I was flabbergasted as I entered the museum.
I was there for a special tour. Two other people were there ahead of me. But due to a snafu with the credit card paying system, they left in search of cash to pay the entrance fee. This gave me a much welcome chance to wander among the art in the house.
I quickly realized that I was in for a special treat. The space has a different feel than an art museum. It is a house filled with art—American furniture, Hoosier paintings, and Hoosier ceramics. Everywhere I turned was art. The intimacy of the experience reminded me of theatre that I see at the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site—where the audience sits inches from the actors and is sometimes included in the play.
The house itself is a kind of art. It was originally built as the State of Connecticut building for the 1904 World’s Fair. After the fair, it was dissembled and moved, eventually (not sure when) ending up in Lafayette, IN. The Haans bought it in 1984 and called it home for 31 years. They moved out in 2015 to dedicate it as an art museum to exhibit the Indiana art that they had been collecting since 1995.
The Haans focus on three areas: American furniture, Hoosier (oil) paintings, and Hoosier ceramics. Their collections are amazing. Jaw-dropping amazing. Apparently a curator at the Indianapolis Museum of Art visited and exclaimed that the Haans have a better collection of Hoosier artists than the IMA (!). The IMA and the Indiana State Museum have both borrowed art from the Haan Mansion Museum of Indiana Art for their shows. The Haan Mansion Museum of Indiana Art has the best Indiana art and ceramics, best regionalism, and best women artist collections. And it sounds like their collecting is not slowing down.
Bob Haan led the tour of us three visitors on the day I went. He clearly loves to talk about the collections and led us through the house, pointing out items and relating stories about the pieces for over an hour and a half. There is way too much art in the house for him to go piece by piece. Instead, we went room by room. He pointed out certain items and fielded any questions we had about anything. It was a wonderfully informative tour and astonishing to see such an incredible collection of Hoosier art.
The American furniture in the house comes from auctions, mostly sight unseen and restored by Mr. Haan. In contrast, the Haans rely on dealers for the oil paintings that they purchase. And the ceramics…the Haans purchase these directly from the artists, often invited into homes to pick the items that they want.
The walls and the rooms are filled with art and furniture—every nook and cranny bursting—too much to recount, but here are a few highlights to whet your appetite.
The Haans snagged an 1875 Wooten desk. I first saw this unusual desk in Richmond at the Wayne County Historical Museum. These desks, I learned, came in different grades. Superior grade—the grade in the Haan Mansion Museum of Indiana Art—seems to be rare. (The Smithsonian has three but none are superior grade.)
An unusual item caught my eye in the foyer: an orchestral regina. Basically, an orchestral regina is a large upright music box that consists of a 27″ metal disk with holes punch into the metal. The holes are punched in such a pattern to play a particular song. This circa 1900 orchestral regina still works and we were treated to a song. Mr. Haan opened the regina, fished out a coin from the innards of the device, and added a metal disk.
An 1872 Chickering piano, an early competitor to the famous Steinway pianos, graces one of the rooms. Mr. Haan restored the exterior, but the innards are in desperate need of attention. A fundraising campaign is ongoing.
Two clocks caught my eye: a grandfather clock and a hanging wall clock. The Herschedes grandfather clock is from the 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition, where it won the grand prize. The Tiffany hanging wall clock is from the 1893 Columbian Exhibition in Chicago.
In one nook is a historic US representative desk, desk #83 which was used by Thaddeus Stevens from 1857-1873. (Tommy Lee Jones played the staunch abolitionist Stevens in the movie Lincoln.) In another nearby nook are stone sculptures by modern-day Hoosier artistic Peter Rujuwa. (Other sculptures of his appear in the sculpture garden behind the house.)
Hundreds of pieces of ceramics by modern Hoosier artists occupy tables, cabinets, walls, and mantles throughout the house. These works of art include those by Laura Ann Fry, the Overbeck Sisters, Richard Peeler, Karl Martz, Julia Livingstone, and numerous other artists. Mr. Haan pointed out the tell-tale signs of shell shapes in wood-fired pottery. One wall of the butler’s pantry is covered with teapots from approximately 40 different artists.
The kitchen itself is unique. Mr. Haan made the cabinets, a dark wood, imitating styles used in American furniture throughout the house. As we admired the cabinetwork, he asked us standing near a cabinet to open both sides of the cabinet. One side housed a fridge, the other side a pantry. Wait a minute, I exclaimed. The pantry seems much shallower than the fridge. And then he pointed to the top of the wall. He had built the cabinets around a chimney for a fireplace on the second floor.
Large oil paintings of western art lined the walls going up the stairs to the second floor. The part of the second floor that overlooks the main foyer is filled with a special 100-cup exhibit by Julia Livingstone. Each of these ceramic cups is unique and reflects moments in Julia’s life. Bob pointed on the special styles in the cups that she made when she was diagnosed with cancer and then finished treatment. The cups are so numerous that they spill over into some of the bedrooms.
I rounded out the tour with a self-guided visit to the sculpture garden in back. A path winds through several sculptures, including two by Peter Rujuwa. I enjoyed his Birds, made of serpentine stone from his home country. I was also struck by the metal sculptures of Greg Mendez, especially Effortlessly Buoyant. The most striking sculpture is the one that greets you at entrance to the garden: Venus Rising by Tuck Langland. The sculpture reminded me both of Shiva dancing the creation of the world into being and a sculpture of the Buddha in the Japanese gardens in Golden Gate Park.
If you enjoy art, especially Hoosier oil paintings and ceramics, you must make a trip to the Haan Mansion Museum of Indiana Art. Its collection is truly stellar. I also highly recommend attending one of the special guided tours. (It’s unclear how long they will continue them.) I will definitely be going back to the museum in the future to wonder through the artwork in the rooms and discover jewels that I missed on my first visit.