A famous Hoosier artist under my nose

I had passed those black and white photos a million times—as a college student, as a graduate student, as a returnee to Bloomington. I always glanced at them. They were familiar faces, a bit of constancy over the years as things changed all around.

I slowed down to look at them the other day. A few new photos graced the hallway in the Union by the Whittenberger Auditorium, but for the most part, they were the old standbys that I had see time and time again for decades.

I did a double take. And then looked closer. Was that who I thought it was? Ohmygosh, the name of the photographer meant something to me now. I had seen that name several times in the last year at exhibits celebrating the state’s bicentennial (19 Stars of Indiana Art: A Bicentennial Celebration at the Indianapolis Museum of Art and 200 Years of Indiana Art: A Cultural Legacy at the Indiana State Museum).

He was a famous Hoosier artist, a member of the original Brown County artist colony, a friend of T. C. Steele’s: Frank Hohenberger. And among the photos were even copies of the photos I saw in the special exhibits (such as the Liars’ Bench).

How did Hohenberger’s photos end up gracing the walls of a hall in the Indiana Memorial Union, left undisturbed decade after decade? He willed his collection to the Indiana University Foundation, which transferred ownership to the Lilly Library on campus. Why he did so and how some of his photos ended up gracing an obscure hall in the Indiana Memorial Union is still a mystery to me.

The Lilly Library has digitized many (if not all) of his thousands of photographs. You can peruse his photographs of “the life, customs, and scenes of the hills of Brown County, Indiana, with side trips and hired assignments in other areas of Indiana, Kentucky, South Carolina, and Mexico” taken from 1904 to 1948. Click on any photograph for a larger image and information about the photograph. You search for photographs by date, genre, location, or other information.

Or stop by the Union at Indiana University and see the photos in the hallway by the Whittenberger Auditorium.

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