Glimpses of ‘Our Town’

Research — By on September 14, 2012 11:54 am
“Feature Presentation” by Ben Delnat

When 10 Indiana State University art students set out this summer to create images of “Our Town,” their methods were as varied as the storefronts on Wabash Avenue or the architecture of Terre Haute’s residential neighborhoods.

Austen Leake climbed aboard his bicycle at sunrise or sunset and pedaled from landmark to landmark. Stopping when the rising or setting sun cast just the right amount of light, Leake crafted his images with the whir of a camera shutter. Sometimes, the resulting photograph was just right. Other times not so much and he would pedal around the city the next day until his photos matched the vision in his mind’s eye.

Broderick Wiscaver and Gabrielle Roach photographed some of the people of “Our Town,” then re-created their photographs in other media – Wiscaver set ink rollers squeaking as he crafted his finished images in prints. Roach’s paintbrush silently applied oil to canvas with steady strokes.

Using digital photography featuring well-known buildings and scenes from Wabashiki Fish and Wildlife area, Ben Delnat created surreal images of how a post-apocalyptic Terre Haute might appear after man-made structures were taken back by nature. Delnat also played it straight and created a series of prints featuring products made, or formerly made, in Terre Haute, such as Clabber Girl baking powder, Rex coffee and Champagne Velvet beer, which ceased production in 1958 and enjoyed a brief revival from 2000 to 2006.

Ceramic artist Michelle Visker conducted a summer-long artistic “science experiment” by combining various metals and powder with ceramic glazes “just to see what came out.”

Austen Leake brings a photo to life in a darkroom. ISU Photo by Rachel Keyes

The quintet of artists were among 10 students who earned $3,000 each for 10 weeks of creativity this summer as “Sycamore Artists Residing in Our Town,” or SARIOT. Art department faculty members Fran Lattanzio and Nancy Nichols-Pethick worked closely with the students on their projects.

“This program has provided a tremendous opportunity for students to engage in self-directed creative research,” Nichols-Pethick said. “I’m sure that all the participants will look back on the experience as a formative one that will lead them to more confidently pursue exhibitions, grants, residencies and other professional opportunities.”

The entire College of Arts and Sciences will use the theme “Our Town” for a semester-long series of lectures, performances and activities during spring semester 2013. During that time, students will engage with the theme “Our Town” in the classrooms and in the community. Nichols-Pethick said college Dean John Murray was kind enough to allow the SARIOT program to use the theme in advance.

“It seemed like a great way to give the program participants a starting point for their creative research, while tying in with upcoming events,” she said.

A photo by Austen Leake of the Terre Haute skyline.

Sponsored by the Indiana State art department and the university’s new Center for Student Research and Creativity, the idea of SARIOT was to do for art students what ISU’s long-running SURE, or Student Undergraduate Research Experience, project has done for science students. That is to provide participants with opportunities that more closely resemble those they will find in a real world where they are not limited to practicing their chosen profession in 50-minute classroom sessions or two-hour labs.

“I figure what better way to embody Terre Haute than to show examples of what we produce. A town is only as good as what it makes” said Delnat, of West Terre Haute, choosing to first describe the more traditional of his approaches. “All of the products that I focused on in my art are still in production or are being reproduced, but the brands are still alive.”

As for his more dramatic images, such as the aging Indiana Theater and even the sparkling new Union Hospital building overgrown by leaves and shrubs, “As people, we think the things we make will last and last, but the truth of the matter is that the moment we stop tending and taking care of the world that we live in nature’s just going to take it right back,” Delnat said. “I want to give a glimpse of the frailty of our town. As much as we think we’ve harnessed nature and can control nature, the moment we turn our back, nature’s just going to take everything back. I just want people to enjoy them. I want people to look at them and get them thinking.”

Wiscaver, a junior from Washington, Ind., who is majoring in art education, said, “This was a once in a lifetime thing. I’m never going to get paid to make art again. I’m going to be a teacher … so I’ll get paid to teach people art, but to actually get paid to make my own is a unique opportunity.”

Gabrielle Roach works on a painting of a small moment in her hometown of Terre Haute. ISU Photo by Rachel Keyes

He chose to capture images of “everyday people” rather than community leaders – a lone man walking up stairs represents the human need to occasionally be alone, individuals’ leaning over each other to follow the action of an event illustrates natural human curiosity.

He also created a print featuring two young men arm wrestling.

“What is another word that I think is a big part of what we are as humans? I came up with competition. I think we’re a very competitive species,” he said, explaining a print of two students who really got into the competitive spirit of an arm wrestling match.

“I need to find ways to get myself excited about the work, as with this program, because there’s not a teacher there telling me that I have to do something,” Wiscaver said. “That experience will help me try to figure out ways to get students interested in doing things.”

Roach’s paintings feature a girl eating cotton candy at the Banks of the Wabash Festival, a young woman basking in the sun at Deming Park’s Deming Dipper pool and a third female taking a drink of water from a garden hose.

“I focused on the small town, Midwest America, and focused on the small things,” the Terre Haute resident said. “I tried to think of things that remind me of my childhood. It kind of sounds like a cliché, but life is a lot simpler where we live. Terre Haute is decent-sized, but it’s not like living in a big city. Life is slower and you get to really notice the small things.”

There is nothing “deep” to her work, Roach said. “It’s not anything that’s supposed to make a statement. I hope that one day I can create things that are a little more active and a statement but these are just enjoyable. I really love where I live and I hope when people look at these they can take that away and love where they live, too.”

Michelle Visker creates ceramic art as part of the SARIOT program. ISU Photo by Rachel Keyes.

Leake grew up in Terre Haute and is familiar with the community’s landscape and architecture and set out to “try to capture Terre Haute in maybe a way that someone hasn’t seen it who’s lived here their whole life, just from an angle or something way out in the woods that no one’s ever seen before. I really hope that people will think this town is a little less bland.”

Like his fellow students who participated in SARIOT, Leake appreciated the opportunity to throw himself into his work for what amounted to practically a full-time job for much of the summer.

“Especially with the theme of ‘Our Town,” it was pretty important to me. It was a great experience to have the freedom to do things with some deadlines, but not necessarily a rubric,” he said. “To get paid to do art is a pretty rare experience and I may not be able to do it again. I really like to be able to capture the essence of a city like I did during the summer. I have seen a lot of artists with similar opportunities, such as Robert Frank with his classic, ‘The Un-American.’ I hope an opportunity comes up in the future where I can do what I did in Terre Haute for other towns.”

Visker’s inspiration for her unorthodox ceramics was a so-called “graveyard” outside the university’s art annex that contains discarded metal from sculpture projects and various other items tossed out when projects didn’t turn out quite right and it was impractical, or impossible, to re-use the items at the time.

The Indianapolis junior said her approach tied in with the “Our Town” theme because communities worldwide are reinventing themselves with each new generation.

“We’re starting to form new ideas and use things that we thought were useless by making them into something beautiful. That’s what kind of connects with ‘Our Town,’” she said.

Broderick Wiscaver created prints in what he called "a once in a lifetime opportunity." ISU Photo by Rachel Keyes

Visker mixed rusted metal (iron oxide), talcum powder and silica, from which glass is made, with feldspar and ceramic glazes.

“When I got them out of the kiln, I just loved what had happened,” she said. “It was so beautiful – all these chemical reactions that were happening in the kiln. It was just amazing to see.”

Visker said she asked one of her art professors in advance what would happen and the professor said, “I don’t know. Why don’t you go ahead and find out?”

“No one thinks about art as a way to research but I put all these things together and I really liked what came out,” she said.

In addition to providing real-world experience for the 10 students, the SARIOT program will provide a funding boost to an equal number of local charities. The students’ artwork is on display through Sept. 22 at Halcyon Gallery in downtown Terre Haute. Reflecting a trend among artists toward community involvement and activism, each participant selected one piece to be sold during a silent auction to benefit a not-for-profit agency each student selected. The auction runs until the end of the exhibition.

“Contemporary artists are much less likely to work in isolation in their studios,” Nichols-Pethick said; the trend is toward community involvement and activism. “These kinds of interactions raise the public profile of art and artists, and remind students in the creative disciplines that they can and should be active members of their community.”

Dave Taylor is the director of media relations.


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1 Comment

  1. Martha Sweeney says:

    Where are the pictures? I, and many others, would like to see them.

    The recaptcha is very difficult to use.

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