Local Ornithologist and Friends Visit the Museum

Have you ever wondered where museums find the label information pertaining to their objects? Is there a mad chemist somewhere carbon dating the collection to determine our artifacts’ age? Maybe stories surrounding our paintings have been passed down through generations of collectors and we’re merely presenting the documentation? Perhaps, our expert staff is so well-versed in aesthetics and culture that we possess a nearly omnipotent understanding of artworks at first glance? While I would like to pretend that the latter is true, in reality there is a large amount of sleuth work that goes into providing our visitors with accurate, scholarly, and interesting facts about our collection. Although the historical lineage of some acquisitions is well documented, many of the objects we encounter lack a definitive provenance. In these situations, it falls upon the dedicated staff of the David Owsley Museum of Art to dig more deeply into the past and fill in the blanks.

The Native American club in question

The Native American club in question.

One such object is a new acquisition of ours: a Native American club purchased at auction by David T. Owsley with no record of tribal affiliations, date made, or specific details about its materials. Through my research into this club’s past, however, I have discovered a wealth of information surrounding Native American history and world view. Along the way I’ve also been able to converse with regional experts from curators at the Eiteljorg to Ball State’s very own Dr. Kamal Islam. Dr. Islam is a professor within the Department of Biology, and an expert on ornithology, wildlife biology and management, and taxonomy. I initially contacted Dr. Islam with the hopes of identifying the feathers attached at the end of our war club, and as a result found an exciting opportunity for collaboration between two seemingly separate departments on campus.

Dr. Islam (left), Director Bob LaFrance (right), and I examine the feathers of a red-tailed hawk

Dr. Islam (left), Director Bob LaFrance (right), and I examine the feathers of a red-tailed hawk.

As an art major and art history minor, it’s safe to say that my knowledge surrounding feather identification is sorely lacking, so I was thrilled when Dr. Islam graciously agreed to help us out. He took the task one step further, however, and asked to bring in taxidermied bird specimen to compare to our feathers first-hand. A few days later, Dr. Islam and his undergraduate assistant, Sarah Fischer, visited us on a cold Thursday morning carrying crates of stuffed birds. Suddenly, I found myself immersed in a completely new experience—never before have I been able to observe so closely the intricate markings of a red-tailed hawk, a prairie grouse, or a ring-necked pheasant. Dr. Islam provided a wealth of information, including several fascinating gems of knowledge from his area of expertise. Did you know, for example, that primary flight feathers of birds are generally asymmetrical, while their secondary feathers are much more symmetrical? The perfect design of their plumage helps give lift and maintain flight. I also learned that under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, it is illegal to pick up and keep most feathers one might encounter in the wild. Even if you find a bird that has died of natural causes, it is illegal to take the carcass without a permit.

The right-necked pheasant, another promising candidate

The right-necked pheasant, another promising candidate.

The identification of these feathers has contributed immensely to our understanding of this particular war club. In Native American craft, there is no distinction between the symbolic and the functional—every addition to an object contributes to its physical, spiritual, and aesthetic qualities equally. For example, an object adorned with a hawk feather is imbued with swiftness, while a bear claw invokes bravery and protection. Therefore, it is important that we pinpoint our club’s materials in order to contextualize its spiritual functionality. Additionally, we can use the migratory patterns of the identified bird species to narrow down the region of origin for this artifact.

Overall, Dr. Islam’s visit was an enriching view into the work going on in Ball State’s Department of Biology, where several taxidermied specimen are kept in a growing collection. It was an important reminder that two areas that might seem vastly separate like biology and art history can still come together for a mutually rewarding experience. We greatly appreciate Dr. Islam’s help in conducting research about our mysterious Native American club, and look forward to future collaborations with him and his students. As for the species of feathers these turned out to be? Well, you’ll just have to visit the museum and read the label to find out!

On a related note, take a look at Sarah Fischer and Dr. Islam’s project, the BSU Dead Bird Society, which investigates bird-window collision mortality rates on campus. Dr. Islam has a permit to gather dead birds, so if you see one lying near a big window, let them know! Fresh specimen aid in their research and are then added to their taxidermy collection for future use.

Contemporary Asian Art and its Historical Roots

Assistant professor of art history Natalie Phillips joined the Alliance for a luncheon on February 11, 2015 to speak about Contemporary Asian Art and its historical roots. Dr. Phillips has a Bachelor’s Degree in Art History and Religious Studies and a PhD in Visual Studies, and has been a professor at Ball State since 2009. She became interested in Contemporary Asian Art while she served as a teacher’s assistant for a yearlong survey of Asian Art in graduate school.

Dr. Phillips spoke of artists from three different areas of Contemporary Asian Art: India, China, and Japan. The artists from each of these nations touch on topics such as westernization, identity, history, and transnationalism.

Jamini Roy, Rama, Sita, Lakshmana, 1945

Jamini Roy,
Rama, Sita, Lakshmana, 1945

Indian contemporary art brings forth the very cartoonish and abstract characteristics of traditional Indian folk art. Contemporary Indian Artist Jamini Roy adopted the techniques seen in Indian folk art as well as the flat, un-modulated features of the 19th century Jaipur School.

Jaipur School Ten Incarnations of Vishnu, 1825-75 From the DOMA collection

Jaipur School
Ten Incarnations of Vishnu, 1825-75
From the DOMA collection



When you compare his work Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana with the Ten Incarnations of Vishnu created by the Jaipur School, you begin to see the inspiration Roy has from Indian native traditions.

The bright and vivid color you see in Indian art is present in many aspects of Indian culture, including the street markets where artist Anish Kapoor drew inspiration for his work.

Anish Kapoor, As if to Celebrate, I Discovered a Mountain, 1981

Anish Kapoor,
As if to Celebrate, I Discovered a Mountain, 1981

As if to Celebrate, I Discovered a Mountain shows Kapoor’s interpretation of the pyramids of color pigment sold in the Indian street markets. These colored pigments are also used in the Holi Festival, which is held every year to celebrate spring, love, and color. Learn more about the Holi Festival here.

Contemporary Chinese art touches on the subjects of transnationalism and the negotiation of identity. Art students in China are typically forced to choose between studying traditional Chinese painting (Guohua) and western style of painting (Xihua), which can cause artists to struggle with their identity.

Wilson Shieh, Ceramics Series, 2002

Wilson Shieh,
Ceramics Series, 2002

Bowl with Children, 16th century, from the DOMA collection

Bowl with Children, 16th century, from the DOMA collection

Wilson Shieh’s Ceramics Series speaks to the struggle contemporary Chinese artists may face with the concept of identity. This series shows figures attempting to connect to the past through the use of traditional Chinese objects, but are failing to identify with their historical background. For example, the figure to the left is using a traditional Chinese porcelain bowl as an umbrella.


Ai Weiwei, Painted Vessels, 2006-2012

Ai Weiwei, Painted Vessels, 2006-2012

The art of contemporary China also speaks to politics and the battle artists face with the censorship of their government. The Chinese government has been known to kill, jail, and excommunicate artists that criticize the actions of dictator Mao Zedong.

Chinese Ritual Wine Vessel with Lid,  206 BCE - 200 CE From the DOMA collection

Chinese Ritual Wine Vessel with Lid,
206 BCE – 200 CE
From the DOMA collection

Ai Weiwei, for example, was beaten and had his passport taken away by the government for his controversial work as an artist. Painted Vases is one example of how Ai Weiwei has rebelled against his government. Dr. Phillips explains that, “He painted over these ancient Chinese vessels, essentially ruining important pieces of history, but he also created a new life for these old objects.”

Takashi Murakami, Mr. D.O.B. cute

Takashi Murakami, Mr. D.O.B. cute






In contemporary Japanese art, we see something called “the cute phenomenon” also known as Kawaii culture. This movement was a response to the bombings of WWII, and Dr. Phillips explained that, “Japan was so traumatized by the bombings, they retreated into childlike nostalgia.” These cute images also have a scary side, a trait that you can see in Takashi Murakami’s Mr. D.O.B.

Takashi Murakami, Mr. D.O.B. scary

Takashi Murakami, Mr. D.O.B. scary

Chiho Aoshima, Apricot

Chiho Aoshima, Apricot

Murakami is also known for coining the term “superflat,” which refers to the very flat and cartoonish characteristics of digital Japanese art, Anime  is an example of this “superflat” type of art. Chiho Aoshima’s Apricot is an example of contemporary Anime that draws inspiration from traditional Japanese paintings.

When asked about the struggle some have with appreciating contemporary art like anime and other digital forms of art, Dr. Phillips said, “…it is epic and beautiful and has all the elements of the fine arts. Art is changing so much and I think it’s important to be open to new media, new ideas, and new ways for artists to express themselves.”

I hope this post has helped you better understand Contemporary Asian art and it’s historical roots. Visit this, this, and this website for more information on the topic. If you have an interest in contemporary art, be sure to stop by and see our current exhibition Fractured Narratives: A Strategy to Engageon view through May 3, 2015.

Gung Hay Fat Choy! Happy New Year!

photo 5If you were in the museum on Sunday, February 8th you may have wondered why you heard drums, laughing, and noise makers coming from the Asian Gallery. All the noise was coming from a group of children led by docents Barbara Alvarez Bohanon and Suzanne Walker welcoming the Chinese New Year with a bang. As part of the Story of Artphoto 2 (2) event series, children were invited to the museum to learn about Chinese Art and the traditions of Chinese New Year. The celebration began with docent Barbara reading a story, “My First Chinese New Year”. The children learned where China is and a little about the Lunar calendar, as well as learned many of the traditions of Chinese New Year. Did you know that for good luck in the new year you clean your house to sweep away the bad luck, get your hair cut to start fresh and new, and decorate with and wear red, the color of good luck? Those are just a few of many Chinese New Year traditions.

photo 1 (2)Animals are also a large part of Chinese New Year traditions from the dragon and lion dance during the parade to the animal zodiac of the year. In order to learn about the traditions of animals in Chinese New Year, docent Suzanne led the children on an animal scavenger hunt around the Asian gallery. All of the children seemed very excited to search the gallery for dragons, horses and tortoises hiding around the gallery.

photo 4photo 2

After a very successful scavenger hunt it was time for the New Year Parade! The docents introduced all the instruments and the lion and dragon costumes. Everyone was so excited to play an instrument. Docent Barbara lined everyone up for the parade around the gallery and told the children to make as much noise as possible to bring in the New Year. The parade was a sight to see and hear! The line of children equipped with instruments and noise makers snaked its way around the gallery and filled the museum with a cacophony of sound, which ended the program for the day. After the end of the program I photo 1spoke with a group of kids, who had participated in the activities. They all said that they really enjoyed making noise and the scavenger art hunt. One participant, Caroline, said, “I loved the drums, a lot.” I also spoke with one of the moms at the event, Cindy, who said, “This is a great thing for all kids. My son is from China, so it was good for him to learn about his culture.”

Now that you know a little more about Chinese New Year, you can celebrate Chinese New Year on its actual date, Thursday, February 19th.

The David Owsley Museum of Art offers many programs for children throughout the year. Exposing children to art is a great way to give them the opportunity to learn about other cultures, time periods, and ideas. Coming up on Sunday, March 15 is Family Day from 1:30-4:30pm. At this event there will be tours of Fractured Narratives, gallery activities, scavenger hunts, hands-on art activities led by the BSU Art Education Club, stories and art activities that are all family-friendly. Bring your family and friends to Family Day and enjoy exploring the museum from a child’s perspective.

Curators’ Talk and Opening Reception, Fractured Narratives: A Strategy to Engage

To mark the opening of Fractured Narratives: A Strategy to Engage at the David Owsley Museum of Art, the co-curators of the exhibition, Amy Galpin and Abigail Ross Goodman, visited the museum to talk about their work. The traveling exhibition began at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, where Amy Galpin curates. Fractured Narratives’ roots are in the Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art, a donation of more than 225 works of art to Rollin’s College.

On Wednesday, February 4th, the curators were busy around campus at three different talks. Firstly, Amy Galpin held a lunch session in the Art and Journalism Building to talk about being a curator with students and teachers of Ball State University. The two also presented to Dr. Natalie Philips’ Contemporary Art History class at 3 pm where they were asked about the experience of being a curator of Contemporary Art.

Curators Amy Galpin and Abigail Ross Goodman

Curators Amy Galpin and Abigail Ross Goodman

At the Curators’ Talk in Recital Hall, the co-curators took the stage to discuss the fourteen artists’ works on display and how they decided on this selection. The theme which began their planning was social activism and how art plays its role in social change. From there, they expanded the scope of the exhibition to this idea of a “fractured narrative,” a story presented in a fragmented or interrupted fashion in order to make the viewer think about the subject or theme in a different way. This idea of disconnection continues throughout the exhibition in works such as Oromaye, by Eric Gottesman. This story is shown in bits and pieces at different periods of time and in a non-linear fashion. He also displays the story in different types of media.

“To me, the nonlinear or broken structure allowed the artists to freely express or piece together their thoughts without being restricted to a cohesive point or story,” said Walter Bender, Graduate Student.

2013 Sandra Ramos. Acuarium3

Sandra Ramos, Aquarium, 2013, film still, 4 min. 23 sec.

Two of the artists whose works were discussed at the lecture were Sandra Ramos and Dawoud Bey. From Cuba, Sandra Ramos explores the themes of isolation and being left behind in her video art. One of her main inspirations is the classical myth of Ariadne, the daughter of King Minos associated with labyrinths. Ariadne’s thread, seen in several of Ramos’s work, is a method she used in the myth to find her way out of the maze. Ramos couples this character with the character of Alice from Alice in Wonderland to create the little girl who represents her own feelings towards her native country.

Dawoud Bey, The Birmingham Project: Fred Stuart II and Tyler Collins, 2012

Dawoud Bey, The Birmingham Project: Fred Stewart and Tyler Collins, 2012, archival pigment prints mounted on dibond

Dawoud Bey has two works in the exhibition from the Birmingham Project. This project was to show two side-by-side images that related to the 1963 church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama by white supremacists. Four young girls and two teenage boys were killed as a result of this attack. Dawoud Bey spent much time with the people in Birmingham and has an intimate connection with them. In his photographs, we see a child and an elderly person paired together. The young child is the equivalent age of one of the children murdered and the elder is the age that child would be had they lived today.

After the talk, a reception was held in the museum. There, visitors and students gave their feedback of the exhibition.

“I found the exhibition very mind opening. For me it was interesting to see both the image of the artist portrayed in the work exhibited, but also the kind of activism they stand for.” Visitor Alina Beteringhe continued, “I love the idea of fragmented narratives because I believe storytelling is something very human in the way of communicating a story but I also believe narrative at a more general level is telling us so much about the people who are communicating things to us or even about us and our way of understanding what it is communicated to us.”

Upcoming events for Fractured Narratives include:

Family Day
Sunday, March 15th
1:30 – 4:30 pm

First Person: Eric Gottesman and Fractured Narratives
Thursday, March 26th
6:30 pm

Un-Tour of Fractured Narratives by Alexander Jarman
Friday, April 24th
6:00 pm

Please visit our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages for updates on Rivane Neuenschwander’s Ze Carioca and Friends (the Saci) as well as upcoming events regarding Fractured Narratives.

A look at this past week's drawings on Rivane Neuenschwander's Zé Carioca and Friends (The Saci).

A photo posted by David Owsley Museum of Art (@doartmuseumbsu) on

What’s the Scoop this February at the Museum?

Well folks, we’ve made it through the first, wintery month of the New Year! I hope everyone has remained resolute with their goals for 2015. If you’re like me, you’ve decided that February will be the actual starting point of the “new year, new me,” mentality. DOMA didn’t make any New Year’s resolutions, however we’ve committed to bringing visitors more contemporary art through several exciting events in the coming months. One of which, that I personally cannot wait to see unveiled, is the opening of Fractured Narratives: A Strategy to Engage. Being new to museum work, this has been my first experience with hands-on production of an exhibition; besides feeling like a proud father to this show after physically assisting with painting a Rivane Neuenschwander installation, Fractured Narratives consists of several thought-provoking photographs, prints, videos, and more from global artists. You absolutely won’t want to miss it!

Rivane Neuenschwander's Ze Carioca and friends (The Saci)

Rivane Neuenschwander’s Ze Carioca and friends (The Saci)

4          Wednesday, 7:00 pm

Fractured Narratives Curators’ Talk and Opening Reception

Although the exhibition opens on January 30th, the reception will occur on Wednesday, February 4th at 7:00 pm. At this time visitors will be able to enrich their understanding of the works through the curators’ talk with Amy Galpin and Abigail Ross Goodman, who will discuss the development of Fractured Narratives: A Strategy to Engage.

Curator Amy Galpin

Curator Amy Galpin

8          Sunday, 2:30 pm

The Story of Art: Chinese New Year

We may have already settled into the rhythm of 2015, but the Chinese New Year is just around the corner! Come celebrate the Chinese Year of the Sheep/Goat with a children’s activity-based story and related art activity. The event will be followed by an optional gallery walk.

11       Wednesday, Noon

Alliance Luncheon & Program: Contemporary Asian Art and Its Historical Roots

Come feed your stomach and brain at the same time! Assistant Professor Natalie Phillips will investigate contemporary Asian art’s roots through an exploration of the David Owsley Museum of Art’s collection. The Alliance Luncheon is free for first-time guests, and $18 for members. If you wish to attend and/or for more information, please call Sarah Jenkins at 765-716-0861

13       Friday, 3:30 pm

Meditation in the Museum: Loving-Kindness Meditation

Treat yourself with a relaxing session of Meditation in the Museum. Bring a towel, blanket, yoga mat, or get creative and find another soft surface for sitting on the floor. For more information, please contact Dr. Sylwia P. Hodorek at sphodorek@bsu.edu.

21       Saturday, 5:00 pm

Muncie Symphony Orchestra at David Owsley Museum of Art presents: Deconstructing Opera (MSO goes to Town Chamber Series)

This program is an opera spoof that even includes costumes and set changes. Special guests include Rebecca Chappell on clarinet, John Huntoon on trombone, and Rebecca Edie on piano. Tickets are at a reduced price for students ($10 in advance and $15 at the door), or $20 in advance and $25 at the door for general public. To order tickets, call the Muncie Symphony Orchestra at 765-285-5531 or purchase them online at Tix.com.

27       Friday, 3:30 pm

Meditation in the Museum: Walking Mindfully through the World

Round out your month with another calming session of Meditation in the Museum. Bring a towel, blanket, yoga mat, or get creative and find another soft surface for sitting on the floor. For more information, please contact Dr. Sylwia P. Hodorek at sphodorek@bsu.edu.

Don’t forget that aside from our special scheduled events, there are also regular drop-in tours open to the public starting next month—stay tuned! For more information, see the David Owsley Museum of Art website. We hope to see you in our galleries soon!