Two decades ago, David Butler directed the renovation of the Swope Art Museum, both expanding its footprint and restoring its décor to its original 1942 art deco splendor.
Friday, he will return to Terre Haute to complete his work as juror of the 75th annual Wabash Valley Exhibition, which opens to the public at 5 p.m.
The exhibition will feature 57 works by 39 artists, winnowed down from 469 entries. Now, he will view all the works hung in second-floor galleries, pick award winners, and then present the awards to the winning artists at 6 p.m.
Butler was impressed with the quality of the entries, which come from artists currently or formerly living in five states: Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Ohio.
“My choices were…driven by a desire to include a diverse mix of subject, media, style and approach,” he said.
During his time as executive director at the Swope from 1998-2000, his exposure to the Hoosier Group of Indiana expressionists (such as T.C. Steele), opened him to the possibility of where an artist lives and practices matters.
“That discovery gave me a framework years later to reposition the Knoxville, Tennessee, Museum of Art as an institution dedicated to the distinct visual culture of East Tennessee,” Butler said.
The Swope provided Butler with “a graduate school in museum management. The people were patient, kind and gave me room to do well.”
He recalls particularly the late Tom Francis, longtime Swope treasurer, who taught him about museum finance.
“There was something special about my experience in Terre Haute, and the ability to leave it with a beautifully restored museum.”
During his time at the Swope, the museum winnowed its collection to American art, the original mission of the museum when it opened in 1942.
“The collection is small but stellar with real American treasures … A museum, large or small, is a reflection of the community. It is the canary in the coal, an important community amenity, demonstrating community values,” he said.
The look of the museum today is a result of the remodeling and restoration directed by Butler at the end of the last century, from the welcoming of Paul Manship’s “Diana” to the first-floor gallery of local and Hoosier masters, to the restoration of the second-floor original galleries.
When he presents awards on Friday, he will be the latest juror stretching back to 1944 to recognize the contemporary talent of Hoosier and Midwestern artists and sculptors marking the extraordinary talent pool in our nation’s heartland.
The 75th Wabash Valley Exhibition is made possible by First Financial Bank with additional support from Baesler’s Market. The exhibit will open at 5 p.m. Friday with awards presentation at 6 p.m. and a reception to follow on the second floor of the museum at 25 S. Seventh St.
The exhibit will be open to the public, free of charge, until Oct. 20.