Sherry Rouse, curator of Indiana University campus art. Ada Shulz work hanging at IU Auditorium.

“That Old Thing”
Brown County Art at Indiana University

by Bill Weaver

Indiana University has served as a patron of Brown County art ever since T. C. Steele roamed the campus as an honorary professor during the last decade of his life. Thanks to the foresight of Herman Wells one of the great collections of Brown County art resides in Bloomington.

Sherry Rouse is the curator for campus art at Indiana University. It is a satisfying job with responsibilities throughout the university system. We meet in the coffee bar off the atrium of the university’s art museum. She says she first became interested in Brown County art while working on her master’s degree in arts administration.

“I worked in the Indiana Memorial Union when they found a T.C. Steele that had mold growing on it,” she remembers.

Realizing they had a big, expensive problem the Union asked Rouse to make an inventory. “There was no budget for that kind of thing. I prioritized the artwork according to value and problems. Then I had a condition report done so we could see how much money we were looking at and, of course, it was significant. Most of those pictures were purchased at the beginning of the 1900s. They had some years on them and heaven knows they weren’t dusted or taken care of.”

One result was the establishment of an endowment, The IMU Art Guild, for the restoration and caretaking of the paintings. “We now have money when art needs help.”

Later, when the university began looking for a curator to oversee all of their art, “I applied because it’s what I was doing at the Union on a grander scale. Now I see everything from the Brown County artwork in the IMU to the beautiful collection of things from all over the world at IU East.”

Of the Brown County art Sherry says, “It’s a wonderful collection. It’s definitely very representative of the history of Indiana art because the Union Board bought paintings every year from the Hoosier Salon under the direction of Herman Wells who had very good taste and a purposeful direction.”

Wonderful surprises happen every day as she searches the nooks and crannies of the university. “I was just in the residence halls and found a Georges LaChance and a Marie Goth, both portraits, beautifully rendered. I found a painting sitting in a closet. They said, `Oh, that old thing?’ and I said, `Yeah, I’ll take that old thing!'”

The IMU has by far the most Brown County art on display but when you’re on campus don’t miss the Daley Collection in the IU Auditorium. “It is certainly a beautiful presentation of the Brown County artists and was specifically collected to be representative of all those people who were working at that time.”

There is also Brown County art in the Contemporary Gallery of the IU Art Museum. Sherry takes me downstairs, past school children on a tour, to view the three paintings currently on display. The Steele is called A Bleak Day. “It’s absolutely breathtaking. It’s one of his absolute best.”

There are Brown County pictures in Woodburn House, “almost every single one of the dormitories,” Bryan Hall, and the offices of “almost every vice president. T.C. Steele is the one everybody would like to have. If I had twenty more I could make twenty more people happy.”

Currently Rouse is preparing a catalogue of the university’s art collection. “I’m not close yet. I have a web module with thumbnail sketches and descriptions of the pictures but it’ll probably be a year and a half before it’s available online. I’m the only person that does this job so I often get pulled away from cataloguing.”

There is a brochure for the walking tour of the art at the Indiana Memorial Union that can be obtained at the hotel desk. Rouse is working on a walking tour of the Halls of Residence.

The university continues to receive Brown County art. “I just got a Will Vawter and an L.O. Griffith. The most recent gift was a beautiful selection of C. Curry Bohms. The donor had worked with the people at the Union for a long time and he wanted to add his collection.

Rouse emphasizes that the university’s goal is to do more than collect art. “If it’s not going to get much show time in this museum we try to get it out so it that it does have a place to be seen. I get a lot of pictures that need a couple thousand dollars worth of conservation right off the bat. One of the things I’m doing is attempting to build awareness among donors so that they give me money to fix pictures.

“I just had one finished yesterday. It’s a huge, wonderful T.C. Steele, Valley on Salt Creek. It’s in Bryan Hall in the Budget Office and they’d had it there for years. It was in pretty bad shape. The people in the office got together and raised 3500 dollars and had the conservation worked done in the last year. It was just hung yesterday and all the people came out of their offices. They had missed the painting, `It’s what brightened our life for all this time.'” Rouse sums up their feelings. “That’s heartwarming. That’s the nice thing about the job.

“I encourage the people of Brown County to come and look at the pictures. They are welcome. The Brown County art in the Museum, Auditorium, and the Union are really the most accessible stuff we have.”

You can call Sherry Rouse at 812-855-9758 or e-mail her at