Bicentennial Legacy Project

Honoring the history of Terre Haute and Indiana with art

Indiana Heritage Art Exhibition May 13, 14 in Terre Haute Masonic Temple

  • 7 min to read

Historic trifectas are rare occurrences in our city life and state life, and rarer still the opportunity to enjoy such history being colorfully displayed at an eclectic art show such as the Indiana Heritage Art Exhibition, which is Friday and Saturday in the unusually ornate setting of the Terre Haute Masonic Temple. 

This bicentennial art show by the River City Art Association is a presentation of many elements of the rich cultural heritage created by two of the most noteworthy events in the history of Terre Haute and Indiana:  In 1816, Terre Haute was platted as a town and Indiana was accepted as a state into the United States of America.

Moreover, a hundred years ago this year, the historic Masonic Temple at 224 N. Eighth St. was under construction after being designed by Masonic architects as a suitable building for Masons to take their degrees. Soon after the building’s completion, it became recognized throughout Indiana as one of Terre Haute’s architectural showcases. Visitors to River City’s art exhibit will be able to relax in the temple’s historic sitting parlor and library adjacent to the art show. Some of the parlor’s majestic furnishings date from the earliest days of Terre Haute.

River City’s May exhibit is one of three bicentennial art shows it has scheduled for 2016.

The other two are in July at the Vigo County Public Library and in September in the art gallery at Clabber Girl Museum in the Hulman & Company building. The Indiana Heritage exhibit from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Friday at the temple will include an artists’ reception featuring guest speaker Brendan Kearns at 6:30. Light refreshment and tours of the temple continue from noon to 6 p.m. Saturday.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for the members of our group to be able to explore artistically our state’s history, the images that make Indiana, Indiana,” said RCAA artist Dian D. Phillips. “Our purpose is to bring attention to things so people might see them in a different way.”

Phillips is a graphic design professional who will exhibit artworks that are either watercolor or acrylic. All her works for the show are influenced by nature. One will be a montage of Hoosier elements such as an image of the state, and the state bird, a cardinal, and the state tree, a tulip poplar.

“I had to research the tulip poplar to get the proper leaf structure,” she said.

Her other images will be barns, old red barns that have passed the test of time.

“Barns are one of the most important elements of our state’s heritage,” Phillips said. “A barn was about the first thing early settlers built.”

The bicentennial exhibit’s planning began in December, according to RCAA’s vice president Todd Stokes. At least 21 River City members will present three or four artworks each for the scheduled bicentennial shows. The art association has been together for 10 years and normally puts on three shows a year plus a juried show. Many of its members have received multiple awards for their work.

“I like doing themed events like our bicentennial show,” Stokes said. “They push me to study a topic.”

Stokes’ presentations will include a photographic close-up image of corn stalks, honoring one of our state’s most important products; plus, he is showing a double-sided image of a tulip poplar and a glass etching based on the design concept of Robert Indiana’s iconic “LOVE” sculpture, which has been displayed at the Indianapolis Museum of Art and featured on U.S. postage stamps.

Stokes’ etching of Robert Indiana’s sculpture will be paraphrased to say “STOP HATE.”

“I think the thought is an important message for this time,” Stokes said.

Stokes, RCAA secretary Sheila Ter Meer, treasurer Edith Acton and president Mike Bender consulted with Terre Haute’s bicentennial coordinator, Brittany Michaels, at the Vigo County Public Library to initiate the process of getting official state endorsement for the bicentennial legacy project. 

The team was given the paperwork necessary to apply. Then they proposed to the Indiana Bicentennial Commission that their artistic works would be interpretations revealing different aspects of the history and legacy of Indiana, which would instill in the residents of Terre Haute and the nine-county area with pride in their Hoosier heritage and help bring recognition to Indiana’s notable persons, architecture and historical events — notably the Indiana State Parks’ centennial and the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500.

Ter Meer will have four pieces in the bicentennial exhibition. One is a photograph of the Wabash River at Fairbanks Park more than 13 feet above flood stage in spring 2013, which occurred during Terre Haute’s 2013 “Year of the River” celebration.

Two other photographic images on metal feature “A Song For Indiana” sculpture by Terre Haute artist Teresa Clark placed near the Paul Dresser Memorial Birthplace in Fairbanks Park and the Wabash River, Indiana’s state river, made famous by Terre Haute native son and composer Dresser in the state song, “On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away.”

From one perspective, Dresser’s home is framed by an opening in the middle of the sculpture based on the shape of the flowing river. The second photograph, taken from the other side of the sculpture, offers a view of the Wabash through the opening. Ter Meer then framed both images of the sculpture with a background image of the original sheet music for Indiana’s state song.

Ter Meer’s fourth photographic image is a stalactite secreted deep within Squire Boone Caverns south of Corydon, Indiana’s first state capitol.

“My great-great-grandmother was the granddaughter of Squire Boone Jr.,” Ter Meer said. “He first came to Indiana with his brother Daniel in the late-18th century. He and Daniel had to hide in the caverns to protect themselves from Indians. Squire later came back to the area and purchased the land above the caverns where he built the first grist mill in Harrison County in 1809.” Both historical sites are protected and open for tours.

Another River City artist who has reached far back into Indiana’s history trove for inspiration is founding member Monty “Indiana” Jones, who first studied art by a mail order class when he was a young man, and then after retiring from Ivy Hill as an offset printer 14 years ago, he again became serious about his art and has since won state and local awards.

“I decided to paint a Wabash and Erie Canal boat,” Jones said. “The canal started along the Great Lakes and eventually made its way down through Indiana to Terre Haute and points beyond. Its purpose was to link Lake Erie with the Ohio River. At one point the canal passed near what is now M. Mogger’s in Terre Haute and proceeded on down to Worthington passing near the Eel River.”

The Wabash and Erie started carrying passengers and cargo starting in 1843 and continued on, though at financial loss, until after the Civil War.

Jones’ highly figurative artwork depicts a mule-drawn canal packet boat for passengers arriving at a landing. His work reveals a deft treatment of coloration as the reflection of the natural wood tone of his packet boat striking an Erie Canal wooden landing is depicted with a vaguely purplish hue.

An Auburn Boat Tail Speedster will also be exhibited by Jones. These classical masterpieces of automotive design were produced for wealthy clientele during the 1930s in Auburn, Indiana.

“I became interested in the Auburn at a 2015 car show in Carmel,” Jones said. “I took a picture of it and used it as a basis for my painting. My composition for the car is imaginative. I pose it in front of Terre Haute’s Highland Lawn Chapel, which was built in 1893.”

River City artist Don Turner reached back into his African-American heritage for artistic inspiration for the bicentennial exhibition.

“My ancestors came to Terre Haute more than 100 years ago from North Carolina, up to Kentucky, and then the Terre Haute area, so I have a lot of heritage here,” said Turner, an Indiana State graduate who also attended the Herron School of Art in Indianapolis and had a career as an art teacher at a variety of levels in the Vigo County School Corp.

Two of Turner’s pictures have religious overtones; one is of an old-time baptism in a lake and the other an image of Terre Haute’s AME Church, the Allen Chapel on South Third Street. His final image will be of African Americans at play near the Markle Mill Dam on Mill Dam Road in the North Terre Haute area.

Turner said that some Vigo County blacks used to live in the vicinity of the Mill Dam, and he has recollections of going to the historic dam himself.

River City artist JoAnne Fiscus studied art education at ISU after finishing high school at Schulte in Terre Haute. She taught art at all levels in the Vigo County school system before retirement. Her bicentennial-themed art offers a nod to the Indiana State Park system and her enthusiasm for the great outdoors.

“I love fishing,” Fiscus said. “The first year I was married to my husband, Bruce, I had fishing licenses in three states. I will be showing an oil painting of Salt Creek in the Brown County State Park. I have gone fishing and camping there many times.”

Another Fiscus composition, a watercolor called “Hoosier Lobster,” is an unusual homage to crawdads such as the ones countless Hoosier school kids over the years have found to be a source of fascination during excursions into the outback. Fiscus portrays her “Hoosier Lobster” resting on a bed of rocks in shallow water. She has managed to give the watercolor an eerily realistic sense of depth by stroking layers of clear coat on top of the crawdad watercolor.

“Being in the River City Art Association gives me lots of opportunities to show my work. Over the past few years we have gotten more and more support from the community for our art,” Fiscus said.

The president of Terre Haute’s Masonic Temple Association, Jerry Burns, said that Terre Haute’s first Masonic lodge, #19, was established in 1819, only a few years after the platting of the frontier town. After that other local lodges were formed. The lodges together with York Rites and Eastern Stars met in several locations until they consolidated their gathering places in the present Masonic Temple on North Eighth Street, which was erected for the princely sum of $150,000.

“This temple was built to be fire retardant after a series of fires had stunned Terre Haute,” Burns said. “It is made of brick, stone and concrete, and its wiring was installed in conduit pipes, which was advanced for the time of its construction. The design techniques make use of many classical forms of columns such as Tuscan, Corinthian, Doric, Ionic, and composite. The building is so sturdy that during the Cold War it was a designated fallout shelter.”

Burns said that in years gone by the temple could not have been used for non-Masonic events, but this policy has changed and the Terre Haute lodges are able to offer the facility to select groups in keeping with the Masons’ sense of respect for the seven liberal arts and sciences.

Burns will give tours of Terre Haute’s Masonic Temple both days during the bicentennial art exhibit.

Other participating artists include Richard Acton, Della Bender, Ruthann Brady, Michael Elmore, Bruce Fiscus, Valerie Funk, Debbie Goodin, Steve Harrold, Jan Skipo, Judith Lynn Smith, Deanna Swearingen, Eugene Thomas and Spencer Young.

The following bicentennial events are scheduled now through August:

• Lt. Col. Peter B. Allen Memorial Dedication, noon to 1:30 p.m. June 11 in the Terre Haute Masonic Temple, 224 N. Eighth St. Lt. Col. Peter B. Allen was the first master of Terre Haute Lodge, No. 19, the first Masonic Lodge in Vigo County, Indiana. In addition, he was a veteran of the War of 1812.

• Indiana Heritage Art Exhibition: River City Art Association, July 1-31 at the Vigo County Public Library, Seventh and Poplar streets; meet and greet with artists during First Friday events July 1.  

• The Terre Haute Community Band will play in Fairbanks Park at 8 p.m. on July 23 at the Sixth Annual On the Banks of the Wabash Community Band Festival featuring songs written by Indiana composers and a piece written for both the state of Indiana and the city of Terre Haute’s bicentennial anniversaries. 

• Indiana Heritage Art Exhibition: River City Art Association, Sept. 1-30 at the Art Gallery in Clabber Girl Museum, Hulman & Co., 900 Wabash Ave.; meet and greet with artists during First Friday events Sept. 2.

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