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#ArchivesMonth at the IMA


… and to celebrate, I am going to share items from some of my favorite collections in the IMA Archives. But first, you may be wondering, “What is an archives?”

An archives is a place where people go to find information. But rather than gathering information from books as you would in a library, people who do research in archives often gather firsthand facts, data, and evidence from letters, reports, notes, memos, photographs, audio and video recordings, and other primary sources.

– The Society of American Archivists

As the IMA’s Archivist, I manage over 130 years of institutional records and special collections that relate to all aspects of the museum’s historic and current operations. While I often work with documents and photographs, the IMA Archives includes textiles, architectural drawings, landscape and sculptural models, scrapbooks, films, and a variety of other unique materials – not limited to the physical. As the IMA and its staff move further into the digital age, I do my best to combat the possibility of a “digital dark age” for the museum by ensuring that both born digital and digitized electronic records are preserved and made accessible for current and future needs.

While the museum’s records date back over 130 years, the IMA Archives was officially established only four years ago. In that short time, some very amazing collections of archival material have become available for research. Not only do these collections document the operations of the museum and the work of IMA departments and governing bodies, but they also give a glimpse into the lives of the people who made the IMA what it is today — our founders, donors, staff members, and patrons throughout the museum’s history. By documenting the actions of these individuals, the archival material also speaks volumes about the vital role that the arts have played in our city and throughout Indiana for generations.

The following are some of my favorite collections and individual items from the IMA Archives …

IMA Exhibition Records
The IMA Archives Exhibition Records document the planning and execution of exhibitions from the first exhibition of the Art Association of Indianapolis in 1883 to the present day. The records of individual exhibitions may include checklists, exhibition catalogues, ephemera, images of installations and artwork, correspondence, press clippings and other documents.

Indiana Art and Artists
Indiana artists and their works are well-represented in the collections of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, and have naturally found their way into many of the collections within the IMA Archives. Photographs, correspondence, scrapbooks, exhibition ephemera, scale models, and other artifacts in the IMA Archives document the relationship between the museum and Indiana’s artists since the founding of the Art Association of Indianapolis in 1883.

Onya La Tour Papers (M005)
An avid art collector and dealer, Onya La Tour traveled extensively and made connections with many modern artists. After amassing her personal collection of artwork, La Tour returned to her home state of Indiana and founded the Indiana Museum for Modern Art in Brown County. Before her return to Indiana, La Tour served as director of the Federal Art Gallery  and the Onya La Tour Gallery in New York City. The collection contains La Tour’s diaries, daybooks, correspondence, personal memorabilia and research files, exhibit and gallery brochures and catalogues, published books and journals, and historical material related to the Onya La Tour art collection at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Select items from the Onya La Tour Papers will be on display October 17, 2014, through April 12, 2015, in the exhibition, The Onya La Tour Collection: Modernism in Indiana.

Miller House and Garden Collection (M003)
The Miller House and Garden, one of the country’s most highly regarded examples of mid-century Modernist architecture, was designed by Eero Saarinen, with interiors by Alexander Girard and landscape design by Daniel Urban Kiley. Commissioned by industrialist and philanthropist J. Irwin Miller and his wife Xenia Simons Miller in 1953, the Miller House and Garden was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2000. In 2009, members of the Miller family donated the house and garden, along with many of its original furnishings, and the archives collection to the Indianapolis Museum of Art. The archival collection documents the design, construction, decoration, and maintenance of the Miller House and Garden from 1953 to 2009 and includes documents, photographs, architectural and landscape drawings, and material samples. This collection is currently being digitized by IMA Archives staff, and unique and interesting finds are shared on the Documenting Modern Living Tumblr.

Filed under: Art, Conservation, Design, History, IMA Staff, Indiana, Technology


In black and white and color

Why do architects wear black, anyway? Well, not all of them, but enough so that you can understand why one asks the question. Black turtlenecks, black jackets, black pants, black shoes, black, black, black.

I am off into purely personal speculation here, so I can only ask that you bear with me. Black is a serious color.  And architecture is a pretty serious business. To an architect, there is probably no more serious business. (Aside: priests wear black; ultimate reality is pretty serious, too.) Architecture is about form, space, and order – ask Francis Ching – the serious elements of this serious business. It’s not about mere decoration. Decoration is too ephemeral, too frivolous, very unserious. I’d suggest that black reflects and affirms an architect’s commitment to the seriousness of his or her profession; it says “decoration is not for me – I leave that to others. I create structure, space, form and order. I don’t pick out wallpaper.”

The Miller House:  modernism in black and white.

The Miller House: modernism in black and white.

So why is the Miller House in Columbus, Indiana, predominately white? White steel on the exterior, white plaster and laminates and nearly-white marble and terrazzo on the interior. Granted, the house’s exterior walls are clad in nearly-black slate, but I’d argue that this merely heightens the impact of the interior’s light-filled whiteness. White is a serious color for modernism. White rejects the colors one associates with most traditional building materials – brick, wood, and stone – in the same way that flat roofs and large expanses of glass reject traditional buildings’ expressions of shelter and enclosure. White emphasizes architecture as intellectual concept independent of historical precedents or local traditions. One might say it’s the same idea as the architect’s black wardrobe rendered in reverse.

Recipe for the use of color and texture: add liberally to taste; stir judiciously.

Recipe for the use of color and texture: add liberally to taste; stir judiciously.

The Miller House has intellectual rigor to spare: the grid of its columns, the 5-foot module of its plan, its perfect clarity of openness and enclosure. All expressed in white or nearly-white materials. But the Miller House has plenty of color and texture as well – Alexander Girard saw to that – textiles, glass, ceramics, decorative objects. They balance the house’s austerity and reserve with an outgoing cheerfulness that belies the care of their selection and organization. Architecture is indeed an intellectual exercise, but a home environment must satisfy emotional needs as well. Saarinen, Roche, Girard, and the Millers understood this. My guess is that they wanted to see the full range, a home whose use of color metaphorically captures the greatest possible breadth of experience.

Filed under: Contemporary, Design, Miller House, Musings


The Evolution of Rococo

Today’s guest blogger is DAS member Sheri Conner. Sheri is an interior designer who teaches history of furniture and other courses for the Art Institute Online Division’s Interior Design program.

How did we get from this …

Fig: 1, Nicolas Heurtaut, 1755, Suite of four fauteuils à la reine (flat-back armchairs) © 1994 RMN / Daniel Arnaudet

Fig: 1, Nicolas Heurtaut, 1755, Suite of four fauteuils à la reine (flat-back armchairs)
© 1994 RMN / Daniel Arnaudet

… to this …

Fig. 2, John Belter (American), “Armchair,” 1855 Indianapolis Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. C. Harvey Bradley, 80.482

Fig. 2, John Belter (American), “Armchair,” 1855
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. C. Harvey Bradley, 80.482

… to this?!

Fig. 3, Alessandro Mendini (Italian, b. 1931), “Poltrona di Proust” lounge chair, 1978 Indianapolis Museum of Art, Robertine Daniels Art Fund in Memory of Her Late Husband, Richard Monroe Fairbanks Sr. and Her Late Son, Michael Fairbanks, 2013.15 © Alessandro Mendini

Fig. 3, Alessandro Mendini (Italian, b. 1931), “Poltrona di Proust” lounge chair, 1978
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Robertine Daniels Art Fund in Memory of Her Late Husband, Richard Monroe Fairbanks Sr. and Her Late Son, Michael Fairbanks, 2013.15
© Alessandro Mendini

And what the heck does THIS have to do with it???

Fig. 4, François Boucher (French, 1703-1770), “Idyllic Landscape with Woman Fishing,” 1761 Indianapolis Museum of Art, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Herman C. Krannert, 60.248

Fig. 4, François Boucher (French, 1703-1770), “Idyllic Landscape with Woman Fishing,” 1761
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Herman C. Krannert, 60.248

Rococo style originated in Paris during the reign of King Louis XV. Upon the death of his great-grandfather Louis XIV, the Regent temporarily relocated the aristocratic center from the palace of Versailles to Paris. The new court quarters consisted of townhomes and apartments, creating a need for smaller scaled furnishings. In her book, The Annotated Mona Lisa, Carol Strickland describes the period as, “… a shift in French art and society from the serious and grandiose to the frothy and superficial,” noting that, “… the nobility lived a frivolous existence devoted to pleasure.” Décor took on a light appearance in terms of scale, color and ornamentation to fit with the intimate interiors and care-free lifestyle. Other European countries and the U.S. had their own interpretations of Rococo style.

The name Rococo derives from the French rocaille, which means shell. Rococo style is primarily associated with the decorative arts; however, painters of the time embraced it wholeheartedly. François Boucher for example, was commissioned to paint large-scale bucolic scenes consisting of rosy-cheeked goddesses and putti frolicking in lush gardens and pastoral landscapes (fig. 4). These themes were also translated into furniture design (fig 1). Rococo art and design has been described as romantic, idyllic, curvaceous, naturalistic, and asymmetrical.

Rococo styled seating and case pieces were curvilinear and visually delicate. Carved shells, flowers and botanical forms, scrolls, fruit, cherubs, and serpentine lines are all distinctive features of Rococo furniture. The cabriole leg is highly indicative of Rococo style, often terminating in scrolled, or claw and ball feet. Upon discovery of the ruins of Pompeii, Rococo design fell out of style giving way to the Neoclassic period.

Fast forward 100 years. Rococo is revived! Nineteenth century Rococo Revival furniture is larger, heavier, darker, more symmetrical and heavily carved. Industrial techniques were employed such as mechanical carving, coil springs for comfort, and new methods for laminating and bending wood. Original Rococo furniture was only available to royalty and the wealthy elite. This, along with the affordability rendered by mass production, made the revival version popular among the rising middle class during Victoria’s reign in England.

Pamela Wiggins asserted in her article, Who Was John Henry Belter?, “When it comes to Rococo Revival furniture, John Henry Belter (fig. 2) was no doubt the master craftsman working in the mid-1800s.” He is known for innovations in lamination and carving, securing patents for several techniques and mechanisms related to furniture manufacturing. Belter brought high furniture design to the U.S.; finally we were on par with Europe! Often imitated by his contemporaries, Belter destroyed plans and molds of his furniture so it would be very difficult to duplicate after his death.

Time ticked on … design along with it. Between the wars, furniture designers created radical revolutionary objects for the purpose of mass production. The Modernist Tradition led contemporary design into the later decades of the 2oth century. It viewed design as industry. Stemming from the Bauhaus’ early rejection of historic forms and ornamentation, designers working in the Modern mode embraced geometric forms and new materials like tubular steel and plastic. Form was ever ruled by function.

Along came the Italian design groups Alchemia and Memphis, who promoted a design-as-art ideal in the late 1970s/early 1980s. Based on this new Postmodern approach, design welcomed a decorative, historicizing tradition. Function was secondary. Manufacturers began to hire international designers who were raised to the level of superstars. People like Alessandro Mendini (fig. 3) viewed themselves as “non-designers,” creating personas and brands identifiable as their own style.

Handmade, one-of-a-kind, limited editions replaced mass production. Common recognizable forms and historic styles were resurrected in new and exaggerated ways marked by pattern, ornament, rich color, and luxury. Flexibility and range of materials allowed new sculptural possibilities for furniture. Postmodernist designers in a sense, mined history to conceive works like Mendini’s Proust armchair. Can you see it gestating in Boucher’s idyllic landscape?

Filed under: Art, Contemporary, Design, Guest Bloggers


IBM Selectric II Typewriter

Today's blogger is Mary Inchauste, Design Arts Society Board member and Associate Principal at CSO Architects, Inc.

Right near the entrance to the new Contemporary Design gallery, proudly displayed is an electric typewriter, a big blue IBM Selectric II.

The original Selectric was introduced in July 1961, and changed the way offices functioned until the advent of the personal computer. The industrial design is credited to Eliot Noyes. The Selectric II entered the market in 1971 with additional features.

Eliot Fette Noyes, designer (American, 1910- 1977), The IBM Corporation, manufacturer IBM Selectric II Typewriter, 1971 Indianapolis Museum of Art, Gift of Lee and Dorothy Alig, 2011.283

Eliot Fette Noyes, designer (American, 1910- 1977), The IBM Corporation, manufacturer; IBM Selectric II Typewriter, 1971; Indianapolis Museum of Art, Gift of Lee and Dorothy Alig, 2011.283

I had to smile as I noticed it in the case, remembering the ones my Dad had in his dental office. It was a big deal, and cost a lot. As Dad recalls, people thought he was crazy spending that kind of money. At the time, there were no effective office copier, no word processors. The Selectric Typewriters had many ingenious features that opened up a whole world of possibilities in a small office and saved lots of time (efficiency!) for his staff of one.

Manual typewriters used fixed keys, which moved up to strike the carbon and paper to make each letter. Some practice and skill was necessary to get the fingers to push the keys hard enough to make a good imprint, and rhythm to hit the keys in a way that didn’t jumble the flying letter arms. The paper carriage moved across the machine and, to start another line, one pulled the lever (advancing the paper one line) and then pushed it to the right to start position. Only one typeface and type size was available with no way to change it. You had either a pica or elite type size, one typeface.

For a good typist, the manual typewriter worked fine for letters and manuscripts, but not so great for forms and other kinds of documents, as needed in a dental practice. For me, the manual typewriter was a significant challenge. I was terrible on the keys – it was tough to get consistent pressure on the letters. I made lots of mistakes, so had to either start over or try the challenge of erasing tape and white out. Despite my efforts to learn to spell, I made lots of spelling mistakes also, with no easy way to quickly correct them.

Photo courtesy of:

Photo courtesy of: us__en_us__ibm100__selectric__selectric_2__900x746.jpg

The innovative typewriters by IBM were electric, so mastering the key stokes was so much easier. The type was positioned on a “ball” with four rows of 22 letters. The mechanism moved the ball, rotating and raising it to the letter matching your key stroke, then “throwing” the ball against the ribbon and paper. Every letter had the same pressure and looked the same. The ball moved across the paper which remained stationary. At the end of a line, just hit the return key, no worries about not getting paper in the right place, and faster!

The type balls were interchangeable, opening up the flood gates for users’ creativity! Type “balls” are available in pica or elite size, italic, different fonts and also with foreign language alphabets, scientific characters … endless possibilities! Eventually, Dad had six type balls and I remember typing high school math and science reports using the scientific symbols. One had a conversion chart (looking like a keyboard) showing “A” key = which scientific symbol. Sounds tedious today, but a big deal then. One could type a paragraph in italics or increase the type size, such as a heading, very easily in the same page. These type balls were genius!

Another great feature was the erase key. Prior typing errors had to be corrected by manually moving the paper back to position of the error letter, inserting a white erase paper and typing the wrong letter to be covered by the white carbon. The carriage would still advance, so you had to realign the paper again and type the new letter. Or use the liquid white out, wait for it to dry and try to line up the text to retype. Either way, mistakes were pretty glaring. Usually it was best to just start over on a new piece of paper. Blah! With the IBM Selectric, you could just back space to the letter or word that needed to be changed, and press the erase key. Type the wrong letter and it would bring up a white erasing ribbon, remove/cover the error and not advance the ball. Then type the correct letter. Easy!

My third favorite feature was the memory. Depending on the models, the IBM Selectric could save text and reproduce it. The typewriter Dad had in the late ’60s could save whole documents, up to a limited number of characters, about two pages. Type your document, then insert another piece of paper and it would type out an exact copy from memory.

The whole story of the IBM Selectric II is pretty amazing and highlights the impact that good industrial design has on our lives. If you want to learn more, there is a wealth of information available online. Check it out!

Filed under: Design, Guest Bloggers, Technology


Remaking a rug at Miller House

Today's blogger is Bradley C. Brooks, Director of Historic Resources and Assistant Curator, American Decorative Arts at the IMA.

It seems that an important reason why the Miller House and Garden has retained so much of the integrity of its original design is that the Millers greatly cherished and valued the work that Eero Saarinen, Kevin Roche, Dan Kiley, and Alexander Girard produced for them. They were patient partners in the design process and tended to seek refinements, rather than wholesale changes, as the house evolved through later years.


Top: The den rug before replacement. Bottom: The new den rug.

The rugs in the house are a case in point. The rug presently under the dining table, for example, is the fourth generation of the original Girard design. The first was one of a group of flat-woven rugs produced in France, all of which were later replaced with looped-pile versions of the same designs. With wear and food spills, the dining room rug was the most often replaced.

At the time the museum took ownership of the property, the Miller family had begun a project to remake a number of rugs in the house. Most in need of replacement was Girard’s den rug, which had been worn quite through in a few spots. We fudged it for a while with the placement of furniture to hide the worst of the damage, but this was only at temporary fix.

As with any such project, there were concerns about achieving the appropriate weave structure,  pattern, and color accuracy. We had received some of the original design drawings as part of the Miller House Archives, and IMA conservators had painstakingly removed unfaded fibers from deep in the rug’s pile in order to make accurate color comparisons. After several rounds of adjustments and approvals, we gave a go-ahead to Edward Fields to put the rug into production.

The new den rug!

The new den rug!

In mid-April of this year, the new rug was ready to install, and it more than lived up to all our expectations. The vibrant colors were back, and the many emblems of family history and association were renewed, all rendered in a highly disciplined, multiple colorway grid of lozenges – a glimpse into the mind and design process of Alexander Girard.

Filed under: Conservation, Design, Miller House, Textile & Fashion


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