Eskenazi Museum of Art- A Homecoming

John Frederick Kennett (Am. 1816-1872), Water Scene
oil on canvas, Eskenazi Museum of Art

There are always a few places that exert an out sized influence on our lives. For me one such place was the Eskenazi Museum of Art in Bloomington, IN (formerly the Indiana Unversity Art Museum).

The day after the opening reception for Swope Art Museum's exhibition of my paintings done in Edward Hopper's studio my wife and I drove over from Terre Haute, IN to visit my old grad school, Indiana University.  Though I got my MFA degree in painting at IU in 1972 this was the first time since then I was able to visit the Museum.

Me with Eskenazi's Kennett, Feb. 2017

In 1970 the painting above by John Kennett was the first piece to catch my eye when I arrived at the campus Museum, mostly because the scene closely mirrored the look of the beach where I grew up on Lake Ontario outside of Rochester. Is there any other painting that captures the glow of light over calm waters so well? Understatement, this painting taught me, can be powerfully evocative.

Only months before my arrival in Bloomington the Museum had staged a huge exhibition celebrating the University's sesquicentennial, The American Scene: 1820-1900, organized by an art historian who I would later study with, Louis Hawes. 

While I missed the exhibition, its richly illustrated catalogue more than anything else opened my eyes to the rich heritage of American landscape painting. As you can see from the photo of its battered cover, that catalogue became something of a bible for me. I carried it everywhere, even taking it out into the field with me when I painted my first landscapes.

Edmund Tarbell (Am. 1862-1938), A Girl Mending
1905, Eskenazi Museum of Art

The Museum grew considerably in the years since I left both in its collection and with opening a vastly larger contemporary facility. Here are a few of the gems that were on display last month when we visited.

Robert Henri (Am. 1865-1929), Portrait of
Edith Haworth, 1909, Eskenazi Museum of Art

Sanford Gifford (Am. 1823-1880), Eskenazi Museum of Art

One piece that wasn't hanging that day from Eskenazi's collection is this panorama by Jasper Cropsey.

Jasper Francis Cropsey (Am. 1823-1900), American  
Harvesting, 1851, Eskenazi Museum of Art

It was one of the other paintings that taught me critical painting lessons. Prior to this most of my painting in my undergraduate days at Oberlin was about my excitement in contrasts of color and making intriguing flat shapes. In front of this painting though I remember falling into Cropsey's far distance. He artfully arranged his seven or eight major planes to march back into the deep space he celebrated. After this painting I never saw pictorial space the same way again. 

I had many painting teachers along the way- all of them helped me in some way, a few of them inspired me profoundly. But if thank you's are to be written, I also owe a note to this Museum in south central Indiana.


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