And breaks new ground When Valerie Eickmeier, Herron School of Art"s dean, arrived in Indianapolis to teach sculpture, the thought that someday she would preside over Herron"s 100th anniversary never occurred to her. Eickmeier landed here in 1982; she had just finished her graduate work at George Washington University in St. Louis and was looking forward to teaching at Herron for one year.
Herron Gallery curator: David Russick
On the surface, her path from sculptor to university administrator might seem unlikely, but in fact, it is representative of how an arts education prepares people for real world challenges and opportunities. "Everything I learned and how I grew as an artist, individual and sculptor helped me become a better leader and administrator," Eickmeier asserts. "I think being an artist provides skills in being a problem-solver, someone who can collaborate, and who can creatively think." Eickmeier is just the fifth dean in Herron"s 100-year history. In office since 1999, she finds herself in a unique position. Not only is Herron preparing to spend the next year celebrating its story through a series of exhibitions and the publication of a book chronicling its contributions to the visual arts, it is also breaking ground for a new incarnation - a new building located on the IUPUI campus. "We"re looking back and looking forward at the same moment," she says. This moment provides Herron with an unprecedented chance to shake hands with a city that has, perhaps, lost touch with the art school and a sense of exactly what it brings to the community. Herron"s need to reach out is particularly acute in light of the funds it still needs to raise in order to realize its ambitious $24 million building project. At the same time, though, the fact that all but $4.5 million is now in hand - and that less than half of the total raised is coming from the state - speaks well for the job Eickmeier has been doing. "I hope," she says, "our centennial will help educate the community about what Herron has done and also promote Herron as a resource." Eickmeier guesses that most Indianapolis residents don"t realize the many ways in which Herron, its faculty and students interact with the city and state. Herron alums teach at Indiana University, Notre Dame and Vincennes, as well as at schools of higher education throughout the country. Arts education is a major career path for Herron students - 89 percent of those who have graduated in arts ed over the past 10 years are still in the field today. Thirty percent of the Indianapolis Museum of Art staff hold degrees from Herron and many former Herron students teach at the Indianapolis Art Center. Herron has also had a major impact on the city"s public art. "People may not know that what they"re looking at is something created by Herron faculty, alums or students, but most of the public art we see around town were Herron projects," Eickmeier claims, referring to sculptures like Gary Freeman"s on Meridian Street for the Indiana Gas building and Eric Norglund"s steel and glass landmark at the corner of Massachusetts and Delaware. Indeed, she adds, most of the sculptures on the old Washington Street bridge have Herron connections, as does the mural project executed on the roof of Circle Centre Mall and the wide array of graphic designs deployed to decorate the Conseco Fieldhouse. Pick up a brochure in this town and there"s a good chance you"re looking at Herron design work. Herron frequently takes on projects for local nonprofits and businesses at cost in order to provide students with what are called "capstone" experiences that become portfolio pieces. Clients Herron students have designed for include Africa Fest, Indy Parks, the Boy Scouts, Madame Walker Center, Race For the Cure, the Eiteljorg Museum and Easley Winery. "I think it"s mutually beneficial for the school and the community to have a great understanding of how they can work together," Eickmeier observes. "Everything that I can see about Indianapolis right now indicates growth and vitality and I want Herron to be a major player in that. We are a resource. We have over 700 students. They are creative, they"re energetic. They"re trying to make a cultural and artistic community for themselves so that they can thrive here." The need for change Eickmeier believes Herron"s new building will accentuate and expand the school"s ability to serve as community resource, not to mention a more effective place to engage in the education of artists. While recognizing that the move from its beloved and architecturally significant buildings at 16th and Pennsylvania marks the end of a certain era, Eickmeier is unapologetic about the need for change. "We outgrew these buildings a long time ago. They are not serving our students or our faculty the way they should." She looks forward to working in a place that includes such basics as faculty offices, student gathering spaces and air conditioning. The new facility will allow for year-round classes and more community service classes; it will provide a professional 250-seat auditorium and triple the size of what is already the largest art library in the state. "The biggest benefit to the community," she concludes, "is location. We will be easily accessible to the community through White River State Park." This means the public will be able to have access to three rotating galleries for the exhibition of contemporary art and an outdoor sculpture garden. "We can bring in a lot of shows," Eickmeier contends. "I see Herron becoming a focal point for contemporary art in the city of Indianapolis. There has been some talk of trying to make a new venue for the exhibition of contemporary art and I think that can take place at Herron. I look forward to Herron being a place to really challenge viewers and present things you may not be able to find anywhere else in Indianapolis." This is great news as far as the Herron Gallery"s curator, David Russick, is concerned. Russick took over the Herron Gallery after working in galleries in Chicago. For the first time he"ll have a workroom to serve in the preparation and dismantling of shows. In the old building, he says, "It"s as if you had a surgery room where one patient had to get well before you could do another surgery." He adds, "The gallery we have now is as flexible as our imaginations - but occasionally we literally run into a concrete wall we cannot move. That will not be the case in the new gallery." Before moving to that gallery, though, Russick has this season"s centennial lineup of three retrospective shows to put up. He compares the experience to climbing Mt. Everest. "You go, God, do I really want to climb it? Then you start going up the side and it"s worth it Ö We"ve got a long track record in the gallery of presenting shows that had we not done them, they wouldn"t have happened in this state. We"re proud of that. On the other hand, we"re 100 years old. It seemed appropriate that we blow our own horn and try to tell our story." The first of the centennial shows, Illustrious Herron Illustrators, opened Aug. 28 and will run through Oct. 5. Three years in the planning, this exhibition calls attention to Herron"s remarkable contribution to the popular and commercial arts. Two of the artists included here, Bill Peet and Bill Justice, attended Herron during the Depression and went on to major accomplishments with the Walt Disney studio. Justice created Chip "n" Dale and received illustration credits for Snow White, Alice in Wonderland and Pinocchio. He was nominated for four Academy Awards. Peet created Dumbo, wrote the screenplay for 101 Dalmatians and received a Caldecott Award for his children"s books. Other artists in the show are Paul Wehr, Norman Bridwell and Rob Day. Eickmeier points out that, taken in sum, this is work that "has stood the test of time." Russick adds, "Walk through Rob Day"s section of the show and one thing I guarantee you"ll think is, "Man, this guy can paint."" Making an Impression: Printmaking at the Herron School of Art is the second show in the retrospective sequence. Opening in January, it recognizes the discipline where Herron has, arguably, had the greatest art world impact. Indeed, Herron"s printmaking program has been identified in an art school survey as one of the top three in the world. Alum and former faculty member Garo Antreasian is credited as the driving force behind the revival of lithography in post-World War II America. He co-authored the printmakers" bible, The Tamarind Book of Lithography: Art and Technique. Another Herron alum, Vija Celmins, whose work was included in the Whitney Biennial 2000, will visit Indianapolis for a special presentation in February 2003. Finally, Russick"s last charge is to curate a show of Herron alumni. At this moment, he says, 60 artists have been included, "and I"m sure it"s going to grow." In fact, the show"s first piece has already been turned in, a sculpture by Matt Berg, who has done work for Kiwanis International on 86th Street and whose bear looms at the western edge of the old Washington Street bridge. "I call it "Centennial Man,"" Russick says. "It"s a two-profile head - one looking forward, one looking back. It"s a perfect symbol for where we"re at."