Have you Noticed the Artwork in the Library?

By Ginger Kohr


There is artwork throughout the Owen County Public Library that is very much a part of its history, and the history of artists in Owen County, and it is worth taking a moment to view the pieces on display when you visit the library.

Many of the works of art in the library were gifts that date back to the beginning of the library in Owen County.   A public library had previously been housed in the two back rooms of the second floor of the Spencer Town Hall.  But on January 1 of 1912, an open house was held to welcome the public to the newly built library, funded by the Andrew Carnegie Foundation (responsible for the funding of libraries all over North America and the world).  This building, at 110 East Market Street, now houses the Owen County Heritage and Culture Center.

The celebration of the opening of that new library featured an orchestra that provided music for the afternoon and the evening.  Miss Mary Eileen Ahern (who was largely responsible for the development of the library in Spencer, and is somewhat of a legend in the library world) was the guest of honor, and many gifts were presented for the opening of the library that day which were the beginning of the library’s art collection.

Among the gifts the library received that January 1st of 1912, was the concrete Joan of Arc statue presented by the Women’s Club.  Joan has survived nearly one hundred and ten years with the library, a move across the square into the present-day library, and countless hugs and kisses from children.  She is now situated at the foot of the steps that lead up to the Youth Services department, and for reasons unknown, children seem drawn to her, and can sometimes be seen running down the stairs, and stopping to give the statue a hug or kiss before they pass by.

Samuel Richards was a world-famous artist who was born in Spencer in 1853.  He very much desired to go to Munich to study art, and to do so, he raised money from several sponsors, promising a gift of his paintings to each of them.   He painted and drew landscapes as well as portraits.  His most famous work is Evangeline, which features a scene from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem by that name.  The painting was displayed in Munich and Paris, and was for many years, and may still be displayed in the Detroit Museum of Art.  He also went to Davos, Switzerland to study, sketch, and paint.  Upon his return to the United States he was offered both the Directorship of the Boston Art School and of the Art Department of Stanford University in California.  He was a part of the Hoosier School of Artists dedicated to American Impressionism and was a part of the Art movement of Colorado when he died there at the age of 43 from tuberculosis which he had contracted while in Europe.  His dear friend James Whitcomb Riley wrote his obituary.

Owen County Public Library has several of Mr. Richards’ works displayed in the library.  The Money Changers is displayed on the north wall of the library in a gilded frame.  On that opening day for the Spencer library in 1912, it was donated by Mrs. Sallie Hickam.  Mrs. Hickam’s father, J.S. Meek was one of the sponsors who had helped send Samuel Richards to Europe, and this painting was the promised ‘thank you’ for his help.

Also on that day, Mrs. Walker Schell donated two watercolors by Samuel Richards.   Both are landscapes from Davos, Switzerland.  These are currently located in the hearth room, above the shelving next to the stairs.

The Schell family has contributed other paintings to the library as well; we have a painting of Callie Schell, and one of her dog that are both currently displayed in the library vault.  Mrs. Walker Schell left a trust fund for the library upon her death for the purpose of purchasing books in memory of her husband’s family.

The charcoal study of a peasant woman of the Tyrolean Alps is very representative of much of Samuel Richards’ work.  One critic commented that he never saw such fine work on “beastlier or uglier models.”  The peasant woman of the Tyrolean Alps was purchased by the Women’s Club, and at some point, was also donated to the library.  It now hangs next to the first-floor study room.  Students of the Munich Art School were encouraged to sketch older people and peasants for the interesting lines and creases found in their faces.

On Sunday, November 28th at 8pm WTIU/PBS will be airing a special titled “Singing Winds:  The Life and Works of T.C. Steele.  Their advertisement reads “T.C. Steele was one of the most celebrated American Impressionist painters of his time”.

Like Samuel Richards, T.C. Steele was also from Owen County, born and raised on a farm in Gosport, and he also traveled to Europe to study at some of the world’s top art schools.  But he returned home to paint beautiful landscapes of Indiana and the Midwest.

At the top of the stairs in the library, encased in a secure, acrylic case, professionally hung where it is for both security and preservation purposes, is T.C. Steele’s painting: “Entrance to a Park.”

One of the library’s board members, a T.G. Pierson, paid a visit to Mr. Steele at his studio one day in 1916, and persuaded him to send 20 of his paintings to the Spencer Library to be displayed for a weeks’ exhibition.  Further, he convinced him to let the library choose one of the paintings to purchase at half the price he was asking.   The library chose “Entrance to a Park” and paid just $150 for it.  The library last had the painting appraised in 1989.  The value of the painting had sky-rocketed by that time.

For more information about T.C. Steele, you might also want to visit the T. C. Steele State Historic Site, located in Brown County, between Bloomington and Nashville, Indiana.

You have, of course seen the Spirit of the American Doughboy statue on the courthouse lawn.  You probably know that it is the work of E.M. Viquesney who was born in Spencer in 1876.   You may know that about 140 of his Doughboy statues, commemorating the heroes of World War I are found in 38 of the 50 states.  In Indiana alone the full-sized statues are found in eleven different locations.

The Doughboys may be Ernest Moore Viquesney’s most famous work, but his accomplishments are many.  His father and grandfather were both stone-cutters in France, and his father brought the trade with him to this country, and presumably taught his son.  By 1904  E.M. Viquesney had written and published a series of articles on stonecutting that he eventually gathered into a book that was also published.   He invented a machine to moisten postages stamps to letters, and the same year began working as a designer of memorial stones and monuments in Georgia.  Eventually moving from work in granite and marble to casting statues in lead to create bronze and sometimes copper statues, he seems to have found his niche creating military memorials.  In 1922 he and his wife moved back to Spencer where he founded his own business manufacturing statuettes, miniatures, and the doughboy statues.  He also built an office building in Spencer.

In 1908, as a younger man, E.M. Visquesney had once managed a theater.  Later, a friend of his built his own movie house in Georgia.   Apparently, building a movie theater of his own, must have been something that Mr. Visquesney had always wanted to do.  By 1928 His business had been profitable enough that he decided he could build his movie palace:  the Tivoli Theater.  He joked that the letters in Tivoli stood for “this is Viquesney’s own little idea”.

In the library we have two bronze Roman soldiers by E.M. Visquesney in a clear case.  They are located past the vault and the microfilm machine.  There is amazing detail to the two statuettes.   Our genealogist, Laura Wilkerson has files of information about these statuettes and the other artwork in the library as well, for further study.

Josephine DeMarcus Davis was born into an artistic and musical family.  Her father was an orchestra conductor and both parents played the violin.  They were here in Spencer, in the middle of a rehearsal when her mother went into labor.  So although she was raised mainly in Marion, Indiana, Josephine DeMarcus was actually born in Spencer.  She also has strong connections to Bloomington.   While her influence was mainly from Indianapolis to Bloomington, it did extend as far as Chicago and even New York, as her life was chock-full of activity and a love of music, art, and life.

I wish I could have known this lady.  She studied music and art in Indianapolis and in Chicago.  She and her sister opened a studio in Bloomington in 1910 where they taught voice, piano, violin, and organ.  But Josephine also played drums.  She said that she wanted to learn to play because “In those days it was hard to find girls who played drums.”

In 1929 she organized the Marion Municipal Art Association, and around this time she began painting.  Her paintings were displayed in Chicago for the next seven years.

She travelled around giving talks about the joy of bringing art to children.

In 1932-33 She was one of the organizers of the Chicago World’s Fair.  Throughout 1948-58 she served, often at the Governor’s request, on many committees:  The Governor’s Youth Council, the Economic Council Committee on Recreation, The Governor’s Commission on the Arts.  In 1957 she was asked to help with auditions at the New York Opera House.  Her obituary named her as one of Marion’s most philanthropic citizens.

We have one Josephine D. Davis oil painting:  Landscape with Road and buildings, dated 1933.  It is hanging on the North wall east of the front desk.

Cynthia Richards of Spencer, just passed away this past year.  She created art that was displayed in art shows in Chicago, and later in art galleries in several cities across the United States. She painted both floral pieces and landscapes, was involved in art guilds, and taught art.  We have a painting of the old Spencer High School by Mrs. Richards.  It is displayed above the stacks in the northwest end of the library.

In 1997 The library moved into the present location on South Montgomery Street.  As a part of that grand opening celebration, the library board at that time purchased a painting of the Carnegie building by Ken Bucklew.  It is located on the north wall in the genealogy area.  We have other paintings and prints by Mr. Bucklew at the library: “Gathering at the River” was donated to the library by the Delta Tau Sorority in 1987.  It is the painting of geese flying toward a snow-surrounded pond and is located at the foot of the stairs. The beautiful cardinals minding a nest titled “To Everything There is a Season” is just outside my office, located next to the copy machine on the main floor and was donated in memory of Paula F. Barnes.

Mr. Bucklew earned a degree in commercial art in the late 1970’s and earned a living creating illustrations for greeting cards, calendars, and educational materials.  From 1984-1994 he taught college classes on Commercial Art.

In the 1990’s he decided to focus on traditional oil paintings.  He has won awards in the Indiana Heritage Arts as well as the Hoosier Salon Exhibitions.  He has raised thousands of dollars for Ducks Unlimited’s Wetlands Restoration Projects and is an all-time winner in the DNR’s nationwide art competitions.  His creations have been used for duck stamps, game bird stamps, and Hoosier outdoor calendar covers.  He once had 19 first place winners with the Indiana DNR in a space of 10 years.  And his work continues to this day.

There are other paintings and photographs in the library, and files of information on some of them, while there are others we know little about.  We don’t want to get behind on collecting the works of recognized artists in our area.  We have been looking at works by Tamiko Oberholtzer, Edna Jennings McCutchen, Olif Pegg, and others.  We hope to be able to display something by them some day as well.  We still have plenty of wall space.

We hope that knowing the stories behind the artwork in the library and knowing that these artists are people from Owen County, will continue to inspire our patrons who have artistic talent to continue to develop their talents and share their creations with the public.