanied by her husband Charles’ baritone voice enthusiastically booming, “Toto, let’s just do it,” has resulted in transforming Hannibal into a destination town for artists and art lovers.
Sometimes a town starts inexplicably to sizzle. The time becomes ripe. Today it is Bluff City Theater and Muddy River Radio. Back in the ’90s, it was art, artists and “Provenance” — a grant-based magnet to lure artists to settle in our town. Rendlen drove to Springfield, Ill., to attend a workshop on how towns can attract artists and become an art destination. Anita Lamb Sorrill, a jeweler who would soon move to Hannibal, happened to sit next to her. By the end of the day, they looked at each other and said, “Let’s do it.”
Thus began Alliance Art Gallery. By that time, Rendlen had run two galleries and been an early director of the Hannibal Arts Council, and Charles Rendlen worked on the board creating Provenance. The Rendlens rented the old bank building at 201 N. Main, across from today’s Hannibal History Museum. The massive vault stood open; dust lay everywhere, but the windows were large and the location central.
With Anita, Toto and Charles invited artists to attend a meeting about starting a cooperative gallery. Some of our highly recognized regional artists — Brenda Beck Fischer, Willie Richmond, Pat Kerns — were among the first, and the gallery opened its doors in October 2003.
Today, Alliance Gallery is the longest continually running cooperative art gallery in Hannibal and is highly successful in the region. Art lovers from Chicago compare it to the best galleries in their Windy City. Under Sorrill — until her unexpected death in 2005 — Brenda Beck Fischer, and today’s Ann Titus and Pat Kerns, the Gallery has gone from a cooperative-style venue to a polished gallery.
The only jolt in the journey happened when the bank building’s owners, the Ginsburgs, unexpectedly received an offer on their house and decided to move downtown — into the bank.
One member lamented, “We are art orphans.”
Kristy Trevathan, having just purchased one of the Famous buildings with dreams of a green grocer market, realized Alliance Art Gallery needed a good new downtown home. After all, she laughingly admits, she had closed the sale that forced them to move. With that in mind, she renovated and updated the Famous building, tucked pointing one wall, and provided perfect track lighting for art. In 2008, the gallery moved into this larger 112 N. Main space, thus adding more artists.
Art requires three things: artists, a place to display and buyers. Without Toto and Charles Rendlen, along with other visionaries, Hannibal would not be the art lovers’ destination that it is today. Many times, Toto wrote a larger check for her rent, knowing the gallery was having a slow month or something needed repair. The Rendlens often stepped in to help on major upgrades.
After all these years, Toto Rendlen, inspirer and original member, will be leaving the gallery as a active member. With deep gratitude, Alliance Art Gallery salutes her and Charles. This successful gallery would not be here today without their vision, their financial support — and Toto’s passion.
An opening reception celebrating Toto Rendlen will be from 5 to 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct 14. The reception coincides with Hannibal’s Second Saturday Gallery Night.
— By Bella Erakko