Curating 1026 West Berry Street

Suzanne Slick, Collection Information Specialist

It’s installation week at FWMoA! If you visit us before Saturday you’ll have to pardon our mess as this week we are installing the exhibit we’re calling 1026 West Berry Street – The Fort Wayne Art School. 

Three students, one male and two females, sit on a motorcycle in front of the original Fort Wayne Art School & Museum.
Students in front of the Art School. Photograph courtesy of the Motz family.

It’s one of those shows we do now and then that combines art and history. In this case, the history is our own — the little painting class that became the school and our museum, and that realized the dream of Theodore Thieme.  It was so important to him that he offered his home, funds, and collection to the Fort Wayne Art School in 1920.

My previous blog posts have delved into some other old Museum stories — the Hamilton Carriage House, Karl Bolander: The Hobby King, and the story of the three facilities that were designed though never built for the Fort Wayne Art School & Museum.  All of these posts were inspired by bits of the past uncovered while reading and talking about the Museum’s earlier days.  It’s fun to write about the people, places, and events that turn up in our archive, especially those that have faded from view over the decades of our near-century of existence, which are important threads in our colorful tapestry.

There have been a number of surprises during the months spent curating this show. Countless offers have been made by the students, friends, and family of Art School faculty to loan art. With the pieces come stories of the artists, the school, its students, and the art objects that originated there. These borrowed pieces are clearly treasured by their keepers and they have the ability to evoke a time and place that abides in our memory. Some of the artwork is legendary – paintings recalled by students from thirty years ago, seen at the school in a studio or professor’s office; there’s an enamel piece that was listed in a 1960s catalogue and was found in the same collection today, and loaned to us again. And, of course, there’s the iconic porch group photo taken by Gabe DeLobbe sometime in the 1970s. All of these add layers of context and texture to this exhibit.

And then there are the pieces that have been hidden away for years that have emerged recently in auctions and sales as if seeking inclusion in this exhibition. Timing is everything. A painting won at auction has a signature that matches another and this detail answers that question – who made me? One thing leads to another as if meant to be – this coming together of beautiful evidence of our experiences long ago.

Synchronicity is at play here. Twice this summer visitors to the Museum casually mentioned, in passing, an interest in the old Fort Wayne Art School, unaware of the upcoming show. Both returned with ephemeral treasures from loved ones who attended the school— a father in 1939 and a grandmother in 1928 — both long passed, but both had carefully saved these bits of their time at the school.  One of these visitors brought a couple of prints his Dad had made and the lino-cut boards from which they were printed. Another mailed a package of clippings, photos, yearbooks, catalogues, and her Grandmother’s report card. Life stories were conveyed – one of a young woman, orphaned and then helped by generous patrons to an art education and lodging.  Her education provided her with a living in art, unusual for a woman in post-WWII America. The young man had looked forward to years of serious art study, but then WWII happened, and his life path changed completely.  It’s telling that he saved those few bits of his time at the Art School in 1939 — before the war, relics of an age of innocence and art-making.

This evidence of time spent at 1026 West Berry Street  makes tangible the enduring impact of this place on its students, friends and faculty —whether from 1928 or 1988. We all left a bit of ourselves there and still carry its essence around with us. So many have passed from those days, a couple of the Art School family left us in the last weeks of curating this exhibit, but the paintings, prints, pots, busts, drawings and photographs are the treasured talismans of the synergy and spirit of the place and the people we remember so fondly. I’m grateful for the honor of bringing them together to share with friends old and new.

Come see the exhibition for yourself starting this weekend, November 17th, 2018 through February 10th, 2019.

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