TERRE HAUTE —
Cities aren’t like faces.
People long to stroll into their high school reunion and hear old classmates gush, “You haven’t changed a bit.”
Yet, if a traveler returns to a city after a long absence and says, “This place hasn’t changed a bit,” that community is probably dying. The better reaction would be, “Wow, I can’t believe they pulled that off here.”
Nowadays, downtown Terre Haute falls in the latter category, thank goodness. A visitor who last stopped in town a few decades ago could sense a strong pulse in the heart of the city today. Neglect still lingers in spots, but its acceptance is diminishing. And, the cultural and economic lifeblood of Terre Haute, from the city’s founding nearly two centuries ago, is no longer ignored; the 2013 Year of the River celebration is reacquainting Hauteans with their greatest natural resource — the Wabash.
A mural under way on the east side is wonderfully unconventional for Terre Haute.
It will be big — 96 feet wide and two stories tall, covering the west exterior wall of the Cox, Zwerner, Gambill and Sullivan Law Firm building at 511 Wabash Ave. Its imagery will turn heads, showing a bridge over the river, with scenes of historic moments displayed in three panels separated by the bridge piers. One depicts the devastating 1913 flood. The middle panel, the largest, features an idyllic Wabash on a perfect fishing day. The dry beach from last year’s drought — the worst on record — occupies the third panel.
The power, impact and value of the waterway will be evident.
The lives it touches will be represented, too. People ride canoes through the three river eras, from folks paddling through the floodwaters on the left, to recreational anglers in the center, to a family carrying their canoe over drought-scorched sand on the right. An eagle, a massive catfish and a bug-eyed frog oversee the activity. A map, subtle and in the background, charts the Wabash from Ohio to Illinois. Lettering on the bridge spells out The Year of the River, and 2013.
The painting will connect the dots in the community’s past, present and future as only art can do. Think of it — a mural of the Wabash River on Wabash Avenue. And, that’s the idea, to think of it — the river, the town, the people, the wildlife, then, now and beyond.
Artists Mike Neary and Amy MacLennan, a husband-and-wife team, drew the concept from the Year of the River theme. They view that phrase in a broader, more challenging way, though. “What it really means is, ‘The Year to Start Thinking About the River,’” Neary said, with speckles of paint and raindrops on his T-shirt, pants and ballcap, waiting out a cloudburst in the cab of their art supplies truck at the mural site on Wednesday.
For the mural organizers, that thinking intensified last fall as community arts groups began preparing Year of the River activities. The Wabash mural is funded through Indiana State University’s Energize Downtown initiative, and is the latest facet of the ongoing Gilbert Wilson Memorial Mural Project. Wilson, a WPA-era artist, created dramatic murals that dominate the interior walls of Woodrow Wilson Middle School, the Community Theatre, and the ISU Bayh College of Education. The memorial series of public artwork honoring Gilbert includes local murals at the Booker T. Washington Center, Boys and Girls Club, and the Terre Haute Children’s Museum.
“This is the biggest project we’ve had yet,” said Nancy Nichols-Pethick, who leads the Gilbert Memorial series with fellow ISU art faculty member Brad Venable.
Nichols-Pethick, an artist herself, and her ISU students are painting alongside Neary and MacLennan. All came to this city in different ways, just as most Hauteans do. Nichols-Pethick was born in Alaska and raised in Maine, and began teaching at ISU in 2003. MacLennan grew up in West Terre Haute and graduated from West Vigo High School and ISU. “I’m a country girl,” MacLennan said. She and Neary moved to St. Louis a few years ago, where she teaches art at nearby McKendree University. “We still kind of consider ourselves Hauteans,” MacLennan said.
A job as a billboard painter originally brought Neary — born in Bloomington, and raised in Maryland, New Orleans and a few other cities as his dad’s job with Boeing Aircraft kept the family moving — to Terre Haute in the early 1990s. His first impression was revealing.
“I said, ‘Wow, this town could really use a good coat of paint,’” Neary recalled, with a laugh. “It was kind of gray, but had great buildings.”
Besides his commercial billboards, including a caricature of basketball great Larry Bird, Neary began adding color to the insides of those buildings. His angular paintings enliven rooms in The Verve nightclub, The Coffee Grounds and Java Haute shops, Rose-Hulman and downtown art galleries. It was the demolition of the old Terre Haute House and construction of its replacement, the Terre Haute House/Hilton Garden Inn, in 2005 and ’06, though, that gave many Hauteans their first look at the man behind the art. Neary set up his easel downtown and painted images as the buildings fell and rose. Passers-by peeked over his shoulder.
Onlookers won’t have to peek during the next five weeks as Neary and MacLennan, along with Nichols-Pethick’s students, create the massive mural.
It will catch eyes. Rivers have always drawn MacLennan’s attention. As a youngster, she gazed at the water levels of the Wabash as her family drove over the Dreiser and Dresser bridges. She does the same thing now as she drives over the Mississippi River bridge from St. Louis to McKendree every day. “I always think of how it will affect people, that there’s life down there,” MacLennan said.
She wants the artwork to capture that fascination, and share it.
One of the assisting art students, Katerina King, came to ISU from Carmel. Now a 20-year-old senior, King got her first close look at the Wabash last month when the river levels rose into Fairbanks Park and she snapped a few photos. Eventually, she’ll move back to Carmel, in hopes of opening her own gallery. She’ll likely return to Terre Haute for a visit, and to check out the mural.
“It’s cool, because we get to make our mark on Terre Haute before we graduate, and come back and say, ‘I was part of that,’” King said.
And, if all goes well, she’ll find a few new surprises, too. The city will have changed, again, for the better.
Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or email@example.com.
TERRE HAUTE —
Cities aren’t like faces.
EDITORIAL: Legislative session produced results both good and bad
The 2014 session of the Indiana General Assembly was gaveled to a close late Thursday after a flurry of activity produced a dizzying variety of legislative action. Within hours, the session results were being both praised and cursed, largely depending on political and ideological views of government’s place in the world.
FLASHPOINT: Energy bill a no-brainer target for Pence’s veto pen
Indiana has, for many years, wrestled with the question of what policy, if any, to pursue to advance new, alternative visions of how we deal with waste, move around and grow our food. Fortunately, we’ve seen some tangible signs of progress in the Indiana General Assembly with respect to recycling, mass transit and local food systems.
READERS' FORUM: March 16, 2014
• Time for change in assessor office
• Are Indiana’s chemical storage tanks safe?
• Voters of Indiana Thinking carefully about health care
• Put an end to costly primaries
• Founders understood representation rights
• What about bridge?
• Young people don’t know rules
• So many words, so little space
KIEL MAJEWSKI: Sexual violence demands the world’s action
I have a lot to learn in life, but I am convinced of this: The day men share power equally with women is the day we will see true peace in this world. The day women and girls are valued as much as men and boys, and are treated with the same respect as their male counterparts, is the day we will finally see healthy societies.
MARK BENNETT: All aboard!
Find me a George Mason University basketball T-shirt in Indiana.
EDITORIAL: Noteworthy in the news
In the competitive and highly entertaining world of collegiate athletics, Sunday is akin to a national holiday. At 6 p.m., the NCAA will announce the field and seedings of its 2014 Division I men’s basketball tournament.
RONN MOTT: One and done, 2014 style
Hoosiers, this time of the year, turn their minds and emotions to the grand old game of “hoops.”
EDITORIAL: Our children in poverty
An important gauge for measuring the long-term prospects of a community is the well-being of its children. For all the effort and progress Vigo County has made in rebuilding the economy and improving its quality of life, chronic problems with the welfare of its children still exist.
READERS' FORUM: March 14, 2014
• ISU officers should stay on campus
• Good reasons why guns are needed
• Salute to Jake
RONN MOTT: Ukraine 2
The situation in the Ukraine should let us know plainly, and openly, the old saying about a leopard never changing its spots is true. Vladimir Putin is a KGB officer, grew up a communist and, from all appearances, still believes like a communist.
EDITORIAL: Meth battle never ends
It’s been more than a decade since local police officials declared methamphetamine as “public enemy No. 1.”
READERS' FORUM: March 13, 2014
• Celebrating the Girl Scouts
• Challenging the politicians
EDITORIAL: Warm thoughts on a cool day (Part III)
• Resolving to praise ISU
• Right down our alley
- READERS' FORUM: March 12, 2014
RONN MOTT: SAWS
A few days ago we talked to John Anderson of the Greencastle Presbyterian Church. He’s the coordinator for a mission of the church that builds ramps and stairs for those who are physically handicapped in Putnam County.
EDITORIAL: Thinking warm thoughts (Part II of III)
• Renewing a local library commitment
LIZ CIANCONE: We’re not only ones ready for springtime
During the most recent of our numerous descents into polar temperatures, I was astounded to see a dozen or more robins up to their ankles in snow. They were fluffed out to about twice their normal size. I suppose that was an effort to provide a bit of feathered insulation against the cold.
READERS' FORUM: March 11, 2014
• Meat-free path to the fountain of youth
• Faulty point?
EDITORIAL: Warm thoughts on cool days (Part I of III)
• Something good’s brewing
• Y we can’t take it for granted
FLASHPOINT: Where Congress falls short, and where it doesn’t
At a public gathering the other day, someone asked me how I’d sum up my views on Congress. It was a good question because it forced me to step back from worrying about the current politics of Capitol Hill and take a longer view.
READERS' FORUM: March 10, 2014
• Our government’s heart and soul
• A plea for more give and take
MARK BENNETT: New public-access point begins quest to create more spots to experience river
Fairness holds no power over the Wabash River.
EDITORIAL: Ads on the sides of school buses? What have we come to?
Ads on the sides of school buses do not constitute a sign of the apocalypse. Western civilization will survive.
Flashpoint: President should stop Medicare Advantage cuts
Virtually all elected officials — Republicans and Democrats — share the goal of increasing access to affordable health insurance and helping families receive the best coverage to meet their specific needs.
Readers’ Forum: March 9, 2014
Mardi Gras great event for Swope
EPA regs will cause energy bills to soar
Please pray for Ukraine innocents
Sinful thinking on road to hell
Liberty — or licentiousness
People will not always agree
Botched chance at leadership
RONN MOTT: Radio now a long lost love
I fell in love with radio when I was 16, just a few short weeks before my 17th birthday. The man who did the deed and hired me was Adlai Ferguson.
EDITORIAL: Noteworthy in the news
Welcome to girls teams, fans
You can say that again
Reader Poll results
EDITORIAL: What do Sony cutbacks mean?
It is easy to understand why shivers run down local people’s spines whenever rumors hit the streets about Sony DADC’s plant on Terre Haute’s east side. With more than 1,400 people currently employed in Sony’s production and distribution facilities, the community has grown somewhat dependent on the economic stability Sony provides.
- Readers’ Forum: March 7, 2014
RONN MOTT: Knicks
The big noise in the NBA is whether Carmelo Anthony will stay with the New York Knicks or go elsewhere.
If my memory serves, and it doesn’t always, Carmelo left the Denver Nuggets, the team that drafted him, to play in the bright lights of the Big Apple. It was loudly proclaimed at the time that Carmelo wanted to play for a championship team. The Knicks’ ownership bought a bunch of players and spent a whole bunch of money to aid Carmelo in helping the Knicks to get to a championship.
- More Opinion Headlines
- EDITORIAL: Legislative session produced results both good and bad