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Discovering Onya La Tour

Today's guest blogger is IMA Docent, Nancy McMillan.

As a life-long resident of Indiana, I have been visiting Brown County since I was 10 years old. In spite of that, I had never heard of Onya La Tour. So, when I learned that the IMA would have an exhibition of works of art from her collection, and that she was a some-time Brown County resident, I jumped at the chance to learn more about her and her passion for collecting Modernist art.

Painting of Onya La Tour in Brown County Public Library.

Painting of Onya La Tour in Brown County Public Library.

Brown County has always had a magical allure for me. As a child, I thought nothing could be greater than living there—in a log cabin, perhaps, on acres and acres of land. My new-found friend, Onya La Tour, bought a farm—118 acres—and an old house in southeastern Brown County in 1939. She settled there—not far from the iconic Stone Head sculpture—in 1940. Intending to establish the Indiana Museum of Modern Art, way down there on Christiansburg Road, Onya moved in and attempted to create not only a museum but also an artists’ residence. She lived there about seven years before moving to a hilltop home just north of the north entrance to Brown County State Park. (The Indiana Museum of Modern Art didn’t really take off.)

From the house on the hill, she had a wonderful view of the north entrance to the Park. There, she entertained various artists and other luminaries. They climbed the hill to her house—near dusk—where they shared artistic stories and ambitions and admired the sweeping views of the valley at sunset. What a magical time they had!

Onya’s art-collecting began in the early 1930s. By that time, she had moved from her home in Washington County, Indiana; relocated to the Pacific Northwest with her then-husband, where she gave birth to her only daughter, Manya; moved on to California then Puerto Rico; and finally arrived in New York City, where she hobnobbed with the artists of the Works Progress Administration and operated art galleries of her own. How interesting, eclectic, and eccentric she was.

Her move back to Indiana was not by chance. She was looking for a place where she could bring modernist art to a population that didn’t know about it. At that time, of course, Brown County hosted an active artists’ colony. It had served as the home to some members of the Hoosier Group—wonderful representational artists like T.C. Steele. There was a rich artistic tradition there, but Onya had other ideas: why not expose Brown County and Indiana to a new artistic experience—modernism? At first, the locals were skeptical, but they came to embrace Onya, her dedication to modernist artists and her desire to bring something new to Brown County.

Original home in Brown County purchased by Onya La Tour in 1939.

Original home in Brown County purchased by Onya La Tour in 1939.

As an IMA docent, I am always dedicated to studying and learning as much as I can about the artists whose works the IMA exhibits; however, Onya La Tour provided me, and my fellow docents, Susanne Morreale and Ieva Straatman, an opportunity to do a “road trip”—we traveled to Brown County and located the farmhouse that Onya purchased in 1939. In person, it looked exactly the same as it does in photos from the era when Onya was there trying to establish the Indiana Museum of Modern Art. We knocked on the door of the house, hoping to encounter the current residents, but no one was home. Then we traveled north, closer to Nashville, to the hilltop where Onya moved in the late 1940s—her home known as “Spellbound.” We climbed the steep hill—in the car—and there, we found a house. But it did not at all resemble the “Spellbound” home we saw in Onya’s photos. Apparently, there had also been an art gallery on the hill that Onya called “Bluecloud,” but we found no evidence of that structure either.

Dedication plaque outside meeting rooms in Brown County Public Library.

Dedication plaque outside meeting rooms in Brown County Public Library.

Mantel in Brown County Public Library meeting room, with painting by La Tour’s brother, Alva La Toor.

Mantel in Brown County Public Library meeting room, with painting by La Tour’s brother, Alva La Toor.

Shortly thereafter, we went into Nashville, and visited both the Brown County Historical Society and the Brown County Public Library. The library was of great interest—we found a couple of conference rooms that a bequest from Onya’s estate paid for. Her name was on a plaque, announcing that she had funded the rooms. In addition, over the fireplace mantle in one of the rooms, we located a painting—signed “Alva La Toor.” Alva La Toor? Now that’s a coincidence—La Tour, La Toor? Apparently, frère La Toor decided to spell his name differently from his sister’s.

What a fun treasure hunt this has been! Onya La Tour and her art collection are quite a story.

Nancy McMillan and fellow docents will be giving public tours of The Onya La Tour Collection: Modernism in Indiana on December 26, January 10, February 24, March 14 and April 11.

 

Art & Science Collide: The IMA at Celebrate Science Indiana

Guest bloggers Fiona Beckett and Erica Schuler are painting conservators at the IMA.

On October 4, the Indianapolis Museum of Art was present in full strength at the annual Celebrate Science Indiana Fair at the Indiana State Fair Grounds. Conservation Scientist Gregory D. Smith along with Paintings Conservators Fiona Beckett and Erica Schuler demonstrated the link between science and art to fair-goers of all ages. Throughout the day, the IMA booth was filled with lively conversations about art conservation and conservation science, including the different analysis techniques that help conservators examine great works of art and reveal secrets invisible to the naked eye.

Fiona, Erica and Greg representing the IMA at the Celebrate Science Indiana Fair.

Fiona, Erica and Greg representing the IMA at the Celebrate Science Indiana Fair.

Using a photographic examination technique, visitors excitedly observed a painting in-situ with a specialized infrared camera, which allowed them to see beyond the upper paint layer and discover a hidden figure beneath. Guests analyzed artists’ materials with X-ray fluorescence, a technique used to identify the presence of elements (such as iron or lead). Once identified, these elements help the conservator determine which pigments were present on the artist’s palette.

For many, the highlight was handling the raw artists materials including 6,000 year-old lapis lazuli, a rare blue mineral once worth its weight in gold. Visitors also guessed the contents of a test tube containing cochineal insects, which are processed to make the red dye, carmine. Many were shocked to discover that the dye not only provided color for artworks, but is also present in many of today’s food and cosmetic products!

Visit us next year (Saturday, October 3, 2015) and see what else art and science have in common!

In the meantime, you can visit Coat of Many Colors at the IMA to discover how scientific imaging and dye analysis has helped us to pinpoint a creation date for an Uzbek garment.

 

The art in volunteering

Today's guest blogger is volunteer Pres Maxson. Pres has been volunteering for just a couple of months, but he is already an excellent addition. You can find him working at special events and the Visitor Information Desk. If you see him, be sure to say hi!

Today the air is crisp. I have all the windows down in the car, and I happily pull through the gates to the Indianapolis Museum of Art. It’s perfectly autumnal outside, and I’m looking forward to starting my shift as an IMA volunteer.

A fan of the museum and art in general, volunteering my time at the IMA was a natural draw for me. As someone who strives to be creative and stay creative, the IMA is an obviously stimulating atmosphere. Not only is there beauty in the artwork itself, but the kind and talented people that I’ve already gotten to know a little bit in the process makes the entire experience all that much more enjoyable.

Volunteer Pres Maxson is waiting for you to visit the IMA.

Volunteer Pres Maxson is waiting for you to visit the IMA.

From where I sit today at the visitor information desk on the second floor, I have a front row seat to Sol Lewitt’s Wall Drawing No. 652. Colorful, mosaic, and mind-bendingly expansive, it’s the perfect welcome to the galleries. If you stand just feet from it and gaze upward, it’s a reminder that life is especially attractive when all you see is art.

I also have a nice view into maybe my favorite area of the museum, the Sally Reahard Suite of European Art. Through its entryway directly in front of me, I get an excellent look at Fernand Leger’s Man and Woman and Joseph Bernard’s Young Girl Arranging Her Hair. The latter sculpture intrigues me because it seems to take on an almost entire different character when I walk around it. It’s almost as if the young girl’s mood changes, even though she stays perfectly still. Not bad for today’s office view.

Even more fun for me, is the scenery off to the right. Products of the Pont-Avon School, Seguin’s Two Thatched Cottages and Denis’ The Breton Dance hang in a soft and perfectly complementary light. If I crane my neck, I can also see a handful of Pont-Aven School etchings. My aunt and uncle have a small cottage in Brittany themselves, and the artwork has me wishing that my wife and I were back vacationing there, enjoying a pain au chocolat at a small café or strolling along the northerly coastline.

Setting my wanderlust and the artwork aside, I watch as several groups of students file through the second floor’s enormous sliding glass doors into Mary Fendrich Hulman Pavilion. Nearly everyone who passes greets me pleasantly, and I can’t help but feel slightly jealous that many of them will be experiencing the museum for the first time. For me, discovering the ambiance of the Clowes Pavilion, drawn to it by the quiet trickle of the fountain in the far back corner of the American and European art suites, is a moment I try to recreate every time I stroll through.

I also meet many of the museum’s members, some of whom I’ll admit know much more about the museum and its collections than I do. I learn something new every time that I volunteer, and I feel that I owe it to them more often than not. Since I began with the IMA, I have developed new favorite artists and pieces of artwork that I otherwise might not have noticed. Isn’t discovery half the fun of art?

If that’s the case, maybe the other half is rediscovery. Pieces like Edward Moran’s The Valley in the Sea say something different to me each time. Whether it’s noticing something in the brushwork that I hadn’t seen before or feeling a different dynamic from one day to the next, the ability to transform my perspective makes it a favorite. It’s tough to explain why a particular piece might resonate with me, and maybe as viewers we’re not supposed to try to put it into words. I’ve always thought that one’s relationship with artwork is largely personal, since everything speaks differently to every person.

So here I sit surrounded by all of it, pleasantly experiencing my fall afternoon. After today I’ll be back as a volunteer in two weeks, and I’m looking forward to the whole experience already. I’ll surely meet plenty of new faces, and who knows? Maybe I’ll leave with a new favorite work of art.

If you are interested in becoming an IMA volunteer, please visit our website for more information.

 

City of Light meets the Circle City

Photo of Zadig Perrot by Eric Lubrick

Photo of Zadig Perrot by Eric Lubrick

Recently, 14-year-old Zadig Perrot, from Paris, France, spent two weeks at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. During his first week he attended the Social Photography summer camp for teens where he learned how to use a camera and Photoshop. You can see some of his photos in the slideshow below.

Zadig’s photos and the works of other Summer Camps participants are on view in the Community Gallery on the first floor of the IMA through August 8.

During his second week at the IMA, Zadig spent his time with the Interpretation, Media and Evaluation department. He helped them with some of their tasks and created this video to showcase what the department does at the IMA.

Thanks for your work, Zadig! We hope you enjoyed your visit with us as much as we enjoyed hosting you!

 

 

A place to contemplate

Guest blogger Karen Bower has been a docent at the IMA since 2008.

Alfredo Jaar, Park of the Laments, 2010 Indianapolis Museum of Art © Alfredo Jaar Courtesy of the Indianapolis Museum of Art; The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 Acres

Alfredo Jaar, Park of the Laments, 2010
Indianapolis Museum of Art © Alfredo Jaar
Courtesy of the Indianapolis Museum of Art;  The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 Acres

The entrance beckons. What is up there? After the walls of cobbly rocks caged in wire you see a dark tunnel. What is this place?

Park of the Laments is the largest public, permanent monument, or “intervention,” by Alfredo Jaar in the United States. The form of the park is a square within a square. One square is rigid and made of limestone-filled gabion baskets. Jaar has said the rough, crumbled limestone is a beautiful metaphor for people who have suffered in the past. The second square, soft and organic, is made of indigenous trees and plants. With walls of green and a ceiling of blue sky this center square becomes a relational art project – a place to escape to and meditate.

As an IMA docent who took many children to the Park of the Laments, I came to expect the squeals of the children’s voices testing the space as we walked through the dark tunnel approaching the light. Preparing the children for the tunnel was important to the tour. We approached an opening with dense shrubs on both sides and a staircase to climb. What will we see next? What is this place? I can see the sky and trees and hear the birds and sit on the wooden bench going all around.

On that hot day in June 2010 when the IMA opened the Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 Acres, I was lucky enough to meet the artist. “Oh, Mr. Jaar, you are here today! You get to see our visitors experience your new work!” Jaar approached me and said, “My work – it is too depressing,” referring to his intent of remembering those who have suffered in our world: refugees, victims of genocide. But I reassured the artist. A place to meditate and purge our thoughts of atrocities is necessary.

Alfredo Jaar, Park of the Laments, 2010 Indianapolis Museum of Art © Alfredo Jaar Courtesy of the Indianapolis Museum of Art;  The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 Acres

Alfredo Jaar, Park of the Laments, 2010
Indianapolis Museum of Art © Alfredo Jaar
Courtesy of the Indianapolis Museum of Art; The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 Acres

But how did this Park within the Park begin? Eight works were selected from 60 international artists in a formal bid proposal process to bring new site-responsive works to the new park. Alfredo Jaar was the last to bring his design proposal to the IMA. He had walked around in 100 Acres. It seemed immense to him. How could he respond? The final result is a space of human scale and proportion within the larger landscape. The cobble or rocks can represent lost souls, or not. The vine-covered walls can seem ruin-like or constructed with the idea of porosity – rain water trickling through. Your experience of the space and entering it will be your own. It is intimate and public at the same time. Many visitors feel a hush upon reaching the top of the stairs. Children run and play. Docents invite visitors to use their senses, to become mindful of what they hear and smell, to feel the air. We ask you to describe what you see or what you would name the space.

This is considered one of Jaar’s public “interventions” that memorializes military conflicts, political corruption and imbalances of power between industrialized and developing nations. Hence, the artist’s concern about the public’s reaction to his work on that opening day.

Jaar describes Park of the Laments as a refuge, a place where we can think and dream of what could be. Here in Indianapolis visitors definitely do not find it too depressing.

 

About Guest Blogger

The IMA is always looking for new definitions of art. So we’ve asked guest bloggers to share their thoughts on the subject.

Guest Blogger has written 108 articles for us.