Toto Foster Rendlen leaving gallery as an active member

The Alliance Art Gallery invites all who know Toto Foster Rendlen, an original founder and member artist of the Alliance Art Gallery, to attend a retrospective celebration of her work on Second Saturday, Oct. 14, from 5 to 8 p.m.

Though 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,” she said.

She sees her art through a spiritual lens, one outcome of her training as a spiritual director.

“I began by painting my dreams,” Rendlen remembered, 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 brilliant blue skies, billowing white clouds, her beloved 200-year-old “Dancing Oak” tree which 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.”

Part of Rendlen’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 the 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 the Alliance Art Gallery. By this time, Rendlen had run two galleries, and been an early director of the Hannibal Arts Council, and Charles worked on the Board creating Provenance. The Rendlens rented the old bank building at 201 North 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 Sorrill, the Rendlens invited artists to attend a meeting about starting a cooperative gallery. Some of the region's highly recognized regional artists — Brenda Beck Fisher, Willie Richmond, Pat Kerns — were among the first and the Gallery opened its doors in October 2003.

Today, the Alliance Gallery is the longest continually running cooperative art gallery in Hannibal, and highly successful in the region. Art lovers from Chicago compare it to the best galleries in the Windy City. Under Sorrill (until her unexpected death in 2005), Brenda Beck Fisher, and today’s Ann Titus and Pat Kerns, the Gallery has gone from a cooperative-style venue to a polished gallery.

In 2008, the Gallery moved into its 112 N. Main space, adding more artists.

After all these years, Rendlen, inspirer and original member, will be leaving the Gallery as a active member. With deep gratitude, the Alliance Art Gallery salutes her and Charles.

An opening reception celebrating Toto Rendlen will be 5 to 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 14. The reception coincides with Hannibal’s Second Saturday Gallery Night.