Star Struck

by Gaby Kienitz, Conservator

We’re all star struck – for some it’s a little and for others it’s like air, they need star sparkle all the time. I’ve always thought of myself as being at the lower end of the spectrum. I admit it, I read the magazines that stores put by the check-out lines; but, when you work in a museum with cultural artifacts, it’s easy to take things for granted. Over the years, I’ve worked with objects that belonged to movie stars, singers, political figures, religious leaders, athletes, writers … you get the idea. I recognize that these famous people, through their creativity, charisma and brilliance, have made an impact in the world we live in. I know it in my head, but I don’t feel it in my heart.

So, when the museum received two Grammys from the family of Wes Montgomery and a small exhibition was planned for a Treasures Case, it was all business for me. Those Grammys needed some serious help. They looked like they had been treasured possessions in the way we might like a favorite piece of clothing, we use it lots. Scratches, dents, broken and missing pieces attested to a history of many hands having held these objects. Two of  the most obvious problems were that the wooden base was missing on one Grammy and both Grammys were missing the plates. I could get the head carpenter at the museum to replicate a new base using measurements from the remaining one; but the plates were a problem. What was the exact text on the plates, how was that arranged, what was the font used and what were the plates made of? These are all the weird questions you have to ask when you are trying to reproduce a missing piece from a historic artifact.

One of the curators got the exact text for the plates from the NARAS website but, after some digging on the internet and a few phone calls, neither of us could get answers to the rest of the questions. That’s when I discovered that one man and his company have made nearly all the Grammys – John Billings of Billings ArtWorks. I don’t usually call people out of the blue, but I’d tried to find the information in other ways, and this was my last, best shot. So I called and explained to the man on the phone who I was, about the Grammys and what information I needed. He said, “Hold on a minute … John, phone for you.” The next thing I heard was, “This is John.” Me: “John Billings?” Him: “yes.” Suddenly, I’m star struck; my heart is beating just a little bit faster and I’m working hard to keep my voice steady. He becomes my hero, because he freely offers to make new plates, using the same equipment and materials that were used to make the originals. Less than a week later, they arrive, along with a signed business card. I won’t say I sleep with that business card under my pillow, but it’s become one of my treasured possessions. He put the sparkle in my life. Thanks John!

“The Beard is the Handsomeness of the Face” -R’ Akiva, Eicha Rabbah

Blog authors and bearded brethren Joey Smith and Eric Todd are currently working on the upcoming program Curls, Cornrows & Comb-over’s: Investigating the Do’s, Don’ts & Science of Hair.

Joey Smith ponders pogonotrophy.

The study of beards and facial hair is ‘pogonology,’ the art of growing facial hair, ‘pogonotrophy.’ How do I know this? I grow a beard. I have one. I have friends who have beards. Why don’t you know these words? Well, I’m assuming because you don’t wear a beard. And let me tell you this: There is no point in knowing these words if you don’t plan on growing a beard. Why? Because the true pleasure of these words comes from sitting back and contemplating the art of pogonotrophy while stroking your finely groomed Ducktail.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “You only know this because you work for the museum and you’ve been charged with hours of research devoted to hair and beards for the upcoming program Curls, Cornrows & Comb-overs.” Spoken like a true baby face. I’ll have you know, I’ve been a beard aficionado for years. I appreciate the devotion evident in a grizzly summer beard and the artistic sensibility behind a well-cropped Van Dyke. Personally, I’ve worn everything from Mutton Chops to a Fu Manchu and, being a beard wearer, I understand the subtle nuances that come with wearing facial hair. The head nods between bearded strangers acknowledging each other’s perseverance, the hierarchy of beards and mustaches and the ability to be able to spot a ‘poser’ a mile away. These are all things a true beard wearer knows or sometimes just feels. It’s all part of owning a tract of facial hair.

For the longest time I thought I was the only one who had such pride in my pogonology prowess, but then I thought about all of the great men through time who sported beards. After all, the Imperial beard is named after Napoleon III (not to be confused with the clean-shaven tyrant Napoleon I). Aristotle and Abraham Lincoln are fellow members of the bearded community. And we all know Einstein is known best for his mustache. 

Hans Langseth and the world’s longest beard.

Granted, Curls, Cornrows & Comb-overs is about more than facial hair. There will be an abundance of information related to the hair on top of your head, including hair care tips, demonstrations, activities, games and even hair-readings. But I know that I’ll be taking special notice and nodding with respect at my bearded brethren across the museum’s Great Hall on Jan. 29. Until then, as my gift to you, enjoy these pearls of bearded wisdom. You should probably write this down or bookmark this post:

  • Did you know the last American President to wear a full beard was Hoosier Benjamin Harrison? That was from 1889 to 1893. Rutherford B. Hayes had the longest beard of the American presidents. ‘Rutherford B. Hayes?’ you ask. You’re right, I should change it; the beard makes him Rutherford B. Awesome. I apologize for the error.
  • The average male will grow about 27 feet of hair out of his face in a lifetime.
  • “All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husbands to vote for you and then you would be President.” Sent by 11-year-old Grace Bedell, this line was the reason Lincoln grew his iconic beard before leaving Illinois for the White House.
  • When he died in 1927, the beard of Hans Langseth of Norway measured 17.5 feet. You can see Langseth’s beard at the Smithsonian Institution.

And just in case you need one last bit of inspiration, I leave you with the words of our friends at TheBeardly.com: ‘Without a beard, you’re the same as every other woman and child.’

For the love of Marty

by Dale Ogden, Senior Curator of Cultural History

My sisters give me a hard time about what a great job I have. Truth be told — it is a pretty sweet gig. My favorite thing about being a curator is the opportunity the job provides for me to meet some of the most compelling people who’ve ever called themselves “Hoosiers.”

In 1943, the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) was created to fly non-combat military missions in the U.S., thus freeing their male counterparts for combat overseas. 1,074 women eventually became the first females to fly for the U.S. military. WASP pilots logged over 60 million miles serving as flight instructors, flying gliders that towed targets for gunnery practice, ferrying aircraft and performing other duties. Thirty-eight WASP perished during the course of their service.

WASP were considered civilians, however, so while these pioneers paved the way for today’s generation of female pilots, their contributions went largely unrecognized. The women were not afforded veteran status until 1977. The Congressional Gold Medal has been the highest honor Congress can award to a civilian since 1776. It was finally presented to surviving WASP, and to descendents of deceased WASP veterans in 2010.

Marty Wyall in 1945.

Mary Anna “Marty” Martin was born in Liberty, Indiana, and graduated from DePauw University in 1943. After taking the required 35 hours of solo flying lessons, Marty’s application to the WASP was accepted and she was assigned to Avenger Field in Texas for training. A member of the final WASP class, she graduated with her wings just days before the program was closed in December 1944.

Following deactivation, Marty flew as a ferry pilot before becoming a flight instructor near Franklin, Indiana. In 1946, she married Gene Wyall, one of her students, and moved to Fort Wayne to raise a family. Marty continued flying and competing in races like the Powder-Puff Derby, the All-Women Transcontinental Air Race and the Fair Lady Indiana Air Race. In 1957, she became a flying partner in an air taxi and commercial service, and has been the official WASP historian for many years. She is the last surviving Hoosier WASP. And, if that ain’t enough for ya, Marty Wyall circa 1945 was a stone cold fox — a cross between Betty Boop and Maryanne from Gilligan’s Island.

Marty was at the Indiana State Museum in April to help us celebrate her life by putting much of her WASP memorabilia on exhibit. I, unfortunately, was in Fort Wayne working on a new Abraham Lincoln website (Mr. Lincoln consumed my life in 2010, but that’s another story), so I missed the chance to meet this extraordinary Hoosier in person. Fortunately, she’s returning to the museum on Nov. 7 to mark the finale of the small display in her honor. I won’t pass up the opportunity a second time. And you shouldn’t miss it either!

Be sure to check out our Heroes from the Heartland photo albums on Facebook and Flickr.

Pirates invade Whitewater Canal!

by Joanne Williams, Program Director and Cultural Administrator at Whitewater Canal State Historic Site

Pirates have invaded the Whitewater Canal State Historic Site and they are taking prisoners! A Spartan general was taken prisoner by the pirate captain, Captain Panther, on Saturday night, Oct. 16. Saturday was a strange and wonderful evening for the site; the Belgian draft horses that normally pull the canal boat the Ben Franklin III were replaced by unicorns and the staff was replaced by witches, pirates, Spartans, mad doctors and men with green faces!

These strange occurrences will happen again on Saturday, Oct. 23, when the Whitewater Canal State Historic Site hosts its annual Spooky Halloween Cruises at 7:30, 8 and 8:30 p.m. A professional storyteller will be on board telling Halloween tales and children will receive a candy treat at the end of the ride, provided by the Brookville IGA and Rosenbergers Market. Admission to the cruise is $4 per person. In addition, the merchants of Metamora are sponsoring a “Haunted Village” at $5 per person for a hayride around Metamora’s “haunted” sights from 7 to 10 p.m. The Whitewater Canal Byway Association is sponsoring a “Haunted Depot” at the Gateway Park on U.S. 52 for $12 per person from 7 to 11 p.m.  Metamora will soon need to change its name to Halloween Town!

Art on the go … A brief sketch of school groups

by LeAnn Luce, West Region Program Manager, Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites

They say pictures are worth a thousand words. If that is so, we have that to the nth degree here at T.C. Steele. Both in the wondrous works of art on display in the Studio and the House of the Singing Winds, and as illustrated in this collection of photos recently portraying the visiting school groups to our site. Boy, have we had school groups! More than 500 children have visited in October!

Let me draw you a picture of a typical field trip. They ascend on us in the friendly big, yellow buses. Teachers come out first and assemble the children into groups of three to four. Backpacks in tow, they excitedly approach their stations — the House, the Studio, the Classroom — for an intermittent art project, or perhaps a hike on one of our Trails of Inspiration filled with the flora and fauna captured in so many of Steele’s paintings. Recently, we captured some pictures of Monroe County School Corporation students who were able to attend due to the generosity of a grant from the Monroe County Community Foundation.

Picture this, children touring, creating, hiking, learning, laughing, sharing, experiencing, questioning, living and loving the art that is the T.C. Steele State Historic Site! Come and visit us and see for yourself. We are having a ton of fun!

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What is iconic in Indiana?

Recently, while working on a new project, I was tasked with coming up with things that are iconic in Indiana. Of course, for a foodie like me, most of the things that pop into my mind are edible. Pork tenderloins, persimmons, fried biscuits, sugar cream pie, fried green tomatoes and sati-babis are just a few. Food-related activities like mushroom hunting, shopping at roadside veggie stands and sharing the road with combines and tractors, comes in second.

To others, Indiana is racing and basketball and high school football rivalries. It is chiggers and marching bands or universities like Purdue and IU.

But I’ve noticed that when you’ve lived someplace your entire life, it can be difficult to see how unique it is because it’s what you’ve always known. Such is the case for me with tenderloins and mushroom hunting. It wasn’t until I met someone from Cleveland who I invited mushroom hunting, that I realized that not everyone is familiar with our Hoosier way of life. Do you ever talk to someone from somewhere else and reference Sammy Terry or Cowboy Bob? When they look puzzled, you realize (with sadness) that their childhood as non-Hoosier must be incomplete.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that most people outside of our great state have never experienced the joy of a battered and fried tenderloin bigger than a plate.

So my question for you is: What makes Indiana different than anywhere else? If someone wants to experience real Indiana, what should they do? If they want to take home a real Hoosier souvenir to document their trip here – what do you recommend?

On banjos and museum education

by Anne Fairchild, Eastern Region Program Manager for the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites

This past weekend, I took a couple of vacation days to go on a little getaway. Only it wasn’t a getaway, as much as an adventure. And the adventure began over four years ago right here at the Lanier Mansion after I started working for the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites. 

Dr. Ron Morris, professor of History at Ball State University, received a grant from the U.S. Department of Education to help teachers learn best practices for teaching social studies. A very large part of that is including regular visits to museums and historic sites (like Lanier Mansion) in their own communities and across Indiana.

Since that time, Dr. Morris has helped many of our Historic Sites develop useful tools for educators, going so far as to purchase everyday objects used at the Lanier Mansion for student programs about the Lanier family and their servants. He even helped us write an educational script about a middle-class carpenter who helped build the Lanier Mansion and worked and lived in the same community as the Lanier family. Dr. Morris’ curriculum development class has developed lesson plans for the Lanier home as well as several other state historical sites. His students also created documentaries on the historical and architectural importance of Madison as well as Indiana Mills, New Harmony and a beginning interactive DVD about the Underground Railroad. 

In honor of his work for the Lanier Mansion and other State Historic Sites in our system and around Indiana, Dr. Morris won a Leadership in History Award of Merit from the American Association of State and Local History (AASLH), presented last Friday in Oklahoma City. A couple of us took some personal time to head to Oklahoma City to honor him. The AASLH also recognized the Levi Coffin State Historic Site‘s outstanding volunteers Saundra Jackson, Janice McGuire and the other Levi Coffin House Association volunteers. There was a strong Indiana contingency at the AASLH Awards Dinner.

(L-R) Laura Minzes, Bob McGuire, Janice McGuire, Ron Morris, Saundra Jackson, Anne Fairchild and David Buchanan

Talk about a turn-around trip! It was 15-hour drive with meeting folks in Indy, stops and such. For those of us in the museum education field, it is impossible to not compare other historic sites and attractions to where we work. How can we not secretly feel a little smug when passing the much-touted Missouri Vacuum Cleaner Outlet and Museum? Even on our vacations, I think we tend to pick up good ideas from other places, and feel good about things we think we do better. It is energizing! However, I was glad to get back home.

All in all, I learned how to make Chickasaw Native American style beaded earrings, saw a tremendously beautiful Chihuly glass exhibit at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, visited the haunting Oklahoma City National Memorial commemorating the 1995 attack, talked to someone about finding a reproduction gold $10 coin that Lanier would have taken to Washington, D.C., (visit the site to find out why!), took a canal ride in the old “Bricktown” district, visited the American Banjo Museum and Hall of Fame, and did a lot of walking around. Seriously, did you know about art banjos? With some, it was hard to tell if you should play them or wear them like a tiara with all those encrusted jewels. My favorite banjo paid homage to the carousel horses. I also found a cool historical toy for the Lanier Mansion toy box that I had been seeking. So you see, it always comes back to Lanier!

Thank you Dr. Morris for all you do for the Lanier Mansion and the other Indiana State Historic Sites, and thank you Levi Coffin House Association for all you do for that site and Underground Railroad history in Indiana. We appreciate you!

All photos by Rainette Rowland.