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Rare Art Collection at Indiana State Museum

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Taking a “real” look into the Hoosier past

by Chris DellaRocco

Life in the United States during the 1930s and ‘40s was rough. Indiana, along with the rest of the nation, was suffering through what still remains the worst economic crisis in America, The Great Depression. There wasn’t a single social group not affected by the events going on in the country during that time period. The economic bust lasted up through the U.S. involvement in WWII further deepening families’ hardships. Amongst the social groups affected were our nation’s artists. In Indianapolis, one such group was called “The Market Street Artists”.

Through the generosity of a fellow Hoosier family, The Indiana State Museum offers visitors an unusual opportunity to view some rarely seen works of art created by Hoosier artists who managed to survive this time period. Normally, only art enthusiasts and history buffs would get to experience such a collection at auctions or other private events.

“Never has an entire private collection from a specific time period ever been loaned to our museum like this,” proclaims fine arts curator Rachel Perry of the Indiana State Museum. The Collection is on loan from Lafayette, Indiana art collectors, Robert L. and Ellen E. Haan.

The exhibit, Indiana Realities: Regionalist Paintings 1930 – 1945from the Robert L. and Ellen E. Haan Collection is sure to give visitors a “real” journey back in time to help give perspective of what rural and urban Hoosier life was like during those difficult years in history. In order to help artists continue working, since no one was buying artwork, the federal government developed programs to pay them to continue capturing images from around the country. These images were of every day people working hard, performing their everyday activities. Much of the artwork was then placed in public areas for all to enjoy as they became patriotic symbols to help restore American pride.

This style of painting realistic scenes of the Midwest became known as the “Regionalist movement” and the paintings boosted American’s nationalism and appreciation for the values of hard work and family.

Born in Hillsboro in 1914, Harry Davis became one of the better-known of the Hoosier artists of this movement. Davis, better known for his later paintings of local architecture, captured the famed Prix de Rome prize in 1938 for his painting, “Harvest Dinner,” which will be included in the exhibition.

Davis, along with other local artists from the Market Street group — such as Edmund Brucker, Grant Christian, E. Roger Frey, Cecil Head, Floyd Hopper and William F. Kaeser — will be a part of the collection of nearly 40 original pieces on display at the Indiana State Museum.

“The Haan’s have always been very generous about loaning artwork for the Indiana State Museum as well as other institutions around Indiana,” Perry said. “The idea of putting this collection on public display has been in the making for more than 10 years.”

Indiana Realities: Regionalist Paintings 1930 – 1945 from the Robert L. and Ellen E. Haan Collection will be at the Indiana State Museum through Sept. 11 2011, and can be viewed with the purchase of a general admission museum ticket.

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