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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.

Filed under: Art, Exhibitions, Guest Bloggers, History, Indiana, Road Trip

 

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.

Filed under: Art, Conservation, Education, Exhibitions, IMA Staff, Technology

 

Hoosier thoughts on a Haarlem artist: Booth Tarkington on the IMA’s Portrait of Frans Hals

Louis Betts (American, 1873-1961), "Portrait of Booth Tarkington," 1941 Indianapolis Museum of Art, Gift of the Artist. 42.12

[Fig. 1] Louis Betts (American, 1873-1961), “Portrait of Booth Tarkington,” 1941
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Gift of the Artist. 42.12

In the preface to a catalogue of an exhibition at the John Herron Art Museum (the predecessor to the IMA) in 1937, Indianapolis native Booth Tarkington (1869-1946) [Fig. 1] expresses his admiration for the Portrait of Frans Hals [Fig. 2], then thought to be by the master’s own hand:

“…a keen and living bit of analysis from as quick and sure a brush as ever flicked canvas or panel.  Admirably and pathetically lacking the remotest taint of vanity, this picture would have satisfied Robert Burns; battered Frans Hals, without self-pity, could see himself as others saw him, but more shrewdly.”

Unknown artist (Dutch), "Portrait of Frans Hals," about 1650 Indianapolis Museum of Art, Courtesy of The Clowes Fund, C10047

[Fig. 2] Unknown artist (Dutch), “Portrait of Frans Hals,” about 1650
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Courtesy of The Clowes Fund, C10047

 

 

 

 

 

The painting has since been qualified as the best surviving copy after a lost original by Hals. As the copyist retained many elements of the master’s signature style, however, Tarkington’s poetic words are still of interest to the modern viewer.

Tarkington’s characterization of Hals’s manner as “quick and sure” underscores the artist’s distinctive approach. The sketchy contours that suggest movement, the creation of tone through unblended brushstrokes [Fig. 3], and, foremost, the crisp slashes of color that sit unapologetically upon the surface – the final “master stroke” flicked onto the support that defines form – these are the elements that comprise the painter’s recognizable “rough” style. Hals puts these components into the service of a “keen and living bit of analysis,” suggesting the persuasiveness of the representation. Surprisingly, the Pulitzer Prize-winner’s brief description echoes many of the earliest commentaries upon the artist, such as those composed by Cornelis de Bie (1627-c. 1715), Govaert Bidloo (1649-1713), and Arnold Houbraken (1660-1719).

The portrait under consideration is not just any likeness, however, but the artist’s own visage. Tarkington celebrates the honesty with which Hals approached his own face, writing that the portrait lacks “the remotest taint of vanity.” Furthermore, he alludes to the difficulty of viewing oneself with such frankness by referencing Robert Burns’s 1786 poem “On a Louse”:

“O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
An’ foolish notion:
What airs in dress an’ gait wad lea’e us,
An’ ev’n devotion!”

[Fig. 3] Detail of "Portrait of Frans Hals."

[Fig. 3] Detail of “Portrait of Frans Hals.”

Tarkington likely meant the furrowed brow, the bags under the eyes, the slightly misaligned eyelids, and the thin cheeks when he wrote about Hals’s “shrewd” perception of himself. Tarkington’s descriptors of “battered” and “without self-pity,” however, smack of early authors’ incorrect portrayals of the artist as a drunkard and hedonist. (For a laugh, read Houbraken’s life of the artist, in which the author notes that Hals’s students often helped their inebriated master home from the tavern and, once, played an ambitious prank on him.) These characterizations resulted from centuries of confusion between the painter and his cousin of the same name – thankfully, these accounts have been discredited. On the contrary, the respectable, though oft indebted, painter appears to have received a quarterly stipend from the city of Haarlem during his final years in recognition of his artistic abilities!

Though removed in time and space from the early writers on Hals, Tarkington continued their perceptions of the artist’s stylistic strengths. Employing zippy language and an evocative reference to Scottish poetry, Tarkington provided a captivating variation upon past literature that reinvigorates this portrait for viewers of the 20th century and beyond.

Filed under: Art, Exhibitions, History, Indiana, The Collection

 

Creating an Autoportrait: Kate Oberreich

 Obscured beneath the simple words, numbers, shapes, and colors found in much of Robert Indiana’s work are essential memories and symbols of the artist’s life. Indiana’s visual vocabulary is encrypted with personal symbolism. This is particularly evident in his long series of Autoportraits.

To complement The Essential Robert Indiana, on view through May 4, the IMA invites visitors both on-site and online to Create Your Autoportrait using some of the same elements that Robert Indiana incorporates in to his. During the run of the exhibition, IMA staff members will be creating their own Autoportraits and blogging about it.

This 10th and final post in this series features Kate Oberreich, the IMA’s membership associate and talented local artist.

autoportrait_ko_042814_01

The number 7 has always been my lucky number … I was born on the seventh and bought my first home in July … good things seem to happen for me involving the number seven. It’s been a such a good number I used it twice (my other lucky number is two).

81 is a simple one — the year I was born.

Kate's self-portrait in cartoon form!

Kate’s self-portrait in cartoon form!

The words I chose for my Autoportrait involve my passions and important places. When I’m not assisting IMA members, I can be found in my studio painting. I have a BFA in art with an emphasis in painting. Seed & Star is the name of my studio which I share with three other amazing artists.

I spent childhood summers in Petoskey, Michigan, and have made a couple of trips out to Beaver Island (a two-hour ferry ride from Charlevoix). I still try to go back whenever possible.

My favorite color has almost always been purple, but lately grays have been popping up more and more.

Filed under: Art, Audience Engagement, Exhibitions, IMA Staff

 

Creating an Autoportrait: Lynne Habig

Obscured beneath the simple words, numbers, shapes, and colors found in much of Robert Indiana’s work are essential memories and symbols of the artist’s life. Indiana’s visual vocabulary is encrypted with personal symbolism. This is particularly evident in his long series of Autoportraits.

To complement The Essential Robert Indiana, on view through May 4, the IMA invites visitors both on-site and online to Create Your Autoportrait using some of the same elements that Robert Indiana incorporates in to his. During the run of the exhibition, IMA staff members will be creating their own Autoportraits and blogging about it.

This ninth post in this series features Lynne Habig, the IMA’s Greenhouse Shop Coordinator. Lynne is looking forward to this weekend’s Perennial Premiere.

autoportrait_lh_042114_04

Red, white & blue: I was born into a military family and, for many years, was fortunate enough to live abroad. I learned as a young child that America, warts and all, is still WAY ahead of whatever is in second place. I still love to travel overseas; but I never fail to get ‘goose bumps’ when I return home and see Old Glory flying!

autoportrait_lh_042114_016: The number 6 is significant to me for a number of reasons. 6 appears in the day, month and year I was born – I was 60 in ’06 thus beginning my 6th decade, there are 6 Brandenburg  concerti (my favorites) – and there are 6 strong women in my immediate family!

Faith, family & flowers: My life has been defined by faith, family and flowers. Our world seems to be in a perpetual state of (at best) organized chaos. My parents’ mantra was, “With a solid faith in one hand, and a sense of humor in the other, one can handle anything.” They were right!

Family has always been the bedrock of my security, even when said ground was really rocky. After one particularly disastrous foray into teenage rebellion, I can still hear my mother saying, “I really hate what you’ve done, but nothing can change the fact that I love you.” Whew, lucky me!

autoportrait_lh_042114_02And finally, flowers … Gardening has kept me truly grounded (pun intended) all my life. Season after season, I have watched the interaction of plants with weather, animal life, insects, etc. and have concluded that there is indeed order in our universe. And I travel with hope that eventually there will be a happy ending.

39.8 & 86.1: These are the latitude (degrees north) and longitude (degrees west) of Indianapolis. Rudyard Kipling said it best, “God gave all men all earth to love, but since our hearts are small, ordained for each one spot should prove beloved over all.” And in Dorothy’s words, “There’s no place like home!”

Filed under: Art, Audience Engagement, Exhibitions, Greenhouse, IMA Staff

 

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