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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

 

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.

Filed under: Art, Guest Bloggers, The Collection

 

An obedient plant?

Can a plant actually be obedient? Why yes, there is one that can be and it just so happens to be commonly known as the obedient plant. The Obedient Plant (Physostegia virginiana) gets its name from the flowers’ ability to stay in place according to how you move them. The flowers are on each side of the spike and can act like a hinge. In this way, one can push them to the right or left, up or down, and have them stay in that position. It might change its position on its own after some time has passed, but for the time being, it will stay in the position you place it in.

That is the extent of this plant being obedient, for it can be aggressive and spread to places where you don’t want it. That is the main issue with the plant. Otherwise, one can prune it in the spring to help reduce its height. It can also be divided every two to three years to help keep this clump-forming Obedient Plant under control. Each clump can get up to 2 to 3 feet wide. Overall, the plant is tall, reaching heights of 3 to 4 feet. These heights sometimes lead to floppiness in the plants, so staking helps to keep them upright.

These plants are more of a prairie type plant, being a great perennial plant for the wildflower garden, the prairie garden, native gardens, and meadows. One can also use their color in a perennial border. The nectar will also attract butterflies and hummingbirds, so it is a possible plant for a butterfly or hummingbird garden. The plant just requires a sunny to partly shady location that has moist, well-drained soils.

The leaves are sharply toothed and lance-shaped, growing up to 4 inches in length. Square, stiff stems allow flowers to be born on four different sides. This stem is typical of the Mint Family, of which this plant is a member. When the flowers bloom, they start opening at the bottom of the spike first, moving toward the top. Flowers usually bloom from June to September, providing some summer color. They are usually pink in color, but can also be white. Individual flowers resemble the flowers of snapdragons and thus the obedient plant is also called false dragonhead. One can see these pink flowers around some of the apple trees in the IMA’s orchard.

Filed under: Greenhouse, Guest Bloggers, Horticulture

 

Excited about Echinacea

Echinacea "Sundown"

Echinacea “Sundown”

What can you find in the garden that is tall, purple, and named after a hedgehog? Echinacea, of course! Echinacea comes from the Greek word echinos, meaning hedgehog, because of the spiny centers of the flower heads. I am sure that many are familiar with the purple coneflower because of its popularity in the Eastern United States. What makes it so special? Echinacea has become a very commonly used flower because it is so easy to grow and very tolerant of weather conditions and garden pests that we are all too familiar with here in Indiana.

Echinacea purpurea, also known as purple coneflower, is native to meadows, prairies, and woodland edges where they are able to receive the most sunlight. It is drought tolerant, heat tolerant, deer tolerant, and even tolerant of clay soil. With just those three factors it is easy to see why the use of Echinacea is so widespread. As long as your coneflowers are in a spot where they can receive full sun, you will have the benefit of their summer long bloom time usually from July until September. Pruning before flowering will delay bloom time and allow you to have fresh, new blooms later in the season. Most people like to cut back all of the dead heads at the end of the flowering season to prevent the massive amounts of reseeding. However, if you like to help feed the birds in the colder months, leaving the seed heads on the coneflowers provide plenty of seed for birds such as golden finches and juncos. Just be sure to prepare yourself for all the coneflower seedlings that will show up in the spring if you do not remove the seed heads.

Echinacea "Sundown" with bee.

Echinacea “Sundown” with bee.

Not only do coneflowers benefit the bird population in the fall, but they also aid the insect population during its flowering season. During the summer, bees and butterflies can be spotted feeding on the nectar and, in late August, you may even find soldier beetles. The soldier beetle is a beneficial insect that feeds on those pesky aphids as well as other soft-bodied insects. So be sure not to harm these particular beetles as they are causing no harm to the plant itself. Unfortunately the same cannot be said of Japanese beetles. If there are signs that something is eating away at your coneflowers, it is most likely this pesky critter. Along with Japanese beetles, aphids and eriophyid mites are also problematic to these plants. Sadly insects aren’t the only force of nature that coneflowers have to contend with. Some disease problems to watch out for are powdery mildew, anthracnose, and aster yellows. But, as with any other type of plant, proper care and maintenance can help prevent your coneflowers from falling victim to these diseases.

On the much brighter and more beautiful side, the Echinacea have eight to none different species to choose from that are all tough plants which can withstand the weather conditions in the Central and Eastern United States. Echinacea is no longer just purple coneflowers, but pretty pinks, reds, oranges and whites too. Here at the IMA, you will see the first clusters of Echinacea as you walk down the mall. Walking down the sidewalk past the overlook you will notice the bright pink ‘Southern Belle’ cultivar. The Garden for Everyone has a nice section devoted to ‘Sundown’. And you can’t miss all of the coneflowers in the Four Seasons Garden. It is a beautiful summer with so many wonderful Echinacea to see.

Filed under: Greenhouse, Guest Bloggers, Horticulture, Oldfields

 

IMA’s Greenhouse: Home to hidden beauties

Spending the week in the Madeline F. Elder Greenhouse has definitely been exciting! There are so many different plants here and, within just four days, I was introduced to so many more than I usually am in a week! Getting to work with such a variety is a great experience and, just looking around, I could tell there was quite a collection. My favorite would have to be the section set aside for the orchid collection. These orchids are currently found in the greenhouse, but are placed around the Lilly House during certain times of the year.

There are a handful of orchids for sale in another room, but most of the orchids are just there for guests to admire. They have quite a range! And I could not even find many tags for them to know exactly what kinds are all present, but I took pictures of some of my favorites. Two common groups of orchids include the Phalaenopsis orchids and the Oncidium orchids.

070314_greenhouse_09Besides all of the orchids, one definitely cannot pass up looking at the succulents and houseplants! This alone kept me occupied on breaks as I kept discovering more and more unique plants. Just today, I discovered the Pink Pineapple (Ananas lucidus). It has a fruit on it for the first time during its 12 years at the greenhouse. It takes multiple years before it is ready to fruit and, I was told, rarely produces pups. (‘Pups’ is a term used for some of the baby plants, or offshoots, that the mother plant produces.) But watch out, do not eat the fruit of this plant as it does not have much juice or edible flesh. And the taste is quite bland.

The Pink Pineapple is native to northern South America and is hardy to Zones 10-15. This means it does not do well outside here but can be used as a houseplant. The plant has slender, red-bronze leaves that will eventually allow the plant to reach a mature height and width of 2 to 3 feet. It likes well-drained loams or sandy soils that are either acidic or neutral. The leaves will turn green if the plant does not receive partial to full sun. Purple-white flowers on a stalk will give way to the pink fruits. These stalks occur in the rosettes of the leaves, which will then die after it fruits. The plant is mainly used here in containers indoors, but can be used in tropical borders and containers outside where it is warm enough.

Besides the orchids and the Pink Pineapple, try to spot these other plants at the greenhouse!!

And last of all, do not forget to take a look around at the bonsai, the gift shop within the greenhouse, and our selection of annuals and perennials in addition to our orchids, succulents, and houseplants.

Filed under: Greenhouse, Guest Bloggers, Horticulture

 

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