2016 Essay | Ball State University

2016 Essay | Ball State University

Ball State University

Ball State University School of Art: Embracing the Past, Making the Future 

By Arne R. Flaten, PhD, and Davira S. Taragin

Vance Bell, Fisherman's Lament, 2010-2012
stoneware, 21.5 x 10 inches in diameter.
photo: Serena Nancarrow

The exhibition Ball State University School of Art: Embracing the Past, Making the Future is designed to introduce SOFA CHICAGO 2016 audiences to the school’s faculty and to work by recent alumni Gabrielle Graber, Aimee M. Howard, Benjamin Johnson, M. Annie Kilborn, James Labold, Rachel Meszaros, Bridget Sheehan, Collette Spears, Kyle Thorne, and Stacey Lee Webber. While these individuals come from diverse backgrounds, they have in common BSU’s art community. They are united in producing objects that comment upon society while challenging traditional assumptions about media and disciplines. 

Located in Muncie, Indiana, BSU epitomizes the diversity of the contemporary art world today. At one end of the spectrum, the works of current faculty members Vance Bell and Kenton Hall, and recently retired Patricia Nelson, expand upon approaches initiated in the late twentieth century to making and materiality. Others, such as Brent Cole, Jennifer Halvorson, Ted Neal, and Jessica Calderwood who joined the faculty to replace Nelson, explore traditional processes and concerns with materials while also responding to larger trends of contemporary art. To complete the range of work methodologies, Maura Jasper is part of the emerging generation of postdisciplinary practitioners in that she selects the material that best satisfies her particular concept. Although she is best known for her work in video technology, for SOFA CHICAGO, Jasper has created the foam and paper mâché sculpture Wigberto Serpa. Overall, BSU’s faculty is committed to helping students identify the media and processes that best empower them. 

A Historical Perspective

Ball State University is among the many educational institutions in America that for more than half a century have been quietly contributing to the integration of craft media within the fine arts. The first iteration was through the Studio movement; today, the dialogue swirls around ignoring the hierarchies of the arts to use materials that freely express the artists’ vision. Much has been written about the universities’ role in the early development of the Studio movement. Paul J. Smith, then director of the Museum of Contemporary Craft (now New York’s Museum of Arts and Design), noted in the catalogue foreword for Crafts 1967, the invitational exhibition that was on view at the Ball State University Art Gallery (now the David Owsley Museum of Art) in October of that year: 

The university has been one of the strongest influences on the rapid development of craft activity in this country. A vast number of educational programs have been introduced which continue to emphasize skills and materials, of course, but which also broaden the total scope of the crafts.¹ 

Jessica Calderwood, Propagation I, 2016
Porcelain, stainless steel, sterling silver, wool felt, polymer, rubber, 6 x 6 x 4 in.

American universities were employers and, therefore, benefactors of the Studio Craft movement. Ball State did its part and hired promising artists who were just starting out. George Timock worked at BSU in 1971-73, then built his reputation in ceramics at the Kansas City Art Institute. Similarly, after receiving his MFA at Indiana University, Studio Jeweler Leslie Leupp taught at BSU from 1973 to 1978 before serving on the faculties of Texas Tech University, Lubbock, and Penn State University, University Park, Pennsylvania. The potter Byron Temple learned to use the potter’s wheel in 1951 during his undergraduate studies at BSU. After studying at the Brooklyn Museum Art School and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, he apprenticed with Bernard Leach at his St. Ives Pottery in Cornwall, England, before establishing his own production pottery in Lambertville, New Jersey. Kathy Buskiewicz received her undergraduate degree in metals from BSU in 1975, then went on to study with Alma Eikerman at Indiana University, Bloomington. Today, she is a professor of jewelry and metals at the Cleveland Institute of Art. Local heroes include ceramist Alan Patrick, who received his undergraduate degree from BSU in 1964 and apprenticed with Temple before receiving his MA from BSU in 1966 and founding that same year the Bethel Pike Pottery in Albany, Indiana; and Indiana-based furniture maker John McNaughton, who did undergraduate and graduate work at BSU in the 1960s, and now is recognized for advancing the concept of stack laminated furniture that was developed during that decade by artist Wendell Castle. 

Brent Cole, Surface, 2016
glass, enamel, mylar, dimensions vary
Photo by Serena Nancarrow

In addition to serving as employers, universities mounted exhibition programs that helped promote the fledgling Studio Craft movement. Much remains to be researched here, but serial programs such as those at Marietta College (Ohio) and the University of Arizona Museum of Art, Tucson, provided established, respected annual, biennial, or regularly scheduled exhibitions specifically designed to feature works in craft media. Under the leadership of art department chair Dr. Alice Nichols and her successor, gallery director William Story, Ball State University Art Gallery, from mid-century onward, maintained a different approach: frequently with the assistance of art department faculty, they regularly organized media-specific exhibitions showcasing contemporary, national trends in metalwork, glass, and fiber. The checklist for Metalworks Invitational 1979, organized by faculty member Leupp, now reads like a “Who’s Who of Today’s American Jewelry.” Similarly, BSU alumnus Ned Griner, who joined the BSU faculty in 1961 and founded its metal and jewelry areas and then headed its Art Department from 1970 to 1981, played a major role in the selection of artists for Ball State University Art Gallery’s 1974 survey Fibre Art by American Artists. For fiber artist/sculptor Norma Minkowitz, her inclusion in that show still resonates. She sees it as critical to her career.² In addition to these media-specific shows, the works of Indiana craftsmen were also the subject of several consecutive museum surveys. 

In recent years, metalwork and ceramics exhibitions at the Atrium Gallery, an exhibition space on campus administered by the School of Art, featured solo and survey shows of the work of such notables as John Jessiman and his Appomattox, Virginia-based Cub Creek Foundation (2016), and metalsmiths Boris Bally (2009) and Lisa Gralnick, whose magnum opus The Gold Standard was first shown there in 2004. In addition, collaborative endeavors between BSU’s David Owsley Museum of Art and The Marilyn K. Glick Center for Glass resulted in two internationally acclaimed traveling exhibitions Anders Ruhwald: One Thing Follows Another (And You Make It Happen) (2013-15)—an outgrowth of an artist-in-residence program—and Without Camouflage. Dafna Kaffeman. Silvia Levenson (2014-16). 

BSU’s most significant exhibition contributions were the highly regarded Annual Drawing and Small Sculpture Shows. Featured artists included today’s leaders in contemporary crafts such as Susan Ewing, Candice Groot, L. Brent Kingston, Tom Muir, and Nan Smith. Initiated in 1955 and continuing for more than 30 years, these shows were usually juried by museum directors of considerable stature, such as Gerald Nordland and Addison Franklin Page. By juxtaposing drawings and bronzes alongside works executed in various craft media, these exhibitions constitute a considered decision to eradicate the hierarchies among the arts.

Going Forward 
In 2001, the Art Department (as it was known then) moved from its cramped and decidedly OSHA non-compliant facilities at the David Owsley Museum of Art to a new 57,000 square foot purpose-built facility.  In a moment of glorious, and perhaps rare, collaboration between architects and art studio faculty, the new building includes spacious studios and classrooms for all the areas, superior ventilation, excellent natural light, faculty offices, a large 2-room gallery, storage, conference rooms, and discipline-specific accommodations that most programs only dream about.  Some 15 years later, the facilities remain exceptionally fine and receive excellent support from Ball State University’s administration.

Chet Geiselman, Untitled Bas Relief No. 73, 2016
curly maple, plywood, walnut
10 x 7 x 4.5 in.
photo: Serena Nancarrow

Those new facilities were designed for existing programs, and they were not intended to accommodate art glass. Considering the rich history of the Ball family and its tradition of iconic glass Ball jars, some would say Ball State’s program in glass was long overdue.  In 2010, Ball State received an exceptionally large gift from the Glick family to build a new, state-of-the-art facility for art glass making: The Marilyn K. Glick Center for Glass.  Beyond bricks and mortar construction, the endowment also planned for facilities updates, materials, faculty salaries, graduate assistantships, scholarships and visiting artists.  With over 9,000 square feet, the freestanding Center for Glass (roughly 500 yards from the main Art facilities) supports the full range of art glass methods, including blowing, casting, slumping, cold work and neon; it is among the only universities in the nation to offer neon as an area of study.  In 2013, the glass program began a relationship with the Eugeniusz Geppert Academy of Fine Art and Design in Wroclaw, Poland, and for the 2015/16 academic year Ball State welcomed our first faculty exchange member in glass from Wroclaw, Marzena KrzemiƄska-Baluch.  Additionally, students and faculty from the glass program (and printmaking) spent time studying and exchanging ideas at Wroclaw and visiting various glass facilities and artists in Czech Republic in 2016. An enrichment of those faculty and student exchanges is expected as the program grows.

Gabrielle Graber Tracing, 2016
stoneware, hydrocal paint, wax, thread
41 x 37 x 14 in.
photo: Serena Nancarrow

In 2011, MFA programs in glass and animation began at Ball State. Those graduate programs were intentionally restricted to a small number of students in order to responsibly plan for growth and administrative needs.  Both programs have thrived, and animation has achieved national ranking in less than five years (no. 18 in public universities as of 2015).  Shortly thereafter, the Art Department was renamed the School of Art to coincide with the introduction of its MFA programs. With exceptional facilities and strong financial support, the School of Art continues to attract excellent undergraduate and graduate talent. Phase two of the School’s plans for graduate programs will include MFA programs in Ceramics, Metals, Sculpture, and Intermedia, and is expected to launch in fall 2017. Those graduate offerings are to be followed shortly by graduate programs in 2D areas: drawing, painting, printmaking, photography, and visual communications/graphic design.  In anticipation of that growth and as a complement to those impulses, the School of Art underwrites the annual Visiting Artists, Designers and Scholars series, which brings together an exciting blend of creative talents working across disciplines without restrictions in content, materials, geography or methodology. These visitors, representing academe, independent artists, corporate designers, creative thinkers and everything in between, spend anywhere from a day to a week with our students and faculty giving lectures, critiques and workshops.

As the program grows, and as the Ball State School of Art continues to cement its reputation among the best programs in the Midwest, the School looks toward continued exchanges of faculty and students with foreign universities, increased opportunities for scholarships, internships and workshops, and an expansion of those disciplines we teach. 


Published in conjunction with the SOFA CHICAGO 2016 Special Exhibit Ball State University School of Art: Embracing the Past, Making the Future and the panel discussion Frank Talk: The Arts in the Twenty-first Century or Do the Hierarchies Still Exist presented by the School of Art and The Marilyn K. Glick Center for Glass, Ball State University. 

Dr. Arne Flaten is Director of the School of Art and professor of Art History at Ball State University. Davira S. Taragin was formerly Curator at the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Toledo Museum of Art and Director of Exhibitions and Programs at the Racine Art Museum. She is currently an independent curator.  Among her projects, she serves as Consulting Curator to Ball State University’s School of Art in Muncie, Indiana.

Authors’ note: Davira S. Taragin would like to thank Mary Beth Kreiner, art librarian, Cranbrook Academy of Art, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, and Dulcey Heller, American Craft Council Library, Minneapolis for their assistance in locating the research materials for this essay.  

¹ Crafts 1967 (Muncie, Indiana: Ball State University Art Gallery, 1967), [p. 3].

² Norma Minkowitz in conversation with the author, September 30, 2015.  

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