Salli LoveLarkin (1937- 1999), was a major advocate for the arts, particularly for her beloved hometown, Cincinnati OH. Tapping into various mediums, Salli was a visual artist, performer, costume designer, and theater director, in addition to holding three important leadership positions as a well-respected arts administrator. She graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 1974 with a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts after which she moved to New York City to actively pursue her career as a visual artist. There, she also worked as a costume designer, an experience she remembered fondly. Early on, Salli’s paintings were of still lifes though she moved into abstraction later in her career. In the mid-1980s, she transitioned back to Cincinnati in pursuit of a Master’s degree in Humanities at Xavier University, where she met the love of her life and father of her five children, William Larkin III.
Despite her many successes, her early life was challenging, as she was orphaned after her father’s death at age two. She lived with relatives until she went to boarding school when she was six. It was then that she began to cultivate the deep love for art that would carry her for the rest of her life. While little is published about her work prior to the 1970s, her most public successes occurred during the second half of her life when she saw her greatest achievements as a community-conscious art professional in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Shortly after completing her Master’s degree, Salli became director of the C.A.G.E. (Cincinnati Artists Group Effort) in 1988. Under her leadership, the artist-run noncommercial gallery pushed for programming that challenged societal norms, respectfully and thoughtfully curating up to 12 exhibitions annually. In 1992, she established a small video production company called Young Love Productions with her business partner, Sarah Young. The company was in operation through the mid-90s, and tackled difficult political subject matter in features such as The Instruments May Be Shown, a video on torture. She had a devotional interest in spirituality, as well, and explored this professionally as executive director of Fountain Square Fools, a liturgical theatre company.
Always one for experimentation and interdisciplinary approaches to art making, in 1987, LoveLarkin wrote, directed, and produced her first of three (and perhaps her most notable) theatrical production, Maud Gonne: A Terrible Beauty Is Borne. The multi-media play depicted the life of Maud Gonne, the Irish revolutionary who had a public and intimate relationship with the renowned Irish poet, William Butler Yeats and to whom Salli felt a deep fascination and connection. Salli was a theatrical innovator in her own right, taking an “imagist,” non-linear approach to theater. In this perspective, she focused more on the larger aesthetic of the play and moved away from conventional narrative forms. For her homage to Maud Gonne she collaborated with her son, Billy Larkin, a jazz musician who composed the music for the play and some of her other productions. Like Maud, Salli fought as an activist through the very end of her life, championing support for small arts organizations. She also frequently visited Ireland, as it was a great source of inspiration for both her plays and her paintings, as well.
LoveLarkin’s final position was founding director of Alice F. and Harris K. Weston Art Gallery from 1995 to 1998, where she pushed forward her interests in accessibility and art as a service to the public. Her mission as director of the Weston Art Gallery was to break what she viewed as the elitist underpinnings of contemporary art and to invite the public to engage with politically-minded art, free from academic or artistic intimidation. Salli LoveLarkin was a member of the Women’s Caucus for Art and A.I.R., as well as the recipient of several regional grants and awards including the Ohio Governor’s Award for the Arts.
Shared on POBA by Ohio Arts Council.