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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


Travelogue Part Two – Vancouver

As promised in my last post, this will be part two of my horticultural travelogue. Five days after returning from Tucson, I left for Vancouver, British Columbia. The weather was different. The plants were different.

The plant people were still the same – good people. But that weather. A little gray and drizzly, even real rain the one night. Thankfully the day we had devoted to touring was sunny and beautiful from start to finish.

Now. Why was I there? In 2013 the Perennial Plant Association (PPA) will hold its 31st national symposium in Vancouver. We were meeting to put together the program and then attend to general PPA business. It’s going to be a great program between the selection of speakers and the tours. The dates are July 21-27, 2013 with the three day core on the 23rd-25th.  Some very exciting tours during,  before, and after. Along with that, speakers with cutting-edge ideas addressing current needs of PPA members.

But let’s get more in travelogue mode.

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Filed under: Horticulture, Road Trip


What’s New?

Well, now that’s a loaded question. Everything and nothing at all.

But I have an idea if the question is about plants.

I went to the OFA Short Course trade show this week in Columbus, Ohio. It’s the biggie. Everybody seems to be there with the latest and greatest in the horticulture world. It is HUGE! Now I fly right past the potting machines, injector systems, greenhouse manufacturers, and so forth. I’m there for the plants. I was only there one day so I could not bog myself down with non-plant booths. I did not make it through the entire show. One of these years I’m doing the whole four days of the Short Course and then I know I can see every plant booth. Traveling companions this year were Jo Ellen Myers Sharp and our own Sue Nord Peiffer – a brand new GWA member.

I’m just going to try to hit some highlights of what I saw. It would take a month of daily blogging to cover it all. Okay, let’s get started.

Echinacea evolution continues. I mentioned in an earlier blog that a new seed strain was coming that included the exotic colors – red, orange, apricot, gold and so forth. I saw them as live plants. I likey. It’s called ‘Cheyenne Spirit’ and was bred by KieftSeedTM. It is already a 2013 All-America Selections Flower Award Winner.

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Filed under: Horticulture, Road Trip


Visitin’ the Relatives

Yesterday (Thursday the 24th) I attended the Region III meeting of the Garden Writers Association. It was, as usual, both informative and fun. We toured three gardens and had an educational session on how and why to blog presented by Indianapolis’ own Carol Michel of the award winning blog May Dreams Gardens.

The host institution was one of our sister public gardens, Taltree Arboretum and Gardens, near Valparaiso (Thank you, Jean Starr!). I’ve been aware of Taltree for years but never visited. It is beautiful with wooded sites, open prairie, and traditional planting beds. Well, they can explain it better than I can. This is from their website.

Taltree Arboretum & Gardens, located south of U.S. 30 between Merrillville and Valparaiso, Indiana, is a 360-acre reserve of formal gardens, woodlands, wetlands, and prairies. Whether hiking the 3+ miles of trails or attending an outdoor concert or special event, visitors have enjoyed Taltree’s quiet beauty interspersed with friendly festivity since 1999. Themed displays include the Hitz Family Rose Garden, Native Plant Garden, Oak Islands, and the Taltree Railway Garden.

Now, about that railway garden. For certain I am not one to overly appreciate train gardens. In fact, I will usually run right past them and go on to the “real” gardens. But I have to say the one at Taltree impressed me. It is both interesting and beautiful. Here are a few shots of it.

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Filed under: Horticulture, Road Trip


Just One Word….Plastics

Last month I went to Paris. I didn’t go to do research at the Louvre, or to attend a special exhibition at the Centre Pompidou, I went to the POPArt Conference, an international symposium on the conservation of plastic materials.  The conference was the culmination of a European Union funded initiative, and like Contemporary Art: Who Cares?, it is another example of the way that European governments are supporting the conservation of contemporary cultural heritage in a way that the U.S. government does not.  The goal of POPArt was to improve the conservation of plastic objects in European museums and to establish recommended practices for exhibiting, cleaning, and restoring these artifacts .

Tara Donovan, "Untitled (Mylar)," 2010. Commissioned by the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Frank Curtis Springer & Irving Moxley Springer Purchase Fund, Anonymous IV Art Fund, Deaccessioned Contemporary Art Fund. 2010.218A-D. Courtesy of the Pace Gallery.

When people think about plastics, their minds don’t typically jump to museum collections.  But in reality museums are filled with plastic artifacts and artworks made with plastic components.  Artists and designers choose them for their working properties and aesthetic qualities that cannot be achieved with other materials.  Some works in the IMA’s collection that are made with plastics include Tara Donovan’s Untitled (Mylar), Valentine Typewriter designed by Ettore Sottsass II and Perry King, and Rudi Gernreich’s wool and vinyl Dress.  These are just a few examples and our holdings are only growing as we are rapidly acquiring many new objects in our Design Arts, Textile and Fashion Arts, and Contemporary Art departments.

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Filed under: Conservation, Contemporary, Road Trip


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