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Acquiring a Work of Art – The Artist’s Party

The Artists Party by Joseph Delaney

The Artist's Party by Joseph Delaney

I was in New York for an annual symposium on American art in the spring of 2003. I went even though the IMA was still contemplating the purchase of a work that I had strongly advocated for the museum’s African American collection. The symposium was important, but so was the purchase, so I kept an open communication with the IMA via cell phone.  The decision to purchase this painting was difficult because Joseph Delaney is not a well known African American artist.

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Acquiring a Work of Art: Loch Long

It’s difficult to acquire a work of art for the IMA that is being offered for sale in an auction, because any addition to the museum’s collection has to be reviewed by a committee and the Board of Directors whose meetings may not coincide with the scheduled auction.  When Loch Long by Robert Duncanson came up for auction in 1997, I knew this would make a wonderful addition to the IMA African American collection. But I had to find a way to bid on the painting but not purchase the work without prior approval from the committee and the Board.  Before I could even consider proceeding, the director’s approval was required. This was not difficult, because building the African American collection was a museum priority and Duncanson was a very important artist and the only African American artist associated with the Hudson River School of landscape painters.  No museum collection of African American art would be complete without one of his landscapes.

Loch Long by Robert Duncanson

Loch Long by Robert Duncanson

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Acquiring a Work of Art: Little Brown Girl

This is the beginning of a series of blogs relating to the IMA’s acquisition of art for its African American collection.  Eight works by African Americans have come into the American Art before 1945 collection since 1993, the first of which has the most unusual story.

I was in the process of organizing the exhibition A Shared Heritage: Art by Four African Americans when I made my first African American acquisition for the museum in 1993.  It was an atypical purchase because the painting, Little Brown Girl by Indiana artist John Wesley Hardrick, had been a gift to the museum in 1929.  At that time the IMA was known as the Herron Art Museum or the John Herron Art Institute.  The policy in those days for lending works from the museum’s collection was very broad and record keeping was not what it is today.  This resulted in the painting being listed as missing in inventory in 1942. Repeated inventories failed to reveal its whereabouts.  The painting remained unaccounted for until 1993 when it was offered to the IMA by a New York dealer because of the artist’s Indianapolis connection.  A discussion with the dealer revealed that the painting belonged to a collector in Maine, but the trail leading back to the Herron Art Museum had gone cold.  The museum’s director went to see the painting and noticed the number 29.40 on the frame, the wooden stretcher and the back of the canvas.  This number confirmed the painting belonged to the IMA, since it was the accession number placed on the work when it was acquired by the museum.  The number indicates that it was the 40th piece of art to be added to the collection in 1929.

Little Brown Girl by John Wesley Hardrick

Little Brown Girl by John Wesley Hardrick

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The Wishard Hospital Murals: A Groundbreaking Project

William Edouard Scott, American, 1884-1964, “Simeon and the Babe Jesus,” oil on canvas mounted to Masonite, 98 x 44 inches, Health and Hospital Corporation of Marion County, Indiana

William Edouard Scott, American, 1884-1964, “Simeon and the Babe Jesus,” oil on canvas mounted to Masonite, 98 x 44 inches, Health and Hospital Corporation of Marion County, Indiana

It was a monumental undertaking one that had never been attempted at another American hospital.  Murals in public buildings were a new concept in 1914. Only the Library of Congress and the Boston Public Library had successfully completed similar projects.  The idea of bringing art to Wishard, then known as City Hospital, started on a very small scale with the idea of commissioning a local artist to create an oil painting for the new Burdsal units which had just opened in 1914. A committee of local artists was asked to select the artist, but the committee came back with a better suggestion.  Why not enlist several Indiana artists to paint murals on the hospital walls?  William Forsyth, a prominent member of Indiana’s famous Hoosier Group, agreed to oversee the project. At the conclusion of many months of work, sixteen Indiana painters had created thirty-three different murals that covered a quarter mile of the hospital’s wall space.

This included well-established artists such as, T. C. Steele, Otto Stark, Clifton Wheeler, Wayman Adams, J. Ottis Adams, and Forsyth himself, and younger painters and local art students such as Simon Baus, Walter Hixon Isnogle, Carl Graf, Jay Connaway, Emma B. King, Dorothy Morlan, Martinus Anderson, Francis E. Brown, Helene Hibben and an African American artist, William Edouard Scott, who would make a name for himself as a mural painter along with his other successful artistic endeavors.  Most of this group received housepainter’s wages, slept in empty wards and ate in the hospital kitchens, while the established artists painted in their studios and received no more than $150 a month for their work.

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Art on Tour: Where is the John Sloan Painting?

Have you missed John Sloan’s painting Red Kimono on the Roof?  If you have, you are not alone.  The painting has not been on display for almost a year. Works come and go from gallery walls for a variety of reasons, but often they are on loan to another museum for an exhibition.

The story of the departure of the John Sloan began in July 2006 when the IMA director received a letter from another institution requesting the loan of Red Kimono on the Roof for an exhibition on Sloan’s New York paintings.  The exhibit was scheduled to be shown at four museums from October 2007 through December 2008.  The letter was passed on to me,  the American art curator, and the museum’s registration department setting in motion a carefully documented chain of events that would lead to the departure of the painting. The IMA requires at least six months notice to process the loan of a work of art from its collection.
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About Harriet Warkel

Job Title: Curator, American Painting and Sculpture

Interests: Exercise and dancing

Favorite Movies: I’m not a fan of movies.

Favorite Music: I love anything fast with a fast dance beat, but I also like “My Heart Will Go On” from the movie Titanic.

Favorite Food: The Saigon is my favorite restaurant, Goodfellows is second. So it’s not a particular food but a particular style of cooking.

Pets: None. When I was young I had fish, parakeets, canaries and a dog, which we returned to store because he had untreatable fleas. After I married, we had fish. I should have learned that fish did not survive under my care. We also had a toad that lived a long and happy life.

Something you should know about me: I never liked art when I was growing up. I would cringe when my art teacher looked at my drawings and whine when my class went to an art museum. Not until I married did my husband’s interest in art intrigue me enough to earn a degree in art history.

Harriet has written 12 articles for us.