James Dean: The People’s Choice

by Katherine Gould, Associate Curator of Cultural History

Tonight is the kick-off to awards show season with the broadcast of the 39th People’s Choice Awards. Soon to follow are the Critics Choice Movie Awards, the Golden Globe Awards, the Producers Guild of America Awards, the Directors Guild of America Awards, the Screen Actors Guild Awards, the Writers Guild of America Awards, the Film Independent Spirit Awards, and finally the Academy Awards. Did I miss any?

The thing with all of these awards and accolades is that they are a tally of the judgment of industry insiders. But the People’s Choice Awards is different, in that it’s a reflection of the tastes of the general public. It is more a fan celebration of pop culture celebrity than recognition for professional accomplishment. But the People’s Choice Awards have only been around since 1975. Prior to that, what about the opinion of the people who actually go to see the movies? What about the fans?

East of Eden poster

East of Eden poster

In 1955, an audience award poll, conceived of by the Motion Picture Theater Owners’ Organization, took place in more than 8,000 theaters across the country. Over 14 million ticket buyers participated to vote for what they thought were the best performances of 1955 for films released before Sept. 30. For his performance in East of Eden, James Dean was voted the Audience Award for Best Performance by a Motion Picture Actor. Other winners included Jennifer Jones for Best Performance by an actress and Mr. Roberts for Best Picture. At a banquet on Dec. 6, 1955, Dean’s costar Natalie Wood accepted the statuette, the “Audie,” on his behalf.

James Dean’s Audience Award trophy for Best Performance by a Motion Picture Actor.

James Dean’s Audience Award trophy for Best Performance by a Motion Picture Actor.

Now, this award is pretty significant because fans chose him over other well-known Hollywood actors with starring roles that year including Marlon Brando, Jimmy Steward, James Cagney, Spencer Tracy and Frank Sinatra. One of the other categories that fans were able to vote on was Most Promising New Actor. That went to Tab Hunter for his performance in Battle Cry. Dean could have been considered for that since East of Eden was his first starring role in a motion picture but fans instead chose him for best overall.

One could argue that the tragedy of his death on Sept. 30 and the release of Rebel Without a Cause in October elevated his star and influenced public opinion of him. However, his subsequent Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations for best actor seem to validate the public’s opinion: James Dean, for a short time, was considered by many to be the best.

To see Dean’s Audience Award trophy and other film-related artifacts, visit Eternal James Dean now through June 2, 2013.

Curious about the 1940s

by Shannon McKinney, Sales Associate in the Indiana Store

One of my earliest memories of my curiosity landing me into trouble was a time when I was around 3 or 4 years old. My mother and I had spent weeks practicing calling 911 in case of an emergency, but each time we practiced, she disconnected the telephone. One day, while she was watching TV in the living room, I came to the conclusion that I needed to practice for real this time. I wanted to know what the people on the other end would sound like and the kinds of questions they would ask, so with the phone happily connected and fully functioning, I dialed 911 and calmly informed the operator that my mommy was dying. Fortunately, no one came to the house to “save” her. I’m sure that after I dialed, my mother called them back to let them know that everything was all right, and her daughter was simply indulging her curiosity.

curious_georgeIn one way or another, I believe all children are able to relate to Curious George’s adventures. The experience I just detailed somewhat reflects when Curious George once accidentally dialed the fire department, but unlike the outcome of my story, Curious George ended up in prison for his actions. Thank goodness that wouldn’t happen in real life to a curious little child (or monkey)!

Out of all of the products that we currently carry in our 1940s decade section in the Indiana Store, the Curious George books and related merchandise have, perhaps, the most compelling history behind them. Nearly every adult alive today likely remembers reading Curious George at some point. However, many people might not be aware of the fact that the story of the mischievous little monkey has a connection to the Nazi-occupied Europe of the 1940s.

Both Margret Rey (born Margarete Elisabeth Waldstein) and Hans Augusto (H.A.) Rey, the authors of the popular children’s books, were born in Hamburg, Germany, around the turn of the 20th century. Their birthplace was especially significant considering they were also both Jewish; anti-Semitism in Europe reached its greatest and most terrible height when the Nazis rose to power in the years leading up to World War II. The Reys married in Brazil in 1935 before moving to Paris, France, soon after. It quickly became clear to them that Paris would not remain safe from Hitler’s forces, and mere hours before the Germans invaded the city in 1940, the Reys fled Paris on homemade bicycles. Among their few possessions? Five manuscripts — one of which was Curious George. Eventually, the Reys reached New York and were able to publish Curious George in 1941.

Since then, Curious George has appeared in a number of areas of the media, including a 2006 film starring Will Ferrell as The Man with the Yellow Hat and a subsequent PBS children’s show based on the books. The books themselves have sold over 30 million copies and have been translated into several different languages. If the Reys had been unable to escape Nazi-occupied Paris, it is very likely that the Curious George stories would have never become the beloved icon of childhood that they are today.

For further reading, see the following sites:
Houghton Mifflin Books: Curious About George?
PBS Parents: The Reys and Curious George

Spookiness at the Lanier Mansion

by Anne Fairchild, Eastern Region Program Manager

Fall is probably my favorite time of the year with the beautiful fall colors, brisk weather and thoughts of hot cocoa, hayrides and, of course, Halloween! This year’s Spooky Mansion at the Lanier Mansion was great fun! More than 100 children with parents in tow trooped through the mansion which was decorated with skeletons, spiders, ghosts, creepy crawlies, a frightening doll (see picture at left) and, new this year, the King and Queen of Halloween. Trick-or-treaters braved giant spiders and monsters in the basement to get to the candy.

Outside, two Union soldiers and one Confederate replayed a Civil War skirmish on the north lawn, their gunfire sparking the night air and adding unexpected excitement to the evening. Beloved storyteller Bob Hartsaw told Halloween tales and drew applause for his version of James Whitcomb Riley’s “Little Orphant Annie.” To finish the evening, children made flying bats and decorated pictures with foam cutouts. 

The best part is all the creative costumes! Some are homemade, some purchased, but all are better than the plastic mask and garbage bag version of my youth. All and all, it was a successful, fun program that the staff looks forward to each year.

Coaxing artifacts into giving up their ghosts

by Meghan Smith, Conservation Specialist

In 200 years, what kinds of everyday objects will illustrate our lives for archaeologists and historians? Perhaps iPads or cell phones will be the most compelling emblems of 2012. But looking back two centuries, things were undoubtedly simpler.

This month, our state historic site at New Harmony unveils a new exhibition featuring objects from the daily lives of its early citizens. Most of the artifacts come from archaeological digs, and look a bit worse for wear after spending so many years in the dirt. Metal objects, in particular, tend to suffer; environmental factors like oxygen and water cause damage. When they come out of the ground, these metal artifacts are covered with a hard crust made up of corrosion and matrix (which is a fancy term for the dirt around the object). While the damage can never be completely reversed, some of the crust can be removed so that the object underneath is a lot more recognizable.

But getting the corrosion and matrix to give up the ghost isn’t easy. When the objects for this exhibition first came to our lab, some of them were barely recognizable. “Wait, that’s a fork?” I asked, pointing to a lumpy-looking thing. “Yup,” said Bill Wepler, our archaeological curator. “It’s in there somewhere.” That fork and the accompanying knife, pictured below, were the most challenging artifacts we worked on for the exhibition.

Image of the knife and fork prior to treatment.

Removing the matrix and reducing the warty corrosion layer while preserving  the underlying object is tricky, time-consuming work. The unsightly corroded metal surface often detaches along with stable surface layers below, so we have to get as close as possible without actually removing any of the desirable surface of the object. Most of the work is done with scalpels, pin vises and brushes. Magnification and powerful lights are necessary in order to see in as much detail as possible. Still, as careful as we might be, things happen. Minute cracks in the object will cause one area to weaken while a nearby spot is worked on. Wicking adhesive solution into the crack helps stabilize the object, but bits will inevitably fall off. When they do, we carefully re-adhere them to the object.

During treatment, the fork’s bone handle came apart. Not to worry, fork: there is an adhesive treatment in your future.

Once we’ve removed as much of the matrix and corrosion as possible, the last step is to apply a thin layer of consolidant to the whole surface of the object.  The consolidant used is a specially formulated acrylic coating that stops any more corrosion from building up because of exposure to moisture; it also helps prevent any more pieces coming loose.

So, after a lot of hours spent peering through a magnifier and picking away bits of dirt and rock, the knife and fork look a lot more recognizable! You’d never mistake them for something out of your own cutlery drawer, but that’s part of their history. They’ve been indelibly marked by many years spent in the Indiana soil.

The finished product, on display in Community House No. 2.

And now the knife and fork, along with dozens of other archaeological objects, are on display at the New Harmony State Historic Site! It’s a beautiful place to spend a day or two, so head on down to discover another chapter in Indiana’s story.

Discovering T.C. Steele and other treasures

by Karen Lowe, guest blogger and Indiana State Museum member

NOTE: We are excited to share the following write-up from one of our museum members, Karen Lowe. Karen has attended many of our members-only trips and each time she shares her viewpoint of the trip. On Sept. 22, we headed to T.C. Steele State Historic Site and Indiana University Art Museum. Thank you Karen for sharing you trip review with the museum for others to enjoy! Karen’s son, Damon Lowe, is our Curator of Biology, Science and Technology Exhibit Developer!

What a perfect way to spend the first day of autumn! Forty Indiana State Museum members and guests visited the T.C. Steele State Historic Site near Bloomington, where we were treated to an interesting and informative tour of the Indiana artist’s home and studio. T.C. Steele is one of the state’s most famous artists, having produced literally thousands of works during his lifetime. The home where he spent his last years, and where he lived while painting many of his most famous landscapes has been preserved and is currently in the final stages of being restored to its original early 20th century condition. The house contains many of Mr. and Mrs. Steele’s personal furniture, books and other belongings, and the walls are filled with Steele’s art work. The interpreter encouraged us to imagine how the urban Selma Steele might have felt as she came as a bride to this wilderness home, even having to walk the last several hundred yards in her wedding gown, as the horse and buggy couldn’t make it up the muddy road to the house. While favorably impressed with the first room, which was Steele’s original studio, she was soon terribly disillusioned when she saw what passed for a kitchen which she called “a masterpiece of unattractiveness.” No provision had been made for a chimney for the wood-burning cookstove, there were no cupboards for her dishes. Eventually, modifications were made and one of the best features of the house was the screened porch which wrapped around three sides. The sound of the wind through the screens led to the name of the house: “The House of the Singing Winds.”

For the second stage of the tour, we visted Steele’s “dream studio,” built in 1916, nine years after the house was built. In this huge building with its towering north windows, we saw a large sampling of Steele’s work, from the early portraits to the German-influenced paintings and finally to the beautiful impressionistic landscapes. The centerpiece of the exhibit for our members’ tour was the mysterious “found” painting, dated 1890 and discovered in 2012 when a New England painting dated 1887 was being restored. The mystery may never be solved as to why the artist stretched one canvas over another, thus hiding it for over 100 years!

The beautiful wooded setting of T.C. Steele’s home, which is on 211 acres, invites you to stroll the grounds, hike the trails to the log cabin that Selma had restored, and to the little cemetery where the Steeles and some of Selma’s family rest.

The tour continued to Bloomington, to the campus of Indiana University, to which Steele had strong ties. He was the first artist-in-residence at the University, and many of his paintings are exhibited there as well. He painted the portrait of the University’s first president, which is on exhibit along with portraits of all the following presidents, painted by other artists. In addition to seeing more of his work, the guide led us through several halls of the student union to show us many other treasures, some by other Hoosier artists. The composer Hoagy Carmichael even tried his hand at painting, and his donated large painting of the Constitution Elm in Corydon dominates the end of one hall. Our guide said that she was glad Carmichael stuck with his musical career!

The final leg of our tour was to the I.U. Museum of Art. The president of the Friends of T.C. Steele spoke to the group about the American artists that were exhibited there, and then encouraged us to explore the museum before returning to Indianapolis.

Remembering the king of cool!

by Katherine Gould, Associate Curator of Cultural History

On Sept. 30, 1955, James Dean was killed in a car accident. He was only 24 years old and, though he made only three feature films during his short career, Dean became a Hollywood icon. He has had a tremendous and lasting impact on every phase of American culture. Even now, 57 years later, we still reminisce about his brief yet impressive career and mourn the tragedy of lost potential. But why James Dean? What is it about this young Indiana farm boy that has so captured our imagination?

One of the reasons that James Dean has endured, I think, is not so much for what he has done as an actor, but more for what he represents. Because for many, James Dean marks the birth of “cool.” But what exactly does cool mean? Is it an attitude or a look? Can cool be manufactured as a persona, or is it something that has to be earned and bestowed by others?

You say James Dean’s name and immediately conjure Jim Stark from Rebel Without a Cause: blue jeans, red jacket and brooding teenager. That character set the blueprint for cool: the tough but tender hero that everyone wanted to be or befriend. And over the years there has been a lot of blurring the lines between the actor and the character. So that may be part of it, part of the legend-building. But for the true fans – Deaners as they like to call themselves – there is more to it. There is no superficiality with Deaners. This is not a vague worship of a film character. For them, the appeal is not just for Dean, the Hollywood icon, but for whom Dean was as a person. There is a fond appreciation for the way he chose to live his life.

Eternal James Dean is a new exhibit opening at the Indiana State Museum on Nov. 23, 2012. In it we will reconnect the iconic image of James Dean with its origin by looking at both the man and the icon, engaging visitors in the life and legend of the Hoosier star. Personal artifacts, family snapshots and professional photographs will shed light on who James Dean was, both the actor, the man and the epitome of cool.

Just another soldier

by David Buchanan, Curator of Decorative Objects and Furniture

Museum curator David Buchanan served in the U.S. Air Force from 1969 to 1977.

I never considered myself a “hero”; just another who volunteered. Though I lost friends and classmates to the war in Vietnam, my personal experiences just lead to wonderful memories. I was an Air Force chapel manager, handling administrative duties thus freeing the Chaplain for spiritual duties. I was also his personal bodyguard. Because he was expected to liaison with the civilian religious leaders, I was one of the few who left the base for surrounding civilian communities.

I often wonder what happened to the wonderful people I met through those trips, like those running the leprosy camp (where I heard a Vietnamese Christmas carol sung to the tune of “Old Black Joe”), the Catholic priest whose French parents had emigrated to Vietnam and he’d been born and raised there, and the missionaries who ran the orphanage with many mixed race children from American servicemen.

Viet Cong mortars came in about once a month and, during the attacks, I was supposed to use the building’s earth-filled ammo box and sandbag shelter.  Instead I would just curl into a corner.  Pit vipers had been found inside our shelter during inspections and I’d rather take a chance with shrapnel than cuddle with a viper!

Honor Indiana’s veterans and active military personnel this fall at the Indiana State Museum. Heroes from the Heartland, a photo display, runs from Nov. 1 through Veterans Day, Nov. 12, 2012. Submit photos of your Hoosier Hero to kcreagh@indianamuseum.org and include the following information:

  • Name:
  • Date of service:
  • Branch of military:
  • Hometown or Indiana connection:
  • Submitted by:
Photos will be accepted through Oct. 25, 2012. Please view our 2012 Heroes from the Heartland photo album on Flickr.

Latino Culture and Flavor on the Canal! ¡Cultura de Latino y Sabor en el Canal!

by Marco Dominguez, Co-anchor of 13 Eyewitness News en ESPAÑOL

Hola! Sept. 29 is the event!

The Indiana State Museum is gearing up for an amazing Hispanic Heritage Month featuring its very first Latino Festival of the Arts on Saturday, Sept. 29 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. This will be a great day of music, arts, food and diversity. Everyone will get to mix and mingle as we party the day away.

Blog author Marco Dominguez loves his food hot ‘n’ spicy!

Consul of Mexico Juan Solana and I were invited to co-chair the event and we are having the best time leading the challenge to inaugurate a new downtown tradition. There are so many fun things being planned for the entire family to enjoy — from dancing along to salsa music to winning toys and other door prizes — the day will be packed full of fun. We have even teamed up with Radio Disney Indianapolis to present an experience you won’t forget.

Oh …  and did I forget to mention that the Consul of Mexico will be in the kitchen whipping up some spicy tacos and salsa?

So I ask you to please mark your calendar and come and have fun with us. Be ready to dance some salsa, eat good salsa and put some salsa in your life. How spicy do you want it? It is up to you!

Just enjoy a family day and hope to see you there! Los esperamos para un día familiar. Estamos seguro que la van a pasar muy bien!

Museum Adventure Camp

by Carrie Miller, Science & Technology Program Developer

Taking care of pioneer chores at camp.

Labor Day may mark the end of summer, but that doesn’t mean the adventures have to stop! I am so excited to be a part of the Indiana State Museum’s fall break Museum Adventure Camp in October! I know many advertisements use the slogan “there’s something for everyone” and, try as I might to find another expression for that same sentiment, I just can’t because it’s true at this camp! As a summer camp director, I was able to be a part of the Exploring Nature Camp and the Crime Scene Indiana State Museum Camp and while those are really cool camps, there were other awesome camps that I wasn’t able to be a part of. But with Museum Adventure Camp, it’s like I’ll be able to experience all seven weeks of summer camp in just one week of fall break! In designing this camp, I created a sort of “camp buffet” featuring five days worth of investigations, creativity, behind-the-scenes glimpses of the museum at work and much more — whew! I especially am looking forward to being able to switch from performing pioneer chores one day to preparing to muster into the Civil War army on another day and then helping to solve museum mysteries on another day. Because that’s what the camp week is all about — adventure. And every day will bring new adventures to campers in the form of “Oh’s, Ah’s and Ew’s!”

Camp registration is now open. Museum Adventure Camp is Oct. 8 through 12; 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. and open to kids ages 9 to 12 years old. Before and after care is available for an additional charge. Space is limited, so call soon to reserve your child’s space in Museum Adventure Camp. For more information or to register, call 317.232.1637, and be prepared to have a great fall break!

A conservator’s passion for his work …

by Mark Ruschman, Indiana State Museum Fine Arts Curator

During a recent visit to Fine Art Conservator Barry Bauman’s Chicago studio to retrieve two recently restored paintings, we (Leslie Lorance, Indiana State Museum new media manager; Shaun Dingwerth, director of the Richmond Museum of Art; and myself) were treated to much more than the typical drop off and pickup experience. Being new to the museum and having never met Mr. Baumann, I was excited and a bit anxious about meeting him for the first time. Mr. Bauman has 40 years experience in the business and is an Elected Fellow of the American Institute for Conservation. He was also formerly the Associate Conservator of Paintings for the Art Institute of Chicago. Now that he’s retired, he generously provides conservation services for the Indiana State Museum and numerous other cultural institutions, basically free of charge – just the cost of materials. As I’ve learned, this is a big thing for many organizations that struggle with budgets and the desire display their collections – some badly in need of repair.

The Indiana State Museum’s Leslie Lorance videos conservator Barry Bauman.

So visiting his studio is another one of the great perks that come with this job. Our host greeted us warmly, more as old friends, than business associates. He gave us a tour of the house and wonderful works of art on display; we were then treated to a spectacular lunch – prepared by him. After lunch, Leslie prepared to video him for a monthly segment we call “In the Spotlight” – a short segment highlighting something new and interesting at the museum. Certainly, the discovery of the new T.C. Steele would qualify, and who better to talk to about this discovery, but the person responsible. As we peppered Barry with questions about the discovery, what struck me most were not only the details of the discovery, which are remarkable enough, but his obvious passion for his work. He talked intently about his role as a conservator and how success is measured not in his notoriety as the conservator, but his ability to make the artist’s original intention crystal clear, unobstructed by the repair just completed. We talked at length about all aspects of his role as a conservator and what goes into a proper restoration. It was a fascinating conversation, with a great number of technical points covered, pointing out the expertise required to accomplish a successful restoration. But beyond the chemistry, you become acutely aware that behind it all is the heart of an artist; the skill to do the work and the knowledge to know what to do, and what not to do. The video interview will be short by necessity, but the conversation could have gone on for hours.

As we collected our restored works and prepared to leave, we talked of his upcoming visit to Bloomington, Indiana, for his talk on the “Steele Concealed” project. I’m looking forward to his presentation; I’m guessing the audience is coming to hear about conservation, I’m confident they’ll leave with a great deal more.