Lovina Streight: Portrait Conserved, Story Preserved

 by Meredith McGovern, Arts and Culture Collection Manager

It took a village — or so it seemed — to conserve and display Lovina Streight, an 1880 painting of an Indianapolis woman who fearlessly marched with her husband, Colonel Abel Streight, and his troops during the Civil War, nursed wounded soldiers on battlefields, and whipped a pistol from beneath her skirt to escape the Confederate enemy. After 130 years and multiple transfers from Mrs. Streight’s parlor to the Statehouse to the Indiana State Museum, the brittle canvas had torn in six places. Patches applied to hold the torn edges together bulged and puckered from misalignment; previous efforts to replace flaked paint resulted in pools on the surface. The portrait was not suitable for display.

Thanks to a grant through the Lockerbie Square Chapter of The Questers, an organization dedicated to heritage preservation, the painting was conserved in the fall of 2012 by Michael Ruzga. The patches were replaced, the pools of paint reduced, and layers of dirt removed from the canvas surface. Details that were previously undetectable now popped: the delicate diamonds glittering in Mrs. Streight’s earrings; her cameo ring; the swirling scrollwork in the rug; and the artist’s signature. The portrait was again ready to tell the story of the bold and spirited Lovina Streight.

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In a stroke of serendipity, just a couple weeks after I picked up Lovina Streight from the conservator, the tour coordinator at the Indiana Statehouse asked to borrow the portrait for programming. It took a lot of synchronization, but we were able to display it on the fourth floor of the Capitol with the help of staff from the museum’s exhibition, collections, conservation and new media departments; a driver from the Indiana Commission on Public Records who transported the painting; and a crew from the Indiana Department of Administration Facilities Management who helped hoist the 8-foot, 80-pound portrait high into the air and secure it to the wall. Many thanks to all involved, particularly The Questers for helping make this project possible! Watch this video to learn more about Lovina Streight and the conservation project.

Visit the Indiana Statehouse to see the newly-conserved portrait on display until August 2013.

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Green is more than just a color

by Katelyn Coyne, Gallery Facilitation Specialist

Emerald is the Pantone 2013 Color of the Year, but Going Green has been a fashion must at the Indiana State Museum for five years now! On March 15 and 16, the Indiana State Museum hosts its fifth annual Going Green Festival and we are keeping ourselves ahead of the curve on the latest in green technology and environmental sustainability.

It’s impossible to deny that green has become a way of life in the 21st century. Consider a trip to the grocery store and you’ll see what I mean. From chemical free cleaning products to biodegradable packaging to organic food sections, going green has invaded every aspect of our lives. Even the bag-boy leers at you from the end of the check-out line if he has to ask, “Paper or plastic?” because you forgot your reusable canvas bags.

Though I forget my grocery bags as often as the next gal, I try my best to turn off lights when I leave a room. I ride my bike to work instead of driving, and I’m conscious of my water consumption when washing pots and pans Yet, I’m always looking for more ways to make my daily life even greener.

going_green_bag_ladyThat’s why I got involved with the Going Green Festival when I started working at the Indiana State Museum. I can’t wait to meet exhibitors from local, environmentally focused organizations, play green games and learn how to make green more than just a color that brings out my eyes.

So far, I’ve armed myself with a few fun factoids about how to go green. For instance, did you know that recycling a single aluminum can would run a TV for three hours? That the amount of sunlight that falls on the Earth’s surface in one minute is sufficient to meet the world energy demand for an entire year? That we could save $3 billion dollars in energy costs annually if the entire population of the United States washed their clothes with cold water instead of hot?

Helpful tidbits like this will expand your mind as you learn the best practices for living an environmentally sustainable lifestyle at Going Green Festival. You can chat with urban farmers, meet artisanal food makers, learn about watershed and the White River, discover alternative transportation options and more. Presenting sponsor Indianapolis Power and Light will be on hand to help consumers learn how to save money and energy with simple tips about energy efficiency.

On Saturday, March 16, Jim Poyser, managing editor of Indiana Living Green and NUVO, will enlighten visitors with his very special Climate Reality Project presentation. Also on Saturday, visitors can take advantage of discounted admission ($2 for up to four people) by bringing electronic recyclables including cell phones, TVs, computer monitors and more. Our partners at RecycleForce will be on hand to haul away your junk.

I’m hoping that by attending the Going Green Festival, I’ll be able to prepare myself to live a more sustainable lifestyle — that I’ll have a chance to hook into a community of people ready and willing to support my green efforts with information, resources and encouragement. Because it’s true: green is more than just a color, it’s a way of life!

Wherein the author explains why he begins with wherein

by Curt Burnette, Naturalist/Program Developer at the Limberlost State Historic Site

When I read Freckles and A Girl of the Limberlost for the first time, I was particularly intrigued by the way each chapter was introduced. For instance, Chapter 1 of Freckles begins, “Wherein Great Risks Are Taken And The Limberlost Guard Is Hired.” Chapter 1 of A Girl of the Limberlost begins, “Wherein Elnora Goes To High School And Learns Many Lessons Not Found In Her Books.” I thought these chapter descriptions were quaint and fun and whetted the readers appetite for what they were about to read.

girl_limberlost_bookFreckles and A Girl of the Limberlost were the only two novels in which Gene Stratton-Porter used this style of chapter heading, but she was not the only author to do so. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (of Sherlock Holmes fame) used a similar technique in 1926 when he published The Land of Mist. In this book, Doyle’s chapter headings all begin with “In Which” or “Which” or “Where,” such as Chapter 13 — “In Which Professor Challenger Goes Forth To Battle.” This technique goes back even further in time. In Cervantes’ novel Don Quixote, published in 1605, chapter headings are often even more lengthy and descriptive. Chapter XX — “Of the adventure, never before seen or heard of, achieved by the valorous Don Quixote of La Mancha, with less peril than any ever achieved by any famous knight in all the world.” Or Chapter XXIX — “Which deals with the pleasant device that was adopted to rescue our love-sick knight from the severe penance he had imposed upon himself.”

It is probably a good thing all books don’t have chapter headings which are this wordy. Nevertheless, I did enjoy reading the chapter teases of Gene’s two most famous books. “Wherein” helped me get into the proper frame of mind to spend some time in the Limberlost at the beginning of the last century.

My use of “wherein” is a nod to Gene and an older style of writing. Books written long ago will, of course, have differences in style, word use and grammar. Gene calls a bicycle a “wheel,” and a car a “motor” and uses words such as “especial” or “espied” that we no longer use today. These differences contribute to the pleasure of reading older books and being transported back to bygone eras. Although it is hard sometimes (or most of the time) to understand what Shakespeare is saying in his works, there is never any doubt you are reading literature from a different time and place. So until next month — fare thee well in your travels and may by fate we will meet again! Forsooth!

Meteorite strikes northwest Indiana! Devastation complete!

by Peggy Fisherkeller, Curator of Geology

The author conducting geological arm waving at the impact site, now the Rogers Group Kentland Quarry. Photograph courtesy Nelson Shaffer.

The author conducting geological arm waving at the impact site, now the Rogers Group Kentland Quarry. Photograph courtesy Nelson Shaffer.

Okay, this is a fictional headline, because there wasn’t anyone around to write it when the impact happened, sometime between 17,000 and 300 million years ago. But with spectacular recent events in Russia, a reminder of Indiana’s very own brush with obliteration is justified.

Kentland, Indiana, is home to one of the larger meteorite craters in the United States, with the area of ground disturbance coming in at more than 7 miles in diameter. You wouldn’t know it though, without the quarry that’s there now. Like most of northern Indiana, the ground surface is covered with glacial till.

The Kentland meteorite crater is part of a great mystery story, because geologists were only convinced that it was a meteorite impact within the past 40 years. Everyone knew that something was up, though, because the rocks there just weren’t right, with layers making a huge irregular bull’s eye pattern where only flat-lying rocks were supposed to be.

A shattercone from Kentland Quarry.

A shattercone from Kentland Quarry.

What really happened has been roughly sketched out, based on evidence at the site and comparison to more obvious crater sites from around the world. A (big!) meteorite struck with such great force that the ground beneath was compressed, bouncing back hundreds of feet higher than before (though the part that was above the ground has since eroded away). Preserved in these vertical, contorted rock layers were shattercones, pointing toward the direction of impact, micro-sized shocked quartz and brecciated rock (containing angular fragments).

Some mysteries remain. How big was the meteorite? Well, big. When did it strike? We know it hit after the Pennsylvanian Period (~300 million years ago), because the crater crosses through rocks of that age. We know that it happened before the end of the last glaciation, because glacial till is deposited on top. With chemical and physical techniques, researchers have done a little better, putting the impact maybe between 97 million and 300 million years.

Polishing silver at the museum

by Gaby Kienitz, Head Conservator

In period dramas like Downton Abbey, footmen or maids get the dreadful task of polishing the silver. Culbertson Mansion doesn’t have staff hidden in the basement ready to polish the silver; instead, that work is done in the Conservation Lab at the Indiana State Museum. Here in the Conservation Lab, we don’t think of polishing silver objects as drudgery, because we don’t have to polish the same object more than once every 10 years. How do we get away with it? We have a secret ingredient.

Tarnished silver: a punishment for footmen since time began.

Tarnished silver: a punishment for footmen since time began.

Removing the layers of corrosion on silver objects is entirely done by hand with just de-ionized water, precipitated chalk and small pieces of cotton wadding. Once the corrosion layers are removed, the object is carefully rinsed and dried. All of that is pretty much in keeping with Downton-style polishing. The trick up our sleeve is to apply a lacquer coating onto the freshly polished silver. The lacquer prevents a new layer of corrosion from forming on the silver, sealing the shiny silver from things in the environment that might cause corrosion to form again. Unfortunately, the coating isn’t

With all those stubborn nooks and crannies, we’re lucky it won’t need our attention again for a decade.

With all those stubborn nooks and crannies, we’re lucky it won’t need our attention again for a decade.

strong enough to withstand normal household use; it’s meant for objects that get the “white glove” treatment at museums and historic sites. Our most recent polishing project was this lovely silver coffee urn, which took three pairs of hands and many hours to complete.

So, bring out your silver, try on your British accent, and keep regularly polishing at home. Look for the coffee urn to make its appearance at Culbertson Mansion State Historic Site.

Hoosiers and the Academy Awards®

by Katherine Gould, Associate Curator of Cultural History

When you think of Hollywood and the Academy Awards® you naturally think of Indiana, right? Well, you should. Hoosiers have been making an impact on the silver screen from the earliest days of motion pictures. Some of the most popular and celebrated films to come out of Hollywood proudly feature the mark of a Hoosier. Some you may be aware of — James Dean, Steve McQueen, Hoagy Carmichael, Sydney Pollack. While you may be less familiar with some of the others.

Let’s start at the beginning. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presented their first awards at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel on May 16, 1929. It was there that Louise Dresser of Evansville lost out to Janet Gaynor for the award for Best Actress in a Leading Role for her performance in A Ship Comes In. And I’m sure everyone has seen the Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life at least once in their lifetime. If so, then you’re familiar with Valparaiso-native Beulah Bondi who played Ma Bailey. A graduate of Valparaiso University, she went on to earn nominations for Best Supporting Actress in Gorgeous Hussy (1936) and Of Human Hearts (1938).

And what about that Easter staple The Ten Commandments? Queen Nefertiti was played by Michigan City’s own Anne Baxter. A granddaughter of Frank Lloyd Wright, she had her breakout role starring in the 1942 film adaptation of Indianapolis-native Booth Tarkington’s, The Magnificent Ambersons directed by Orson Welles. She later won Best Supporting Actress for her role in The Razor’s Edge (1946), a film which also featured a Best Supporting Actor-winning performance by Indianapolis-native Clifton Webb. Baxter would again be nominated for Best Actress in All About Eve (1950), a film which also received a Best Art Direction nomination for Kokomo’s George Davis. A bit of a film legend, Mr. Davis received 19 Academy Award nominations throughout his career for his work on such classics as The Robe (winner, 1953), Love is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955), The Diary of Anne Frank (winner, 1959), Mutiny on the Bounty (1962), and Cimarron (1960).

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Now, Steve McQueen isn’t one of the lesser-known Hoosiers in Hollywood, but are you familiar with director and producer Robert Wise? The Winchester-native directed McQueen in The Sand Pebbles (1966), for which he also received a Best Picture nomination as the producer of the film. And the year before, he paired up with cinematographer Ted McCord of Sullivan County for the classic The Sound of Music (1965), for which Wise won Best Director and Best Picture. The double win was also a feat Wise had achieved earlier for a little picture called West Side Story (1961). Now McCord, too, was no stranger to working with fellow Hoosiers: in 1955 he teamed up with screenwriter and Evansville-native Paul Osborn and a then-unknown actor from Fairmont named James Dean for the 1955 epic East of Eden. Both Dean and Osborn received nominations for their work on that now-classic film.

Behind the scenes at Lanier Mansion

by Anne Fairchild, Eastern Region Program Manager

To me, the most interesting thing about an old house isn’t the fancy parlors, or how the dining room is decorated, but rather the cool little details that are easily missed. You know, places such as a space in the basement that once held ice, how a closet is designed or a specialty room modern buildings would never have. 

The Lanier Mansion, considered the “Crown Jewel” of Madison’s Historic District, is full of unique features throughout the 13,500 sq. feet home —10,000 of which the family lived in — that are easliy overlooked with a general visit to the site. For those who share that passion of exploring nooks and crannies, Lanier Mansion State Historic Site now offers a Behind-the-Scenes Tour on the second Saturday of each month at 4 p.m. The cost is $10 per person and we highly suggest making reservations by calling 812.273.0556. 

Tour guide Bill Lackner is waiting to take you on a behind-the-scenes adventure at Lanier Mansion!

Tour guide Bill Lackner is waiting to take you on a behind-the-scenes adventure at Lanier Mansion!

Bill Lackner, our main tour guide at Lanier Mansion — and winner of the 2012 Madison/Jefferson County Hospitality Award — offers some insights about this tour.  

Anne: What is your favorite Behind-the-Scenes part of the mansion?

Bill: Seeing the structural components of the house. A great example of this is found in the floor joists. The dimensions of the wood are many times larger and closer together than modern specifications demand. The remnants of bell signaling system. The modern HVAC and electrical systems are hidden from view and do not take away from the authentic appearance of the rooms. Also, be sure to take a closer look at the thick brick walls separating the rooms. Their thickness was determined more by financial ability than structural needs.

Anne: Why have the Behind-the-Scenes Tours been so popular?

Bill: People often wonder, “what is behind that door?” Now you can finally find out! People also like to have the inside story and be let in on some secrets.

Anne: How long has Lanier Mansion been offering these tours?

Bill: They began last year.

A brighter corner of the Lanier basement.

A brighter corner of the Lanier basement.

Anne: What is the #1 thing you think people ought to know about the mansion?

Bill: I actually have two things! First, it’s a showpiece. The building was meant to be dazzling in its day, and it still is today. It showed the wealth of the owner and demonstrated the ability of the architect and builder, Francis Costigan from Baltimore. This was Costigan’s first big job. After Lanier Mansion, Costigan went on to bigger jobs, and eventually moved to Indianapolis.

Second, its quality. In 1844, Madison was considered the Far West, and people often had to make do with available materials and workers. Lanier’s building materials, strength, beauty and craftsmanship is the same scale of quality you might find in more established Eastern cities such as Baltimore. For its time, it may have been the most significant home west of the Allegheny Mountains.

Anne: What should people know if they are interested in going on this tour? 

Bill: It is more physically demanding than the regular tour. There are more stairs, steeper stairs and fewer handrails. The tour covers all levels of the house, including the basement with its uneven dirt floor. It also takes about twice as long as a regular tour. In the winter, it is dark by the time the tour is complete. So if you have a flash light, bring it with you.