Anyone walking along South Seventh Street may think they are seeing a ghost — but it’s really a life-size, black-and-white photo of Terre Haute’s famous turn-of-the-20th century union leader, Eugene V. Debs.
It’s an effort to bring attention to the Swope Art Museum’s “Remembering Eugene Debs” exhibit that starts Friday and runs through Aug. 27 in the museum’s second-floor lobby.
The photo, along with Deb’s hunting dog, “Babe,” can be seen on the south side of the former TWI Building, which is being converted into the Lofts of Haute Maison, a 10-unit apartment complex at 120 S. Seventh St. The hunting dog is located higher on the side of the building.
“They contacted us and said a Chicago artist wanted to put this up as part of the Swope exhibit honoring Debs,” said David Adams, who owns the building with Al Ruckriegel.
The photo is part of artist JB Daniel’s work called “Laborpaste.”
Daniel put up the art photos Monday, with the help of scaffolding provided to him from workers at the apartment building.
The artist uses wheat paste recipe that dates back to the 1800s — a mixture of flour and water cooked with “a little bit” of sugar to make it extra sticky — to adhere the life-size photos, Daniel said. The photos will simply disintegrate and blend into the background.
“The old labor guys used this recipe to put up their bills [written or printed notices] for town meetings, so I like the historical reference,” said Daniel, who plans to attend the display’s opening night on Friday. “It is fairly durable... but part of the art is they are temporary,” he said.
Daniel first used “Laborpaste” photos around his neighborhood of Pullman, an area in Chicago, using cutouts of workers and labor leaders, to blend into the Pullman National Monument’s streetscape. “I wanted to put them up because people seemed to forget about the labor movement and what it did,” Daniel said.
Debs who lived from 1855 to 1926, was born in Terre Haute and became a well-known union leader and ran for U.S. president on the Socialist ticket five times. Bernie Sanders, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president, considers Debs to be his political hero.
The Swope’s exhibition will include Leonard Baskin’s 1949 woodcut "Homage to Gene Debs" from the Swope Art Museum’s collection. Additionally, the Swope has invited artists to create work that responds to the progressive ideas, humanitarian values, and social criticism of Debs. ISU emerita professor Dr. Harriet McNeal acted as juror and selected works from a national call for entries for artworks inspired by Debs’ progressive ideas, humanitarian values and social criticisms.