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On Writing a Book

Ernest Hemingway once said that there are two kinds of writers—those who want to write and those who want to have written. Most would-be writers fall into the latter category—they want what they suppose to be the glory of holding a newly finished manuscript or hot-off-the-presses book. And they assume there’s nothing to it, as if writing a book is akin to painting a wall. They’re the ones who, when they find out I’m a writer, start talking about the book they’ve been meaning to write, as soon as they get some free time. Like it’s something anyone can do while on vacation.

Believe me, writing a book is no day at the beach. From the moment you move from the what- a-good-idea-for-a-book stage to the put-your-butt-in-chair-and-crank-out-the-pages stage, creating a book is much more about grinding it out than it is about experiencing the joy of creativity. When it comes to writing a book, inspiration is highly overrated—usually by those who haven’t written one. A book is a chore.  Read the rest of this entry »


What A Surprise

There are two types of books in the world—those that writers choose to write for themselves (and with the hope, of course, that someone will publish them) and those that writers are commissioned to write. I was commissioned to write Every Way Possible, the first published history of the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Or rather, to help write it, since it was far too big a job for a single writer to tackle, at least in the time allotted to do it—which was less than two years.

Okay, two years probably seems like plenty of time if you’ve never written an institutional history before. But the truth is, two years is barely enough time if what you’re trying to do is provide a reasonably comprehensive look at 125 years in the life of a major museum, which is what those of us involved in the Every Way Possible project were charged with doing. And by two years, what I mean is that at the end of that time, there would be printed and bound books in hand—which meant, working backwards from that point, we actually had about 16 months (one year + four months, for those of you keeping score at home) in which to research, write and edit a 300-page book (as well as find, identify and write captions for more than 100 photographs). The rest of the time was dedicated to designing the book (no easy task in itself), then getting it printed, bound and delivered.  Read the rest of this entry »


A Town on the Outskirts of Town

Have you ever wondered how the IMA ended up in what is at once a beautiful, yet (relatively speaking) a remote, setting? For many people, the answer lies in the 1966 gift of the family estate by the children of J.K. Lilly, Jr.—but true as that is, there’s an even more fascinating story that precedes the Lilly family’s arrival on the site. That’s the story of Hugh McKennan Landon and his partner Linnaes Boyd, who bought 52 acres of land in 1907 which they intended to develop into an enclave of country estates.

Historic Image of Oldfields

Their reasoning was sound. At the time, country estates were all the rage among wealthy Americans, who yearned to escape the noise and pollution of the cities—noise and pollution often created by the very manufacturing plants that had made them wealthy in the first place. And Landon and Boyd’s property at the intersection of Michigan and Maple Roads was both remote enough to qualify as countryside, yet near enough to the city to make commuting easy. (The Interurban rail line ran past on the western edge of the property.) Maple Road, which we know today as 38th St., ended at the White River—there was no bridge at that time.

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Power to the People

Photo Courtesy of Lisa French

Photo Courtesy of Lisa French

After writing or co-writing histories of the IMA, the Herron School of Art & Design, and the Indianapolis Art Center, I’ve come to appreciate the fact that the most important resource an organization needs to succeed is people. I know that’s stating the obvious, but it’s worth acknowledging. Without people committed to developing, sustaining and improving an organization (whether a multinational corporation or small not-for-profit) nothing of value will ever get done.

In my former capacity as the visual arts writer for The Indianapolis Star, I covered the IMA extensively, from articles on exhibitions and events to a large, multi-faceted package of articles on the Museum’s most recent facilities expansion. But the ones I enjoyed writing the most were the profiles I did of various IMA staff members—I can attest to the fact that the Museum attracts some of the city’s most talented, skilled and interesting people. What I discovered while researching and writing Every Way Possible, an upcoming book celebrating 125 years of IMA history, was that fact has always been true.  Read the rest of this entry »


A Lament for the Lost Art of Letter Writing

Okay, it’s a standard thing these days, to grouse about the lost art of letter writing. At least, it is for those of us old enough to remember the pleasure of receiving actual handwritten letters, enclosed in stamped envelopes and delivered to your front porch mailbox. But that’s not what this particular grousing is going to be about.

Instead, I want to lament the fact that future historians aren’t going to have the pleasure that I’ve had while researching the upcoming book celebrating 125 years of IMA history, Every Way Possible—the pleasure of opening musty file folders to discover inside letters written decades in the past. If you happen to find good ones—and I did—it’s the closest thing to time traveling that you’re likely to experience.

And among all of the letters I discovered in my research, the very best ones were those written by Kurt Pantzer. He who was an attorney and a member of a number of boards of directors, including that of the Art Association of Indianapolis, the group that later renamed itself the Indianapolis Museum of Art. (He was also an art collector, who became one of the most respected J.M.W. Turner scholars in the world. His collection of Turner works is one of the IMA’s jewels.) But for as busy as he was, Pantzer was a prolific letter writer—he would have a meeting with someone in the morning, and that evening he would write a letter to the same person, detailing what had occurred as a result of their meeting. Pantzer was a skillful writer who clearly liked the idea of creating a record of what he was doing in Indianapolis in the 1950s, ‘60s and early ‘70s.  Read the rest of this entry »


About Skip Berry

Job Title: Indianapolis-based freelance writer

Interests: Biking, walking, reading, films, music.

Favorite Movies: My interests are broad, ranging from indie films such as Once and Juno to Westerns such as Unforgiven and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid to art-oriented films like Basquiat and sci-fi flicks like Blade Runner. I also like clever films such as Memento, The Usual Suspects and Pulp Fiction.

Favorite Music: Again, I have a range of interests, depending on my mood-- from big, over-the-top groups like U-2 and The Stones to lyrically dense stuff like Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon to urbane stylists like Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett.

Favorite Food: Grilled chicken, salmon and pasta dishes.


Something you should know about me: I prefer to ask questions rather than answer them.

Skip has written 7 articles for us.