Bicentennial exhibits dive into Indiana identity
photos by John Terhune for the Journal & Courier
Domenica Bongiovanni,Journal & Courier May 23, 2016
bicentennial year affords a retrospective of everything Indiana.
Depending on where you go around the state, you can see the arc of our history, the pluck of our personality, the beauty and hardships that have united us. The current yearlong celebration of the past 200 years is showcasing this through historical exhibits, legacy projects, a torch relay, story sharing and more.
And bicentennial collections of art in Lafayette capture a sense of the parts’ sum: our Hoosier identity.
Two exhibitions at the Art Museum of Greater Lafayette — “A Bicentennial Legacy Exhibition, ArtSmart: Indiana” and “Indiana Now” — show the historical breadth and contemporary practice of Indiana art.
And the Haan Mansion Museum of Indiana Art’s enormous collection juxtaposes yesterday and today throughout its rooms in several mediums.
Gathered together, the works speak among themselves and to visitors. And a fuller picture of Hoosier heritage comes forward as the the art shows myriad shades of experiences, mediums and values from artists who have strong ties to the state.
The gray and brown tones of Charles Lesueur’s early 19th-century depiction of nibbling mice hangs near the pale reflections on the cool, creamy blues of George Winter’s river scene at the Art Museum. Viewers can feel the soft, chilly snow on the ground and rooftops through John William Vawter’s brushstrokes.
Rudy Pozzatti’s 1970 print “Apollo” comments on the Space Age and includes Purdue University graduates etched in the deep purples and blues you see in photos taken from space. A few rooms away, the loud yellows, reds and greens of lottery tickets, aluminum and plastic dice pop in layered, intricate wings in Rob Millard-Mendez’s contemporary piece, “Ill-Advised Apparatus for Upward Mobility.”
At the Haan Museum, viewers can glimpse T.C. Steele’s children making music at home. A different home scene comes to life with Dick Hay’s sculpture, which has colorful glasses piled onto a platter in “Cleaning Up After the Party.” Sculptures ready to take their place in a new garden combine abstraction with classic poses and relatable facial expressions.
“Hoosiers have always placed a value on not just documentation but showing others their life from their eyes, which I think is what good art does,” said Michael Crowthers, the Art Museum’s curator of exhibitions, collections and education.
“You try to show someone else your point of view.”
Exhibits showing hundreds of years of art display how our lives have changed, of course. But Crowthers said they also show a surprising amount of overlap of subject matter and focus, including our involvement with land.
Those with strong ties to Indiana especially understand this art. Rachel Berenson Perry, curator emerita at the Indiana State Museum, likens showing it inside the state to passing grandma’s silver onto the next generation — our stewardship is powerful.
“I think it’s important to a lot of collectors to keep Indiana art in Indiana, you know, where it’s really appreciated more,” Perry said.
“It’s so accessible. I mean, you can look out your window and see the woods and you can see what T.C. Steele’s interpretation of the woods were, and it’s very recognizable.”
Indiana’s historical sweet spot
Steele and the Hoosier Group are likely what art experts will tell you about first in a discussion on the state’s art history.
Jim Ross, co-owner of Eckert & Ross Fine Art in Indianapolis, said the Hoosier Group — composed of Steele, William Forsyth, John Ottis Adams, Otto Stark and Richard Gruelle — is one of the deepest and richest traditions in the country. The regional art school became known for stunning landscape paintings and portraits of Indiana governors. Four of the five studied in Europe and then brought back their training to paint Indiana scenes in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
A sculpture by Indiana artist Tuck Langland titled "Solitude" at the Haan Mansion Museum Friday, May 13, 2016, in Lafayette. (Photo: John Terhune/Journal & Courier)
At a time when artists had difficulties in cosmopolitan centers, Ross said establishing careers in Indiana was a bold move. While in Munich, Perry said Steele, Forsyth and Adams became inspired by Dutch painters who trained abroad and returned to their homeland and applied their newfound technique to local scenes.
The Hoosier artists also financed their European study by promising portrait work and copies of old master paintings, Ross said, and might have needed to come back and fulfill those obligations.
Landscapes weren’t popular in Hoosier homes at the time, Perry said, but the five built up a market for them. Other artists followed their example, Ross said.
The Hoosier Group worked in an American impressionistic style, Perry said, which was conducive to plein air painting that required painting quickly on location outdoors and negotiating light and condition changes. The loose brushwork lent itself to capturing the whole picture quickly, she said.
Although the group is known for elevating landscape painting, the members’ interior works are equally powerful.
Steele’s “Daisy at the Piano” and “Interior Scene with Shirley and Daisy” — from the late 19th century — at the Haan Museum depict the subjects performing in lush, indoor scenes that feel both homelike, with Daisy’s bench on a rumpled rug, and filled with artistry, with a bust atop the piano.
Ellie and Bob Haan collected the works because they present what’s less seen of Steele’s talent and show how affluent families spent time, Ellie Haan said. The paintings also depict Steele’s children, she said.
Crowthers found power in Adams’ indoor scene in “Library at the Hermitage” at the Art Museum. The outdoors peek in through a window at a teacher giving a lesson to two children in a cozy but stately library. An open dialogue is evident — their books are down as they look at one another. Adams’ view of education comes through, Crowthers said.
The Hoosier Group’s landscape heritage continued with the Brown County Art Colony, pioneered in part by Steele and Adolph and Ada Shulz at the turn of the 20th century. Artists traveled there to paint the location’s natural beauty and local character, and it became the biggest artists colony in the Midwest in its time, Perry said.
“A lot of people don’t realize that Indiana has a lot of beauty, you know, from the flat cropland areas down through the southern part of Indiana where it’s hilly and wooded and very picturesque,” Perry said.
Colony member Vawter’s work, like “Barnes Cabin on Owl Creek, Brown County,” with its secluded log cabin in a peaceful green setting, shows what these artists took an interest in.
At the Art Museum, Crothers pointed out Vawter’s “Scene of an Alley” — thought to be in southern Indiana — as relatable because of its homey familiarity. Snow-covered houses and streets relay the weather’s chill. But the scene doesn’t feel forlorn — rather, it’s an illustration of Hoosiers’ pride in surviving harsh winters, he said.
Around the sweet spot
Because of Indiana artists’ rich work in the latter 19th and early 20th centuries, early historical work sometimes doesn’t receive the attention it deserves, Ross said. But its importance comes through in survey exhibits like the one at the Art Museum, which coincides with the statewide ArtSmart: Indiana program for fourth-graders that began there. Now in its 30th year, ArtSmart: Indiana teaches state history from 1800 to the present through the work of Indiana artists.
“These shows are important ... because I think sometimes the collectors today, the art patrons don’t fully understand the depth of the real early stuff,” Ross said.
A sculpture by artist Peter Rujuwa titled "Miner" at the Haan Mansion Museum Friday, May 13, 2016, in Lafayette. (Photo: John Terhune/Journal & Courier)
English-born Winter, who at one point painted commissioned portraits in his Lafayette studio, documented American Indians and landscapes from along the Wabash River. Winter’s “Scene on Eel River” at the Art Museum, a picturesque early 19th-century scene of people in a canoe traveling down the Indiana waterway, shows that its economic viability, beauty, recreation and resources were valuable to the artist and time period, Crowthers said.
Barton Stone Hays’ “Landscape with Sheep” at the museum lends itself to imagining a soft breeze and pleasant weather, thus creating a feeling of place, Crowthers said.
Ellie Haan pointed out Laura Fry’s work at the Haan Museum and her major development of applying slip glaze to pottery with an atomizer. Fry taught at Purdue University, headed its industrial art department and started the Lafayette Art Association in 1909, which eventually became the Art Museum.
In the 1930s and 1940s, the achievements of Indiana artists who participated in the national regionalism movement — championed by the Works Progress Administration — have flown under national art history’s radar. Students at the then-John Herron Art Institute in Indianapolis were encouraged by director Donald Mattison to create work in this style, Perry said, which captured realistic life in their communities and highlighted the Midwest.
The direction paid off. Robert Weaver and Harry Davis, among others, won major prizes that afforded them time to study in Europe.
Looking around now
Although Indiana artists have branched out along with the times, they’re still connected to a solid foundation.
“Our cultural heritage is still really rich. You know, we started out with artists like T.C. Steele and J. Ottis Adams, and they’ve just laid such wonderful groundwork,” Haan said.
Hoosiers continue to be in the mix on a national scale, creating in popular mediums, including video art and technology, Perry said.
The Haan Museum’s sculpture garden, which is a bicentennial project set for a grand opening in September or October, will become a new showcase for some of the state’s best contemporary art. At least 15 sizable bronze, stone, metal and clay sculptures — including jungle animals and a shimmering silver figure in a dress — by at least 10 Indiana artists will wind around the back lawn, executive director Flo Caddell said.
The family- and wheelchair-friendly garden will include work by Greg Mendez, Tuck Langland, Peter Rujuwa, Marvin Bartel and more, Haan said.
“There’s a lot of really good art in Indiana, and sometimes you don’t realize it,” Caddell said. “Some of these artists, they exhibit in other states. Sculptors don’t often have a venue to exhibit, and so they might participate in a group with other sculptors where they all exhibit in one place where there is going to be a major sculpture exhibition, and then their pieces go out to other venues like that.”
Many of the clay artists whose work the Haans have collected studied with Karl Martz, who started the lauded Indiana University ceramics program, before going on to establish themselves successfully, Haan said.
A charcoal piece by artist Kathy Evans titled "Cierpienie" that is part of the Indiana Now 2016 exhibit Friday, May 13, 2016, at the Art Museum of Greater Lafayette. The work was awarded an Honorable Mention. (Photo: John Terhune/Journal & Courier)
Bartel and other ceramics artists who have been professors have had the freedom to create more experimental work, Haan said, because they didn’t have to rely solely on their art sales for an income. Teaching students what’s possible with the medium also requires that professors master a variety of techniques, which they use in their own work, she said.
The Art Museum’s Indiana Now exhibit reflects the breadth of what the best Indiana artists and those with ties to the state have created since the beginning of 2014. This year’s 557 entries, of which 75 were chosen, represent a larger cross-section of styles — including abstract, representational, photography, painting, fiber, etc. — than the same show three years ago because there was such a strong pool to choose from, exhibit chairwoman Lorie Amick said. The chosen work represents seven states and 29 Indiana cities, she said.
When selecting pieces, juror Ken Probst said he sought a quality French artist Henri Matisse wrote about — that a work should elicit emotion from its viewer. Probst grew up in West Lafayette and now paints after running Kenneth Probst Galleries in Chicago for about 20 years.
Probst, Crowthers and Amick mentioned Pamela Deaton’s mixed media sculpture, “Our Path is Chosen,” as a piece that stands out. Ladders and buildings are nestled in the head and shoulders of a woman made from earthlike materials. Probst awarded it an Honorable Mention.
“She’s a piece I’ll think about five years from now,” Amick said. “She’ll be in my head.”
Amick also admired the color and rhythm in Diane Tesler’s “Toastmasters,” which depicts a row of toasters, bread, coffee and a rumpled towel on a blue-checkered tablecloth, imparting all the busyness and whimsy of meal preparation.
Probst also highlighted Dawn Adams’ “Lake Griffy Reflections,” in which a bevy of gorgeous colors are reflected in the water’s ripples. He awarded it Best of Show.
“It’s a very complex composition and the coloration is remarkable, and just the technical use of her materials is outstanding,” Probst said.
With so many facets to Indiana art history, even the experts have a tough time coming down on any single thread that unites yesterday and today. But they tout the high standard and consistency of what Hoosiers have created.
“When you have a quality artist and you have someone who cares about what they’re doing so much, they can find a way to connect to the viewer,” Crowthers said.
“And I really don’t think there’s an expiration date on that.”
If you go
A Bicentennial Legacy Exhibition, ArtSmart: Indiana (through Nov. 27) and Indiana Now (through Aug. 31). 11 a.m.-4 p.m. daily at the Art Museum of Greater Lafayette, 102 S. 10th St. Runs through Aug. 31. Free.
Haan Museum of Indiana Art. Guided tours at 1:30 p.m. June 18 and 19. 920 E. State St. $10 advance, $12 door. Ages 4-17, $5 advance, $6 door. haanmuseum.org.
For a full list of bicentennial events, go to in.gov/ibc/2352.htm.