TERRE HAUTE —
As he stood in the middle of the first floor rotunda of the Vigo County Courthouse on Wednesday, artist Bill Wolfe was a living reflection of the history he portrays in four large murals.
The last 12-foot by 6-foot framed mural now hangs on the courthouse wall. It portrays 53 Vigo County people influential in politics, military, education, arts, entertainment and sports. The mural was actually the third mural of four Wolfe has completed.
“These are people that made something of their lives. And to think that they lived here in Vigo County, some of them born and raised and some just lived here a few years, but they were here,” Wolfe said.
“The important thing and what I hope is that maybe kids will come in and look at these murals and see these people and think … that I can do something with my life too,” Wolfe said.
“They made something of their lives. To me, that is what is important about this mural,” he said.
Wolfe himself is a well-established artist and sculptor in the Wabash Valley with his work portrayed throughout the city and state. His most recent work is a large sculpture of Indiana State University and NBA all-star basketball player Larry Bird that stands outside Hulman Center.
Just prior to the mural being hung earlier this month, Wolfe said he added the likeness of Bobby Leonard.
Leonard, born in Terre Haute, played basketball at Gerstmeyer High School, then hit the winning free throw to give Indiana University the 1953 NCAA Championship. He went on to play in the National Basketball Association and was coach of the Indiana Pacers while the team was in the American Basketball Association and later in the NBA. He is also a former radio broadcaster for the Pacers.
Wolfe’s favorite two portraits on the mural are those of Eugene Debs, a labor leader, and water color artist D. Omer “Salty” Seamon. Wolf made Debs the largest portrait in the mural. “I have always been fond of what Eugene Debs has stood for,” Wolfe said.
Wolfe knew Seamon and in fact, painted his likeness in oil with watercolor brushes used by Seamon. “While I was painting, I started thinking that Salty is probably rolling over in his grave because I am using his good, precious water color brushes and using oil paint. But they worked fine,” Wolfe said.
Eventually small signs will be made for each mural, describing their contents, Wolfe said.
The last mural Wolfe painted portrays Vigo County as the Crossroads of America. “I wanted to show the different types of travel. That includes a steamboat that would come up the Wabash River and the old Wabash & Erie Canal,” he said.
Road signs of U.S. 40 and Interstate 70 are shown, along with passenger trains that traveled between cities such as Sullivan, Brazil and Indianapolis. In addition, a single-wing plane, developed by the Johnson Brothers, is depicted.
“They actually built one of the first single-wing airplanes right here in Vigo County. They, of course, are known for the Johnson outboard motors,” Wolfe said. “They designed it and used one of their engines on it …. and in the area of where Sky King airport is now, [they] flew this plane.”
Also depicted is Fort Harrison. Wolfe said he heavily researched the fort to ensure its image. This mural’s wooden frame is made from tulip poplar, sometimes called yellow poplar. This wood is what the fort was constructed from, Wolfe said. The tulip poplar is Indiana’s state tree.
The frames of the four murals were spearheaded by W. Keith Ruble, former superintendent of the Vigo County Parks & Recreation Department.
“We wanted to highlight some of the most important hardwoods that are grown in Indiana,” Ruble said.
The first mural’s frame is constructed of black walnut, from a tree grown on the grounds of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, Ruble said. That mural depicts Saint Mother Theodore Guerin, the founder of Sisters of Providence of St. Mary-of-the-Woods.
Wild cherry, better known as black cherry, was used on a second mural. The last mural is made from quarter-sawn white oak, Ruble said.
“A lot of door frames in buildings like the courthouse, the doors to courtrooms, were made out of this. The logs are cut across the grain of the tree and gives it a unique look,” Ruble said.
“The last two frames made have an inlay of wood; some of that is Kentucky coffee bean, walnut, cedar and ash,” Ruble said. “It gives the frame more character.”
Wolfe said he “is relieved” that all of the murals are completed.
“It really does brighten up the rotunda of the courthouse. I hope that this will tell the history of Vigo County. The perfect place for this is in the Vigo County Courthouse,” Wolfe said.
Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or firstname.lastname@example.org.