The Fusion of Art and Story – How Ekphrastic Exercises Teach Art Appreciation

Written by: Guest contributor Tori Smith, a sophomore at Ball State University studying journalism

As a child, Lorette Luzajic recalls asking her mother to stay at the library for the day instead of attending a birthday party. She sat in the library, fascinated by all the works of literature around her, especially biographies. She learned about Vincent Van Gogh, mesmerized that he continued to make art throughout his hospitalization in a mental asylum.

“I romanticized the stories of the artists,” said Luzajic, a Canada-based artist. “I created this world about me with like-spirits. They were creative and experienced things that I did. These people created things regardless of their dark side.”

Luzajic grew up immersed in writing, literature and art. She wanted a more practical way to showcase her creativity, so she earned a degree in journalism from Ryerson University in Toronto in 2000. Although Luzajic enjoyed the creativity of journalism, she didn’t enjoy the pressures.

“You don’t have 10 months to finish a project. It’s due tomorrow,” she said. “But since I was there, I had to finish. I already paid. But I thought I would become an artist instead.”

Lorette Luzajic photographed by Moshe Sakal

Luzajic explored creative ways to blend writing and art and learned about “ekphrasis,” or the verbal representation of a real or fictitious text composed in a non-verbal sign system. Traditional ekphrasis includes three elements: A scene or story (fictitious or real), a representation of that scene or story in visual form (painting, photograph, carving, sculpture, film, dance, music), and a rendering of that representation in poetic language.

Although Luzajic agrees that examining art through ekphrasis is fun, it brings the creative a sense of community.

“This approach takes you to people who live in a whole different culture; it brings you into communion with both you doing something divine,” Luzajic said. “Even though it’s you thinking about yourself and your own experience, you’re tapping in with the artist.”

Luzajic says the process of ekphrasis can happen through music, art and literature.

“You can connect at any time, not just while writing.” Luzajic said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a hymn or a Katy Perry song, something strikes you. You don’t think of it at the time, but it’s art magic.”

How Ball State uses ekphrasis to teach art appreciation

Elizabeth Dalton, a professor of honors humanities at Ball State, teaches ekphrastic exercises in her classes. Dalton specializes in Western humanities, with a focus on visual and literature arts.

One of the ekphrastic exercises she assigns requires students to write a response to a piece of art on view in the David Owsley Museum of Art.

“My goal is for them to get into the art,” Dalton said. “I want them to know it’s for them. Not only the hoity-toity people. They are perfectly capable of understanding what’s going on in the museum.”

Dalton instructs her students to go to DOMA and sit with an object for a specified amount of time. Then, they must create a work of ekphrasis after the experience.

“I don’t care what they write,” said Dalton, who specializes in Western humanities, with a focus on visual and literary arts. “I just want them to have an access point to the object.”

Sophomore Hannah Allen has been in two of Dalton’s classes that engaged in ekphrasis work.

“She was the first professor who introduced it to me,” Allen said. “She tells you to go, sit down and look at a piece of art, but not the label. It’s very therapeutic.”

Allen said that it’s a different writing exercise that she normally wouldn’t do in her other classes.

“Researching can be very analytical, and you don’t get to appreciate the art that much,” Allen said. “This way, you think about your feelings. You deal with what it is more than what it physically is.”

Allen recalls two classmates who explored the same piece of artwork with different outcomes” “It was interesting because the two people looked at it in different contexts,” she said. “One looked at it mythologically, and the other looked at relations of what the love in the piece might have in relation to today’s pieces.”

Although ekphrastic writing and artwork may be new to many, it’s developed quite a following – in part due to Luzajic.

Shortly after graduating, Luzajic created a small zine with a few colleagues. Although it was fun, it was very disorganized, Luzajic said. The journal was called Idea Factory, but there’s not a lot of money involved with running a journal.

“I’ve always loved working with journals or start-ups,” she said. “I got a taste of being able to call artists and writers. I really enjoyed that community.”

Luzajic worked as an artist after graduating and still does today. But in 2015, she was missing the community of an online journal. So, she created a second, more organized online journal to showcase ekphrastic works, titled the Ekphrastic Review.

The journal started in July 2015.

“I didn’t think I was going to start a journal, but to have a place where I can print something or maybe just see if other people write this kind of stuff,” Luzajic said. “It was like having a portal in my mind where I would put what I loved out there.”

Fast forward seven years, and the Ekphrastic Review has a readership of 4,000-8,000 a month.

Luzajic contributes 80 volunteer hours a month toward the journal, which offers workshops, contests and a podcast. Luzajic said she had 900 submissions in her email inbox waiting to be reviewed.

“I want people to feel free to participate, this is a community.” she said. “This is not for me, this is your work, it saves your life. It brings joy to the world. It’s for spreading the word.”

The Ekphrastic Review accepts ekphrastic small fiction, flash fiction, micro fiction, prose, poetry, hybrid forms, book reviews, author interviews and profiles.

Luzajic agrees with Allen that ekphrasis is therapeutic.

“It gives you an outlet,” she said. “It helps you recognize the small beauties of the day as it does the dramatic storms.”

Luzajic says that ekphrastic writing can be particularly helpful when switching your thoughts to something you’re not thinking about.

“As soon as you ponder something, you’re putting your focus there,” she added. “All things that swirl in your brain will come to the paper.”

Although Luzajic receives an incredible amount of submissions, she’s only able to publish about 5% of them due to the selective process.

“For one exercise, we received 50 to 300 submissions for one painting,” Luzajic said. “Those are all taken for just one work of art. It boggles my mind.”

Luzajic can’t believe the quality of writing the journal receives, she said.

“I love all poetry. But, something like alchemy happens. They do even better work when this inspiration happens,” said Luzajic. “It’s extraordinary work. It’s magical.”

If you’re interesting in reading or submitting ekphrastic work, visit https://www.ekphrastic.net/.

As always, thank you for reading the DOMA Insider! DOMA is free and open to the public; we are open Tuesday – Friday 9:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., and Saturday from 1:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. Check out our website at https://www.bsu.edu/doma.

Casey Jones’s Last Ride

Written by: Jerret Barker Collections and Education Intern

Some events transcend their time and place. Stories about these events are told, and then retold, throughout the generations leading to the creation of legend. American folklore is littered with such stories: John Henry defeating the steam drill in a race between man and machine and Billy the Kid’s fatal reunion with former friend-turned-sheriff Pat Garrett. One such legend, that of Casey Jones, was instantly created in the early morning of April 30, 1900, when his train crashed into another near Vaughn, Mississippi.

(Casey Jones in 1898. Schenectady, New York Historical Marker.)

John Luther “Casey” Jones was born on March 14, 1863 (or 1864, as records are unclear) in Missouri but moved to Cayce, Kentucky shortly after his birth.[1] His childhood hometown would later serve as the nickname in which Jones became known. Longing for the respect and praise that accompanied railroad engineers, Jones left home at 15 and slowly made his way through the railroad industry, serving as a telegrapher, brakeman, fireman, and eventually an engineer.[2] As a railroad engineer, Jones was known throughout the country for his impeccable adherence to train schedules (even if it meant increasing his speed beyond the limit) and his modified whistle, which became recognizable to anyone who heard it. So renowned was Jones that he was asked to operate trains for the visitors to the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

In January of 1900, Jones took over control of the Illinois Central Railroad’s Cannonball, a fast passenger express that traveled from Chicago to New Orleans.[3] On April 29, making a late start and with orders to make up lost time, Jones and his fireman Sim Webb (the one responsible for feeding coal into the firebox to produce the steam necessary for travel) left the station on a dark and cloudy evening. Near Vaughn, Mississippi, in the early hours of April 30th, Jones noticed red lights on the back of a caboose stopped on the track in front of him. Jones, going too fast to stop, hit the airbrakes as soon as he realized something was wrong. Jones died as his engine struck the rear of the stopped caboose.[4] His last words were to tell his fireman to jump to safety, which Webb did.[5] Webb sustained minor injuries, and none of the passengers on board were seriously injured.[6]

The David Owsley Museum of Art currently displays an action-packed depiction of this deadly scene. Painted in 1939 by Edwin Fulwider, Casey Jones features Fulwider’s interpretation of Jones’s last ride. Although the actual event involved Jones hitting the caboose of another train, Fulwider portrays two speeding trains racing toward each other. Black smoke ominously billows out of both locomotives into the night sky while the tracks curve and twist, adding to the suspense of the eventual collision. Viewers can see the Vaughn train station, and even the jumping figure of Webb narrowly escaping the doomed train. This painting allows viewers to experience the drama of the collision.

(Edwin Fulwider, 1913 – 2003, Casey Jones, 1939, Oil on Masonite, Gift of Charles and Kathleen Harper, 2015.022.000, © artist’s estate)

Edwin Fulwider was born in 1913 in Bloomington, Indiana. As a child, he became enamored with trains and travel as a boy, even memorizing the trains’ schedule and timing their stops across town.[7] He later graduated from the John Herron Art School in Indianapolis in 1938. Becoming a teacher later in his career, Fulwider taught at Miami University of Ohio, the John Herron Art School, and the Cornish School of Allied Arts in Seattle, Washington. He retired from teaching in 1992 but remained active as an artist until his death in 2003. Coincidently, Fulwider was able to meet and work with Thomas Hart Benton during the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, 40 years after Casey Jones operated the trains there.[8]

(Edwin Fulwider. Photo courtesy of Covington Fine Arts Gallery.)

Fulwider’s depiction of the fatal crash is just one of many honoring Casey Jones’s legacy. Songs, books, documentaries, paintings, sculptures, and a museum are dedicated to the man who lost his life trying to save his passengers on April 30, 1900. 122 years later, the legend of Casey Jones continues in art and memory. Check out Johnny Cash singing “Casey Jones,” 1963: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T_XUV3HJajQ.

As always, thank you for reading the DOMA Insider and make sure to come see Edwin Fulwider’s Casey Jones piece for yourself! DOMA is open: Tuesday-Friday 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. and on Saturday from 1:30 p.m.-4:30 p.m. Did I mention it’s free admission?


[1] “This Week in Railroad History: The Legend of Casey Jones.” National Railroad Museum. https://nationalrrmuseum.org/blog/this-week-in-railroad-history-the-legend-of-casey-jones/.

[2] Moody, James W. “Casey Jones Railroad Museum.” Tennessee Historical Quarterly 25, no. 1 (1966): 4.

[3] “This Week in Railroad History.”

[4] “Railroaders Hear Straight Story on Casey Jones’s Famous Ride.” Western Folklore 13, no. 2/3 (1954): 135–36.

[5] Cohen, Norm. “‘Casey Jones’s: At the Crossroads of Two Ballad Traditions.” Western Folklore 32, no. 2 (1973): 78.

[6] “This Week in Railroad History.”

[7] Gottschlich, Michelle. “Edwin Fulwider’s Early-1900s Boyhood in Bloomington, ‘A Memoir’.” Limestone Post Magazine. (2018). https://limestonepostmagazine.com/edwin-fulwiders-early-1900s-boyhood-bloomington-memoir/.

[8] “Edwin Fulwider.” Seattle Art Museum, https://art.seattleartmuseum.org/people/4752/edwin%20%20fulwider;jsessionid=E6ACB6406B0C1C77ABDE8FDAB3925BA;jsessionid=E6ACB6406B0C1C77ABDE8FD0AB3925BA.

Family Workshop: Forms and Figures

Written by: Kaitlyn Yeager – Visitor Assistant

In February the curator of education at David Owsley Museum of Art, Maureen Nicholson, held a family workshop for children and parents to learn about Larry Day’s early abstract art in the exhibition titled Body Language. Larry Day (1921 – 1998) was an American artist residing in Pennsylvania for nearly all his life, where he created his works and taught as a professor at the Philadelphia College of Art. Day’s work can be divided into three themes: abstractions, figures and forms, and cityscapes. His paintings and drawings can be described as “ironic realism”, as these works are not quite the photorealistic reproduction of a depicted scene but rather an idea or a comment about such. The artist uses references from the past, such as works by the old masters for inspiration.

For this workshop we took a tour through the museum to first view Larry Day’s abstract artwork on the main floor in the Brown Study Room, where students had the opportunity to critically analyze the work by asking questions about why the artist had abstracted the subject and how this was done. Afterward, we practiced our abstracting skills by using the artist’s work in the Special Exhibition upstairs as inspiration. Both the parents and their children took part in sketching one of Day’s original works of their choice, and then simplifying it into shapes and lines to experiment with abstraction.

For the last portion of the event, we moved to the workshop area to use the skills and knowledge learned through viewing Day’s artwork and create our own abstracted pieces using oil pastels on paper. The children and adults chose an object or artwork in the museum as a reference to draw an abstracted version, which could be done by adding new colors, simplifying or transforming the shapes and figures, or by fixating on only a portion of the original work. During this time everyone got the chance to draw and color, listen to some music, and chat with one another. At the end of the event all of the kids were photographed with their artwork.

This workshop was one of the first opportunities to hold an in-person, family-friendly art event at the David Owsley Museum of Art since before the pandemic. I worked with Maureen as her assistant to help with the event, and I personally loved it! The kids were enthusiastic and a joy to be around, and the parents were so kind. It was exciting to see all of the families making art together, and we were very happy to provide them with the art supplies and opportunity to do so. I would love to see more of these experiences here at DOMA and, based on the many positive reports from our recent participants, we hope to hold more family workshops in the near future!

As always, thank you for reading the DOMA insider and make sure to come visit the museum soon! DOMA is free and open to the public; we are open Tuesday – Friday 9:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., and Saturday from 1:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. Check out our website at bsu.edu/doma.

Artist Bio: Christina Ramberg

Written by: Sylvie Coffey – Social Media Intern

Christina Ramberg (1946-1995) was an American painter and best known for her works of art that call attention to the objectification of women’s figures. Her paintings display fragmented bodies highlighting the various undergarments used in the transformation of an individual’s body. Ramberg did not include faces within her art pieces and frequently left out the head as well, or otherwise covered by hair or highlighting the torso from the back. Commenting on her inspiration of this style, which came from watching her mother get dressed in the 1950s, Ramberg stated “I think the paintings have a lot to do with this, with watching and realizing that a lot of these undergarments totally transform a woman’s body. Watching my mother getting dressed I used to think that this is what men want women to look like, she’s transforming herself into the kind of body men want. I thought it was fascinating. . . In some ways, I thought it was awful.”[i]

Ramberg attended the School of the Art Institute (SAIC) in the late 1960s where she earned her BFA in 1968. She studied painting, print making, and drawing. While at SAIC, Ramberg met Philip Hanson (whom she ended up marrying), Roger Brown, and Eleanor Dube who (among others) formed the “Chicago Imagists” and they also exhibited their works of art at the Hyde Park Art Center on the Southside of Chicago between 1968-69 under the name “False Image”. Ramberg also expanded her horizons by teaching at colleges and universities around Chicago, Illinois which included the School of the Art Institute (SAIC), and from 1985 to 1989 she served as the chair of the painting department at SAIC.

Christina Ramberg, 1946 – 1995, Schizophrenic Discovery, 1977, Acrylic on Masonite 49 x 37 in., Museum purchase, 1978.018.001, © Estate of Christina Ramberg

Here on view at DOMA is Christina Ramberg’s Schizophrenic Discovery which depicts a human torso, which could be either male or female. The right side of the body displays wooden textures, like a rope that was once holding together the figure is now breaking apart showing an emptiness of the body inside. The left side of the figure looks like it is wrapped in bandages representing constraint. The title Schizophrenic Discovery calls attention to how mental health contributes to an individual’s well-being. We often turn to societal trends and try to conform to said trends to fit in, yet there is so much more to life than societal expectations.

Plan a visit to DOMA and see this work of art for yourself! DOMA is free and open to the public; we are open Tuesday – Friday 9:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., and Saturday from 1:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. As always, thank you for reading the DOMA insider and make sure to check out our website at https://www.bsu.edu/web/museumofart


[i]  Kerstin Nelje, “Christina Ramberg and Luce Irigaray: A Feminist Analysis of Ramberg’s Female Figures” (master’s thesis, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, 1990), 3.

Alice Nichols and a Modernizing Museum

Written By: Jerret Barker – Collections and Education Intern

Just outside the north entrance, a bust of Alice Nichols (1906-1994) greets visitors to the David Owsley Museum of Art. This bespectacled figure served as head of the art department and director of the museum, known at that time as the Ball State Teachers College Art Gallery, for 25 years, from 1948 to 1972.

The sculpture of Alice Nichols located just outside the museum’s north entrance.

At the time of Nichols’ arrival, the items found within the Ball State Art Gallery were mostly traditional and shunned any modern art. Nichols, who had studied with modernists and abstract artists during her time as a student and freelance artist, strived to modernize the collection. With the limited funds available, Nichols bought modern sculptures and prints as well as arranging exhibitions featuring the latest developments from Chicago and New York. According to Nichols, “The gallery should no longer be looked upon as a static repository but rather as a dynamic experience. The walls cannot be moved but the unchangeable quality should end there.”[i]

Nichols’ predilection for contemporary pieces immediately put her at odds with the Muncie Art Association and the Ball Family. As there were no galleries dedicated to changing exhibitions at the time, her exhibitions displaced the items originally donated by Frank Ball in 1936. Her agenda alienated members of the Association, whose traditional role of arranging the exhibits at the college gallery had been stripped away. Nichols even rebuked an inquiry about the Gallery’s interest in receiving early Italian art. She also dismissed the sculptures Frank C. Ball had purchased for the sculpture court as “garden sculpture” and suggested that they be placed around the campus in outdoor settings. In response to these rapid changes and Nichols’ taste in art, Elisabeth Ball called her a “wild woman.”[ii]

However, few would argue with Nichols’ commitment to using the collection as a valuable teaching resource. Perhaps Nichols’ dedication to the museum’s role in student education can best be described by her quote, “the gallery must do more than provide ‘things to look at.’ It must make each person who enters hesitate mentally and emotionally long enough to realize that he is experiencing something.”[iii]

Alice Nichols about 1950 (Ball State University Archives and Special Collections).

Nichols’ commitment to education can be seen in a multitude of ways. When the student center left the Fine Arts building and relocated to its present location, Nichols renovated the rooms and created lounges, allowing students to study modern furniture design. She initiated art classes for children in the gallery each Saturday morning, with art education students teaching the classes. Nichols herself taught classes in painting, art history, design, and art education. She also invited contemporary artists to teach in the art department during the summer. These popular classes developed friendly relationships between the artists, campus, the community, and Nichols. Some of these artists would then gift or sell their works at a reduced price, which continued to expand the collection.

Believing that art was essential to life and an enriching experience, Nichols began the Ball State Drawing and Small Sculpture Show in 1955, the first national juried exhibition of such artwork. This contest received entries from 15 states and allowed students and the local community to see contemporary artwork from around the United States first-hand. Over time, the shows continued to increase in size, with some years receiving up to 1,400 submissions from nearly every state.

Deciding to spread art appreciation beyond Ball State’s campus, Nichols developed traveling shows with art in specially designed boxes that could be mounted for display in almost any situation. These exhibits were sent to schools and art organizations throughout the state. In order to reach a large number of Delaware county residents, Nichols devised the Artmobile, a trailer-like vehicle that had been converted into a miniature art gallery. The interior was arranged to accommodate both two-and three-dimensional works of art on loan from the Art Gallery. The art department and Muncie Art Association provided docents. The Artmobile carried its riches to the schools of the city and county and parked in the Delaware County Fairgrounds. During the first year alone, 18,000 students and 7,000 adults experienced the artwork on display.

In 1972, the last year of her directorship, the gallery was formally accredited by the American Association of Museums, thus validating her dedication to art and education.

In 2008, John Surovek, a former student of Nichols and part of the 1968 graduating class, commissioned artist Tuck Langland to sculpt the portrait that now resides just outside the museum. Surovek, now an art dealer in Palm Beach Florida, said he “owes everything” to Nichols and her continued support during his college years.[iv] Indeed, there are countless other Ball State graduates who have shared their admiration for Alice Nichols in the years since her retirement.


[i] Blume, Peter F. Ball State University Museum of Art at 75 (Ball State University Museum of Art, 2011), 34.

[ii] Blume, Peter F. Ball State University Museum of Art at 75 (Ball State University Museum of Art, 2011), 35.

[iii] Griner, Ned. H. The Magnificent Benefactors: The History of the Ball State University Museum of Art (Ball State University Museum of Art, 2002), 24.

[iv] Werner, Gail. “Alumnus commissions sculpted portrait of his favorite Ball State educator, Alice Nichols,” Ball State News Center, April 3, 2008.