Indiana University Art Museum

Bloomington, IN



Living With Art: The Legacy of Herman B. Wells


Indiana University's legendary president and chancellor, Herman B Wells, spent a lifetime supporting the arts. His many gifts to the Bloomington campus over the years as well as items from his recent bequest will be featured in this exhibition of more than a hundred objects, including paintings, prints, sculpture, ceramics, textiles, and furniture. From the monumental, public art of the campus to the heirlooms in his own home, Wells's choices show his passion for collecting as well as his determination to bring the world's finest art to Indiana. Living With Art: The Legacy of Herman B Wells will be on view at the Indiana University Art Museum through December 23, 2001. (left: Dr. Herman B Wells)


A Personal Collection

Surrounded by fine art and antique furniture, first in "Woodburn House" on College Avenue and then in the "Tenth Street House" opposite the Main Library on IU's campus, Herman B Wells brought the arts into his everyday life, to be shared with all those who enjoyed his famous hospitality. Many paintings, prints, watercolors, sculptures, and superb furnishings, once a part of his environment, are now gifts to the IU Art Museum and the IU Campus Art Collection. A selection of highlights from this collection tells the story of his wide-ranging taste and travels, from England to Southeast Asia and back to the hills of`Brown County.


Gifts to the Museum

As President of Indiana University, Dr. Wells hired young Henry Radford Hope in 1941 to head up his art department and form a museum that would bring the world's art to Hoosier students. Dr. Wells envisioned a "Fine Arts Plaza" at the center of campus, ringed by the Auditorium, the Fine Arts building, and the Lilly Rare Book Library. The scheme was realized gradually but relentlessly, from the opening of the Auditorium in 1941 to the dedication of the new Art Museum, designed by I.M. Pei, in 1982. In addition to offering institutional support, Dr. Wells supplied Hope and his successors, Thomas T. Solley and Adelheid Gealt, with a steady flow of personal advice, gifts, and funds for all areas of the museum.


An Artistic Environment on Campus

As a student at IU, Herman B Wells watched T.C. Steele paint the campus landscape, and he enjoyed the artistic environment deliberately constructed for (and by) students in the Memorial Union. As President and Chancellor, he continued this tradition by adding to the campus collection -- furniture, paintings, sculpture, and decorative arts for offices and social spaces, and great outdoor sculptures for the beautiful landscape that he also loved. Directly responsible for bringing Thomas Hart Benton's famous "Indiana Murals" to the IU Auditorium, Dr. Wells was a force behind the Showalter Fountain sculpture of Venus by Robert Laurent, and Alexander Calder's monumental Peau Rouge Indiana, in front of the Musical Arts Center. Drawing in works from other campus collections, such as the Union, the Mathers Museum, the IU Foundation, and Wylie House, and showing the maquettes for some sculptures, the selection in this exhibition will showcase the impact of Dr. Wells's vision of the campus at large, which remains as a "work of art" that he carefully shaped and curated.

Conservation: Preserving the Art for Future Generations

The preservation of the works of art that Herman B Wells brought to the IU campus has been a background story that will be drawn forward in the exhibition. Dr. Wells supported the construction of conservation labs and the hiring of professional conservation staff for the museum, understanding that his own gifts -- and those of others -- required on-going work, to keep the collections stable for posterity. The recent conservation of the Thomas Hart Benton murals, accomplished with outside grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Getty Trust, matched by funds from the university and private donors, stands as the model for a collaborative support for conservation in the future. Funds will be raised for this exhibition to conserve items from Dr. Wells' collection, illustrating how support for conservation must go hand in hand with collection development.

Following is a sampling of the American pieces on display in this exhibition:


Home and Family

(pictured left: Alfred Thompson Bricher, American, 1837-1908, Sea and Rocks (near Newport), ca. 1875-1890, oil on canvas, IUAM bequest of Herman B Wells)

Bricher grew up near the sea and became a painter of the New England coastline. Wells acquired this painting in 1971 and considered it one of his most important paintings. He displayed it prominently in his living

room in the Tenth Street house.

(not pictured: Ida Belle Endicott Harting, American, ca. 1860-1945, Double Wedding Ring quilt, ca. 1930.) Herman B Wells' maternal grandmother, Ida Belle Endicott Harting, was the mother of nine children who all bore middle names beginning with the letter "B." The Harting farm near Jamestown, Indiana, was the scene of many Christmas feasts and family reunions. Grandmother Harting lived the last decades of her life with Wells' parents, helping support the family with her housekeeping skills. Wells spread her fine quilt, made in a traditional pattern, across his bed at Meadowood.

(not pictured: Asbury Williamson, American, 1815-1881, Chest of Drawers, ca. 1850) Dr. Wells's longstanding enthusiasm for antique furniture may have been born in him from a family of cabinetmakers. This chest, made in Jamestown, Indiana, by his mother's great-uncle, shows the taste that shaped Ohio Valley furniture in the mid-nineteenth-century. Plain and geometric, the Indiana furniture of this period displays the proportions of the "Empire" style without its luxurious carving and applied ornament.

(not pictured: School Bell belonging to Joseph Granville Wells, American, 19th Century) Wells' father began his career as a teacher and then principal at the Jamestown School, where he was assisted by a student, Anna Bernice Harting, who later became his wife. Enthusiastic about literature, mathematics, history, and geography, Wells' parents instilled in him a love for both learning and teaching. His father's school bell remained on Wells' desk as a memento, and the same bell was featured in a well-known portrait of Wells as president, calling students to the study of the world's culture. Wells felt that this photograph with bell, globe, and begging bowl summarized the job description of a college president. Dr. Wells later installed this piece near his front door, where he enjoyed whacking it with his cane to make it ring as he entered his home.



(not pictured: American, 19th Century, Arrowback Sofa, ca. 1840) This painted bench with floral decorations and arrow-shaped back-rails may date to the era of IU's first president, Andrew Wylie. It was one of the few artifacts to survive the disastrous fire of the old Seminary in 1883, which destroyed the university's original classroom and administration building near Second and College Streets. The campus moved east to its present location and the bench came, too.

(not pictured: Artist Unknown, American, 19th Century, Rafting Downstream, ca. 1840-60) Wells enjoyed the narrative implicit in this painting, which tells the story of an era when the Ohio River served as Indiana's link to the world. "it show[s] a flat boat with Hoosier produce turning from the Wabash into the Ohio with the frontier products of pork, whiskey and timber, and on the Ohio a steamboat returning from New Orleans with the men who had sold their load," remembered Wells. Although the artist has never been identified, it remains one of the most often reproduced paintings in the university's collections.

(not pictured: Thomas Hart Benton, American, 1889-1975, Indiana Murals: Squared Plan for Cultural Panels VIII and IX) Wells visited the World's Fair in Chicago in 1933, where Thomas Hart Benton's murals played a featured - -and controversial -- part of the Indiana state pavilion. After the fair, the murals went into storage until Wells spoke up to ask for their use in new buildings planned for the Bloomington campus. Wells' role in the rescue of the murals, as well as his state-wide celebrity, often led viewers to assume: that the figure in cap and gown representing university life was a portrait of IU's president. In fact, Wells never posed for the murals.

(not pictured: Thomas Hart Benton, American, Haystack, 1938) Benton visited the campus at least three times when his "Indiana Murals" were being installed and dedicated in the new Auditorium building. Wells entertained Benton when he was in town, and found him "a vigorous, colorful, articulate human being" and "a good companion." On one of these occasions, Benton gave Wells this lithograph as a gesture of thanks for his support of his controversial murals.

(not pictured: T.C. Steele, American, 1847-1926, Zinnias [Autumn Flowers], 1925) Although he is best known for his landscape paintings, Steele painted many flower still lifes at the end of his career, often from flowers cut from the famous garden of his wife Selma. Late in life, he became a visiting professor at Indiana University, where young Herman B Wells observed him painting on campus. Wells noted that this painting came from the collection of IU President William Lowe Bryan, a personal friend of the artist.



(not pictured: Alien M. Hirsch, American, born 1959, Herman B Wells, 1989-1992) Realizing that the university had no monumental image of its legendary chancellor, IU alumni Harry Sebel gave this portrait to the university in 1992, in honor of Dr. Wells' ninetieth birthday. He commissioned the portrait artist, Allen Hirsch, famous since 1982 as the creator of many cover portraits for Time magazine. In 1993, Hirsch was invited to paint President Clinton's portrait for the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

(not pictured: Rudy Pozzatti, American, Homage to Herman B Wells, 1992) Decades of friendship with IU's distinguished professor of printmaking, Rudy Pozzatti, can be traced in many objects in Wells' collection. One of Pozzatti's prints, Computer Person, was prominently displayed in his parlor, and a smaller image of Turnips and Radishes (which Wells described as "one of my favorites") appropriately hung in the kitchen. Naturally, Pozzatti was the right artist to prepare a special image in honor of Wells' ninetieth birthday.

Read more about the Indiana University Art Museum in Resource Library Magazine.

For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 6/3/11

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