By Saul Schwartz
My wife Fern and I spent a rainy October weekend in Lafayette and Indianapolis, Indiana, visiting our friends, having some fine food and enjoying two spectacular art museums. The Haan and the Newfields are two of the best little known art museums in the heart of the country! Although the term Hoosier is a reference to Indiana residents, we discovered that its exactly meaning is uncertain.
I spent one year in Lafayette attending the Krannert School of Management in 1977-1978, but I had not been back to visit since my graduation! This small city on the Wabash River has a population of just under 70000, not including Purdue students. Purdue, with its several campuses, is one of the largest public university systems in the country.
Haan Museum of Indiana Art
Set within a 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair Mansion, this art museum features paintings, antiques and ceramics of artists from or associated with the state of Indiana. The museum is located at 920 East State Street and has its own parking lot. The museum is contained in an historic mansion called the Potter-Haan Mansion which was relocated from the St. Louis World’s Fair. The 15000 square foot mansion was known as the Connecticut Building at the World’s Fair and was moved to Lafayette when the fair ended. In 1984, Bob and Ellie Haan purchased the mansion and, thereafter, they began collecting Indiana art to display in the mansion.
The admission fee includes a museum tour of several hours conducted by one of the Haans or another docent on the first two floors. The Haans actually own the artwork and they donated the mansion to create the museum. The tour focused on the key pieces. Admission costs $10 per adult. The Haans were very willing to answer questions and the tour was very interactive.
Highlights of the museum include paintings from the best works of the Brown Art Colony and art created by T. C. Steele and the four other members of the Hoosier Group. There are about 100 paintings displayed at any one time. Decorative ceramics include figural works. In addition, the collection includes an outstanding group of massive, rare antique American furniture and beautiful bronze and stone sculptures. Several unusual music boxes and clocks are displayed.
On the museum grounds there is a sculpture garden featuring over twenty sculptures by some of Indiana’s best artists. The grounds connect with a one mile nature trail with 30 species of native Indiana trees identified and a mountain bike trial with intermediate and advanced portions covering seven miles out and back.
East End Grill
Located on 1016 Main Street, new American casual dining is featured. The dining room features a cozy bar and an industrial look with exposed beams. This was the perfect place to grab lunch with our friends. The lunch menu primarily features sandwiches and salads. The prices were reasonable, the staff was very attentive despite the crowds and the food is among the best offerings in this town. With the football day crowds, the restaurant was a little noisier than we prefer.
Indiana’s capital city is also the state’s largest city, with a population of around 850,000. The downtown is a busy urban core with the Indiana State House at its center.
Formerly known as the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the permanent collection includes more than 50000 works. The museum complex is located at 4000 Michigan Road. The main building contains permanent and temporary exhibits. Highlights of the paintings include American Art, old master works, and the neo-impressionists. Also there is a very large collection of art from Japan. Admission is $18, but parking is free.
For us, the delightful surprise was being able to go inside the temporary exhibit of Infinity Mirrors designed by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. We repeatedly had been unable to get an admission ticket to see a larger group of Infinity Mirrors when they were exhibited at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C. The infinity room called “All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins” is now on view. We were allowed to stay within the room for 45 seconds. The glowing gourds are adorned with Kusama’s signature polka dot pattern. The room creates the illusion of standing in an endless field of pumpkins in every possible direction! We were able to repeat the experience twice and the lines were not very long.
In addition, we thoroughly enjoyed a one hour tour focusing on some key works in the collection. Several tours are offered daily. After discussion with the docent, she focused primarily on the American and European art galleries. We took a lunch break in the light filled café.
The museum is located on the former estate of J.K. Lily, the pharmaceutical industrialist whose family started Eli Lily and Company. In 1966, the Lily estate donated the land to the Art Association of Indianapolis. The estate was called “Old Fields” in reference to the wheat fields that were previously farmed on the land.
The museum complex includes Lily’s 22 room mansion, built in the early twentieth century, and lovely gardens. The current décor of the home largely represents the 1930s era, shortly after the Lily family moved in to the house. The French chateau-style mansion was built around 1910. As part of the museum admission, we toured the first floor which included a game room, a library, a music room, a dining room, the butler’s pantry, the kitchen and the loggia, a vaulted gallery.
Indiana State Soldiers and Sailors Monument
The 284 feet neoclassical monument is located within the middle of Monument Circle downtown. There is no entry fee. Only 15 feet shorter than the Statute of Liberty, the outside of the limestone structure features intricate carvings. The monument is a memorial to Indiana residents who served in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Civil War, the Frontier Wars and the Spanish American War. Statues at the four corners of the monument represent the infantry, the calvary, artillery and navy. The monument is crowned with a statue of victory, holding a sword in one hand and a torch in the other. We climbed 330 steps to get great views of downtown Indianapolis, including the Indiana State House. At 230 feet above street level, the views through glass windows are panoramic. There is a $2 charge if an individual chooses to ascend or descend by elevator.
Bravo Cucina Italiana
This Willow Lake restaurant is on 2658 Lake Circle Drive in a shopping center. The upscale but casual Italian restaurant chain features pasta, pizza and grilled dishes amid Roman ruins décor. The staff allowed us to order grilled eggplant rather than fried eggplant. The prices were moderate and the food was good. Despite being crowded, the service was prompt and the atmosphere was inviting. We were able to converse with our Indianapolis friends without raising our voices.
We spent our night at the Hilton Indianapolis Hotel. Located at 120 West Market Street, this hotel is in the center of the downtown area. The rooms were more spacious than average, the gym was modern and the breakfast buffet was extensive. The room rates were very reasonable.
Upon reflection, Fern and I concluded that Indiana is certainly worth a visit for its culinary scene and its underappreciated art museums. We found great things to do even though the weather was rainy and cold! Had the weather been better, I would have enjoyed a stroll through the Purdue campus to relive some memories.