Welcome new docents!

Written by Karine Huys, volunteer coordinator at the Indiana State Museum

How time flies! It seems like just yesterday (even though it was early September) that the third class of docents began their training here at the museum. They graduated as full-fledged docents on Wednesday — and just in time!

Docents, docents-in-training and volunteers alike have been hard at work filling volunteer positions associated with the Lincoln exhibits. The graduating class will have their first chance to officially volunteer as docents during the Going Green festival here at the Indiana State Museum in late March, where they will staff an activity about water turbidity (turbid: deficient in clarity or purity according to Webster). A few of them will get to try their hand at giving an Architecture Tour to a group of museum visitors. And as bookings for tours continue to pick up as the weather (hopefully) improves, they will all get a turn at leading tours.

Congratulations to Steve, Barbara, Larry, Bob, Glenda, Donna, April, Herb and Robert!

Find out more about our Docent program.

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The floodgates are open!

Written by Dale Ogden, chief curator of cultural history at the Indiana State Museum

Holy cow! It looks like we may have pulled this thing off! I mean, staff at the Indiana State Museum are gratified and encouraged by the public’s reaction to the unveiling of the recently opened Lincoln exhibitions.

Curator and blogger Dale Ogden, Abraham Lincoln and Dale Martin of the Scott County Chamber of Commerce.

Governor Daniels and company helped cut the ribbon for about 200 VIPs on Feb. 12. Two days later we had nearly 600 at the big For the Love of Lincoln Gala, and according the society pages of the local newspaper, the soirée was a smashing success. My tux’s burgundy vest was a very nice touch, thank you very much.

The crowds started coming the first day we opened to the public, and it appears they may have peaked this weekend. I understand we had over 1,300 visitors on Saturday, and guest services tells me that yesterday (Sunday) has been even busier. Members Only and extended public hours had dozens of patrons in the galleries until 8 p.m. for several days last week.

None of that would account for anything if the experience wasn’t top of the line. I’m hearing that the show is everything people were hoping for. Abe’s poem about Indiana, the contents of his pockets the night of his assassination and the Bible upon which both he and President Obama took their oaths are particular crowd favorites in the Library of Congress exhibit. For Civil War buffs, Lincoln’s correspondence with McClellan, Hooker, Burnside and several of his other generals is especially compelling.

In our Lincoln Financial Foundation portion of the project, visitors are drawn to the family photos owned by four generations of the family. Of course, signed copies of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment are evoking powerful reactions. It’s also great fun to see kids watching video of their peers discussing Mr. Lincoln.

The piece the History Channel put together is a personal favorite. Watching Marian Anderson sing and Dr. King speak from the steps of the Memorial is moving, and it’s entertaining to watch Republicans and Democrats — left and right — all claim the Lincoln mantle. Henry Fonda and Gregory Peck both make great Lincolns, but I get the biggest kick out of Keanu Reeves in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. We always felt there would be something for everyone in this exhibition. There is.

Come see us! I guarantee you’ll be kicking yourself for a long time if you don’t.

The Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection was given to the State of Indiana in December 2008 by the Lincoln Financial Foundation. The Indiana State Museum is home to the historic objects and art while most of the books, documents and photographs reside at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne.

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Do you want to see an embalming machine?

I spent a good part of my childhood in cemeteries. My mom, an avid genealogist, was on a ferocious hunt for my great-great-great-grandfather’s grave and dragged me and my siblings with her. Sometimes I’d stay behind in the van and read a Sweet Valley High book, but often I walked the rows of graves with her, reading the inscriptions on the stone markers. Years later I researched cemetery development and Victorian death rituals as part of my graduate studies.

One of the embalming machines.

It’s no wonder then that I did not hesitate to say yes when Dale, senior curator of cultural history, asked me last March if I wanted to see an embalming machine. Within a few hours I found myself inventorying a collection of funerary materials that the Indiana Funeral Directors Association planned to donate to the Indiana State Museum. The collection included several embalming machines, embalming fluid, burial clothing, cooling boards, a makeup case and other embalming tools and equipment.

A bottle of embalming fluid and burial clothes.

After the museum’s Collections Review Committee approved the donation, Dale and I made a second trip to pack and transport the goods. Now that everything has been numbered, photographed and catalogued, the museum wants to show you these really cool, albeit, slightly unusual objects. That’s what I’ll be working on this year, developing an exhibit that will let you see all the death-related artifacts in our collection and blogging about the process, too.

A cooling board.

You can get a sneak peek of some of the objects now. Visit our online database. Type the keyword “death” into the search box and you’ll get over 500 hits. Browse through them, and let me know which objects intrigue you most and why. Which would you like to see on exhibit?

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Gearing up for Indiana’s winter art event

This is my third year coordinating the museum’s annual Indiana Art Fair which takes place the third weekend of February. There have been some bumps in the road getting this show ready making sure that every detail is perfect. But, now with the event only a few weeks away, I am on the edge of my seat waiting for our upcoming weekend of art, craft and — new for 2010 — food and drink!

For the second year in a row, the Indiana State Museum is partnering with the Indiana Artisan Development for the Indiana Art Fair. This year, even more artists from the program are involved. Patrons of past Indiana Art Fairs are familiar with the diverse selection of art to see and buy such as paintings, ceramics, jewelry, wood and even furniture. But this year, we will have some Indiana Artisans who specialize in food, wine and specialty items like handmade soaps.

Our show’s diversity will not only be represented in all of the great products and unique art available for purchase, but also where our artists come from.  We are proud to offer artists who live and work in Indiana a chance to be recognized and we work hard to make sure our visitors know which part of the state these artists are from. This year, we are showcasing artists from 30 Indiana counties from all regions of the state. So instead of traveling all over the state looking for that one unique piece of Hoosier art, come to the Indiana Art Fair where we bring the art to you!

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T.C. Steele’s Remote Studio

Written by Davie Kean, master gardener at the T.C. Steele State Historic Site

The remote studio, framed by a pair of trees along T.C. Steele Road.

Breathing in the winter air — and inspiration — en plein-air …

One of the less frequented features of T.C. Steele State Historic Site is the remote studio, a roughly 10 x 10 foot structure reconstructed in 1994 by members of the Brown County Rotary Club. Although at a distance from the site’s main buildings, it actually sits quite near a county road. For a closer look, you can hike (or cross-country ski!) a 1/4-mile easy-access trail to this not-so-remote spot.

In winter, a glimpse of the painter’s shack can be seen through the trees as you approach the historic site. Mr. Steele used the original shelter for painting many of his winter scenes. I thought it made a nice picture itself, framed by two large trees that were much smaller in Steele’s time. Not wanting to paint the little outdoor studio from outside its protective shelter, I settled for a photograph instead.

Three young women visit the remote studio (in warmer weather) around 1919. Courtesy, Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana. Frank Hohenberger collection.

More familiar to visitors is the site’s Large Studio, reputed to be the largest private studio in the midwest at the time it was built in 1916. Seeing this space, it’s surprising to learn that most of Steele’s Brown County paintings were done en plein-air — or outside. The Large Studio was designed primarily as a gallery for Steele’s many works, while his preferred painting location was outdoors.

In her memoir, The House of the Singing Winds, Selma Steele illustrates her husband’s dedication to the plein-air method:                                                           

“Finally there arose a need for distant shelters to serve as studios when inclement weather made it impossible to work in the open … the painter built a well-lighted one-room studio on the top of the high hill overlooking the Schooner and Hunnicutt valleys. There were extensive views from these windows … Here many of the winter subjects were painted that are so splendid in their delineation of wintry snows and sunshine.”

The Steele’s didn’t let a little bad weather stop them from enjoying the beauty of their Brown County home, as indicated in this second excerpt from The House of the Singing Winds:

“It followed then that on a morning in early February of 1912, with temperatures hovering near the zero mark, we left the city for some deep winter experiences in the country.”

Since T.C. Steele State Historic Site is now open year-round, there’s nothing to stop you from experiencing that same beauty today. Maybe you’d like to try out the Remote Studio during the next cold snap — or do like I did and just snap a photo.

T.C. Steele State Historic Site is open for building tours Tuesday through Sunday. We’re closed on Mondays, but the grounds and trails aren’t. Call ahead for road conditions: 812.988.2785.

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Bricks and Mortar

Written by Link Ludington, Architectural Historian at Indiana State Museum

Some historic buildings are not simply preserved in their current condition, but instead are actually restored to an earlier historical appearance. This is what is happening at the Lanier Mansion in Madison, which is being restored to its appearance in 1850, when J.F.D. Lanier and his family were still in residence. The restoration involves reversal of alterations to the home which require locating matching bricks to fill in missing masonry. On most homes and buildings this would be a simple task. But a 19th century Greek Revival mansion like Lanier presents a special challenge.

Recently, I traveled to Madison to determine the target dimensions for the replacement brick, which will have to be custom-made because of their unusual characteristics. During the mid-19th century (when the Lanier Mansion was built, and when Madison was one of Indiana’s largest cities), most bricks were made by hand by forming wet clay in wooden molds before being dried and fired. Some were pressed in cast iron molds in brick-making machines. Most modern brick is mass-produced by a machine that produces a “ribbon” that is then cut into individual bricks by wire grids.

The bricks that were used in concealed areas of Lanier Mansion were the common hand-molded brick like that found in buildings all over Madison (and elsewhere throughout Indiana) from that period. The facing bricks used in all areas that were visible in the exterior, however, were an example of the special machine-made pressed brick with smooth texture and fairly sharp edges, but the brick making “machines” of that time were still operated by hand. Each of the pictures shows the difference — one is the smooth, machine-made, pressed brick, while the other is the hand-molded brick. It’s really hard to tell the difference. Machine-made pressed bricks can also be found in several other buildings in Madison from the same period, including the Shrewsbury House, another masterpiece designed and built by Francis Costigan, the same architect who designed and built the Lanier Mansion.

Machine-made pressed brick.

Common hand-molded brick.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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