On Wednesday, October 8, 2014 at a luncheon and presentation at the BSU Alumni Center, associate director Carl Schafer spoke about the Drawings and Small Sculptures Exhibition, which he curated. The Drawing and Small Sculpture Show is a tribute to Alice Nichols. Alice Nichols came to Ball State’s Teachers College as head of the Art Department in 1947. Always the consummate teacher, she strove to expose Muncie to modernism. As head of the Art Museum, she began a Juried Show in 1955 in contemporary art. Juried shows were a way in which regional museums could gain national attention.
As referenced in the title, Great Things from Small Packages, many small packages began to arrive to fill the small museum. As part of her vision, Nichols exposed young, rural, teachers in training to the world of contemporary art. The students would open the small packages, inspect and arrange the art in the limited space available (Mr. Schafer humorously pointed out that some students liked to touch the art!) Students would come into contact with 300 or 400 items in a show. The show became a lively, social space for students to gather and discuss the art. For some students, it was their first experience with contemporary art.
The juried shows ran from 1955 until the 1990’s. The shows featured a variety of artists and judges from all over the country and from various backgrounds. Some artists went on to long, storied careers, while others are no longer working as artists. One interesting aspect of reexamining the art collected from previous DASS exhibitions, some stands the test of time, and other works are a product of their time.
Alice Nichols developed a core group of supporters for the gallery. She garnered donations to purchase works to become the property of the museum. With the remaining funds, she began the museum’s first acquisition fund. The museum’s Friends, a member group, began in 1972.
Mr. Schafer showed photos of many of the objects in the current exhibition. The day before his luncheon talk, a group of 9th through 12th graders from the Burris Academy visited the “Great Things from Small Packages” exhibition. Director of education Tania Said of the museum staff asked the student to look “untitled, #280”, a small ceramic sculpture, by Barry V. Cramer. Tania asked the students what they visualized when they looked at the piece, one student answered, “Nature.”
Akrem Ahmed and Josh Sholts of the school group, looking at a piece named “Lacunae”, 1970 by Terry P. Sheer, wondered about the technique used in the graphite and ink piece. (I found this work to be one of the “princes” of the show!) When looking at the “Orange Streak,” by Randy Wassel, Akrem said to Josh “You let the piece speak to you.”
The Alliance members are a learned, wonderful group of people curious about the exhibition. With all the world’s pressures, there is a virtue in sharing an hour learning about the joys of art.
Drawing and Small Sculpture Show
September 14, 2014-January 5, 2015
Curated by Carl Schafer, Associate Director of David Owsley Museum of Art