A Touching Sentiment

The last day. A bittersweet day.

Being a block from the Star of Hope had created a comfort, like if something came up, I was very accessible and flexible.

We ate a quick breakfast at the Tidewater Motel and went for a drive. We returned to Booth’s Quarry to take in the gorgeous area.

While on our drive, we saw Marsden Hartley’s home. Hartley was a Maine artist who lived on Vinalhaven. Indiana’s Hartley Elegies are representative to Hartley’s life intermingled with his own.

One of Indiana’s Hartley Elegies hanging on the wall in the Ceremony Room on the third floor of the Star of Hope

On the way back to town, we stopped and perused the New Era Gallery. Mrs. Crossman, who runs the gallery and is also the wife of Phil (who runs the Tidewater Motel), stated that so much beautiful art was being created on the island during the summer months (from artists working on the peaceful island), but then leaving with the artists. Her gallery is her way to keep these wonderful pieces around a little longer.

We then visited the Vinalhaven Historical Society. We read a lot of Civil War history and read some history about its settlers, including Jamie’s ancestor, John Perry, who was part of the Revolutionary War and whose cooking pot has been passed down to Jamie’s family and a part of the Vinalhaven Seafood logo. We learned about Vinalhaven’s granite, which went to several states, including the State of Indiana, and formed columns at St. John the Divine, where Mr. Indiana worked as a part-time secretary in 1958. We also saw a Robert Indiana print of the Brooklyn Bridge hanging on the wall.
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We then grabbed some lunch at the Harbor Gawker (the incredibly delicious lobster roll again!) before leaving on the ferry. In the middle of lunch, Jamie and Melissa popped up behind us after apparently looking for us at the motel. They handed us each a cardboard tube from Mr. Indiana. Melissa hinted that Mr. Indiana had asked about us and stated he wished he had more time with us. What a touching sentiment from someone who has become more than an artist to me. He is our family. From our community. And deserves all the honor and celebration he will receive at home.
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Inside the tubes were old newspaper articles about Mr. Indiana’s life. A special parting gift for us. A wonderful part of his great life that he is proud of, chronicled by several people. And now, he has shared that with us.
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We boarded the ferry with smiles and reflected on a spectacular trip. It was an incredibly smooth and seamless trip, revealing the obvious divinity and purpose of it all.
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Once in Rockland, we visited the Farnsworth Art Museum. While perusing the galleries and the six foot LOVE sculpture, we met a man, David, who is the head of marketing. He, and the volunteer nearby, were excited hearing our story. The volunteer even admitting she got goosebumps. David disappeared and returned with a book: Robert Indiana and the Star of Hope. Such a generous gift and a welcome connection for our journey. I let him know I would be in touch. Before leaving the Museum, we visited the LOVE wall in the arts garden.
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Mr. Bouslog and I had a great two hour drive back to Portland, enjoying conversation and the beautiful Maine environment.

And reflected. Reflected on a dream journey that, still, seemed surreal.

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Sunset

Today was the first day filled with sunshine. And, oh man, did it enhance our surroundings!

We started off the morning with a great breakfast at Surfside, a breakfast café right on the dock overlooking the bay, which was full of lobster boats.

Mr. Bouslog and I sat on the deck of our room and watched the boats on the bay. Some men have been rebuilding one of the barriers of the bay, stacking large blocks of granite with a backhoe. Granite in Vinalhaven is like limestone in Indiana. It is everywhere. Even the curbs on the side of the road are made of granite.

We visited the Vinalhaven Public Library. The ladies there were very welcoming and invited us to look around. On the wall of the “Quiet Reading Room” hung a LOVE print. We also found a small, bronze LOVE sculpture (from 1970s – 1 of 2 made) on a book shelf, given to the library by Mr. Indiana in 2007.

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When we told the ladies why we were here and where we were from, one asked, “Are you Aaron Dicken?” I was dumbfounded. Her name was Valerie. She is one of Mr. Indiana’s aides. I suppose she knew my name from letters and phone calls. And now that I’m thinking about it…remember the phone call I missed at the beginning of this entire journey? I’m almost positive it was her voice on our answering machine saying, “Robert Indiana for Mr. Aaron Dicken.” We told her about our visit and everything we were trying to accomplish in his honor in New Castle. She had an incredible smile of approval. We noticed they did not have a copy of Raintree County. So I made sure she knew we would send her a copy, dedicated to Robert Indiana. Such warm people at that library, including the town manager, that made for another one of many bright spots during our visit.

We decided to walk to the Star of Hope for some more pictures in the beautiful sunlight, and walked down the alley behind the house to look over Carver’s Pond.

Behind the house sits a an old shed with a sign that says “Vinal Haven Lock-up.” Jamie had told us it was one of the original “jail cells” on the island. Attached to the shed is an “Indiana Place” sign. A 20-foot herm towers over the structure, reading “ZER0.” This herm originally read “ZEUS,” but was changed after 9/11, referencing Ground Zero.

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Jamie picked us up after lunch and took us in his car to the north side of Vinalhaven. The roads wound their way through the thick, lush land. We arrived at a rocky beach where we could see neighboring North Haven, a small island of about 600 people (Vinalhaven has 1,000 people—5,000 in the summer months). Jamie said North Haven is more of a tourist destination, including a beautiful golf course. Some people leave boats tied up at the north pier because they’re more apt to skip across the bay to do their shopping in North Haven rather than driving into town on Vinalhaven.

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Jamie & Dick

We hopped in the car and he took us onto a side road in town. He stopped in front of an old, large, white building. A ramp led up to two doors, above which hung a sign reading “The First Vinal Haven Theater.” While it was just that, it has also been owned by Robert Indiana for a long time. Once utilized as a studio space, it now houses several of his works (mostly his herms and some sculptures).

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Jamie dropped us off at our motel. We thanked him for all he had done for us on this trip and I assured him I would not only be in contact, but I would be back to visit.

Appropriately, our day ended with a beautiful, Maine sunset, closing the curtain on our beautiful trip. In a way, this journey has ended. In another way, I’m sure it has just begun.

08

Three Hours

A knock at our door at the Tidewater Motel. Jamie came to check in.

JT: He just had his coffee.

But then his phone rang.

JT: Ah. I have to go take care of this at the house. But I’ll be back.

Talk about a build up of anticipation.

We talked to Jamie when he came back. He had painted for Indiana in the 80s. Like any close relationship, they had their disagreements, and Jamie went on to other things.

He stood up out of his chair.
JT: Ok…
It was time to go.

I carried my box across the street to The Star of Hope. Jamie unlocked the front doors, and then the second set of doors. A huge flight of stairs before us, we climbed to the top where a woman accompanied by a man greeted us.

That man was Mr. Robert Indiana.

RI: What have you got there? (questioning what I was carrying)
AD: It’s an assortment of gifts from New Castle.
RI: Let’s go in this room (motioning to the door behind us)

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We walked into a room full of art and LOVE. Chuck Taylors. Paintings. Fabrics. And books. Lots of books.

Two couches and two chairs circled a coffee table. On the table were the book The Essential Robert Indiana book from the Indianapolis Museum of Art and a binder. The binder was thick, and on the front, “The Art Association Of Henry County.” In it, I would assume are years of correspondence filed away, whether they garnished any response or not.

RI: Would you like coffee? Water?
AD: Uh…Sure. If you’re offering.
Melissa, one of his aids, brought my coffee in a mug. LOVE was all over it. On a LOVE plate.

Mr. Bouslog: I just can’t believe we’re here.
RI: (smiling) Well, you are.

I began to empty my box as Jamie, Melissa, and Web (another aid) gathered. With each item, he took it in his hands and looked it over carefully.

The proclamation naming 15th Street “Robert Indiana Parkway.” I showed him the picture of Mayor Greg York holding the street sign. As it wasn’t full screen, my desktop background showed (a picture of my family).
RI: That’s the mayor? (pointing to my wife)
AD: No that’s a picture of my beautiful wife and kids.
RI: What are their names? Why didn’t they come?
Such warmth from this man.
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The front page of The Courier Times from September 13, 1928. He was intrigued.
RI: And what’s the headline say?
AD: “[Name] Not To Be Tried For Murder Here.” Nothing like a murder headline on your birthday.
That got a smile.

I presented him with Darrel Radford’s and Doug Magers’ book about the history of New Castle, which he flipped through. Accompanying the book was a letter from Henry County Historical Society Executive Director Elizabeth Edstene, and a ceramic, lighted Henry County Courthouse. He reached out for that Courthouse and looked it over.
RI: Jamie…plug this in over there.
We then discussed Raintree County and Ross Lockridge, Jr. He didn’t know he had committed suicide and was concerned as to why. Later in the visit, he mentioned he wanted to know what we were doing to honor Lockridge. I showed him the plaque on the Courthouse lawn and told him about the magnificent dedication ceremony Mark Orr had organized.
Such compassion from this man.

I had pulled out the gift bag that was in the box.
RI: What’s that fancy box over there?
In the overwhelming disbelief and excitement that had still not worn off, I had forgotten about it. Its contents were a New Castle Main Street “Where LOVE Was Born” t-shirt (the idea of Sean Kitchell) and a New Castle Trojans tennis shirt dawning LOVE, but with a tennis ball instead of an O. He held both in his hands and smiled.

RI: Well…shall we go upstairs?

This man, who needed help walking from place to place, wanted to experience this visit to the fullest. He took us to the third floor, which was the ceremony room of the former Odd Fellows Building. Robert Indiana originals hung on the walls lining the stairways. The room before the ceremony room housed his “A Mother Is A Mother” and his “A Father Is A Father” paintings, as well as the “He” and “She” pieces. The door into the ceremony room still had the peep hole, where we were informed you would have to present the password and visual confirmation of your identity if it were still an Odd Fellows Hall.

Floor to ceiling and wall to wall art. Including his Hartley Elegies (reflecting his own life, as well as that of artist and poet Marsden Hartley, who lived on Vinalhaven), “Jesus Saves,” a few of his herms, and at least three miniature LOVE sculptures.

We sat on the couches. Melissa brought up coffee and cookies that were sent to Mr. Indiana from my mother (which they all loved). We talked more about his art and his life. I updated him on the Robert Indiana Arts and Culture Campus plans, with photos. I also had the opportunity to show him photos of New Castle and Henry County, thanks to David and Celia Burns. These included aerial views of the Art Association of Henry County’s property and the Courthouse, as well as photos of the mural inside the Courthouse (where there is a small LOVE painting), the Raintree County plaque from the Courthouse lawn, the Henry County Historical Society Grose Home, the bike art along the Wilbur Wright Trail, some farm and park scenes, and the Wilbur Wright Birthplace.

RI: I didn’t know that about Wright.

We related that to his birth in New Castle. I conceded that I grew up in New Castle not knowing THE Robert Indiana was born there.
RI: I’m sure it’s been that way for a lot of people.
I assured him that that was rapidly changing, that it was my personal goal to change that, and that we are making up for lost time in New Castle. Then I asked him the big question.

AD: What can we do to solidify your legacy in New Castle, Indiana? Some have talked about a Robert Indiana Museum & Permanent Collection.
RI: That’s a little much. (chuckles)

He then wanted to go to the opposite side of the room.
RI: I want to be sure this meeting is well-documented.
We then got a picture with his large giraffe, decorated with an INDIANA sash.
RI: If you go around on this side, you can meet the rest of my herd. (referencing his multiple, large, plush giraffes)
He urged us to go on the wooden platform with them for a photo op.
RI: Don’t be afraid to lean up and give a giraffe a kiss.
So I gave the two giraffes I was between a hug. Why? Because you don’t want to disappoint Robert Indiana.
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He then led us over to a table where there was a marble, miniature LOVE sculpture for another photo op.
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Then to one more, on one of the couches in front of a miniature, aluminum LOVE sculpture, which was the original one.
AD to JT: Would it be inappropriate to take a selfie with him?
JT: (shrug)
So I sat down, and snapped a selfie unlike any other one I’ve taken.
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Then Mr. Bouslog sat down, and we took one more picture, of three boys from New Castle, Indiana.
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RI: Let’s take them downstairs.

We were heading into Mr. Indiana’s studio, where he used to produce great art pieces. The last piece he worked on was the logo for Vinalhaven Seafood (of which Jamie is the COO). We looked through his autobiographical pictures in large portfolios. We looked around at some more of his artwork. And talked a little more about his life.

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AD: I know there are several people that probably cling onto you. I just want you to know this is a genuine effort to honor you in New Castle, and I apologize it hasn’t been done before. I hope all of that doesn’t make you uncomfortable.
RI: I’m not uncomfortable. But it’s a little tardy. (smirking)
AD: (picking up on the vibe) Well, no s*!%, Bob.

He thanked us for visiting. We thanked him for inviting us into his home and giving us his time. I assured him I would be continuing my correspondence with him.

We went up the stairs, signed his guest book, grabbed our things, and left.

Mr. Bouslog: Do you know how long we were in there?

I looked at my watch.

Three hours.

Three hours in what seemed like a black hole. Three hours that seemed like one. Three hours with an incredible artist and man.

Three hours I will remember for the rest of my life.

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Not in this post (tidbits from our visit):
< This section may be updated >
• Sharing the coincidence that New Castle native Kent Benson played on a basketball floor New Castle-born Robert Indiana designed and painted.
• Our three hour lunch with Jamie, at his house, recounting so many stories and back stories about Mr. Indiana, and tasting Vinalhaven Seafood’s incredible lobster étouffée.
• Mr. Bouslog’s mentioning of John Lennon being inspired by the LOVE painting and writing “All You Need Is Love.” Indiana’s reply, “No. I don’t think so. I think that’s a myth.”

A Long, Quick Day

I was picked up at 3am for a 5:40am flight out of Indianapolis today.

That is early.

However, the airport was such a smooth operation, I couldn’t be upset. We had a great flight landing at La Guardia (New York, NY), and after what seemed like a short layover, we were on our way to Portland, ME. We arrived in Portland at 11am, finished a two-hour commute north to Rockland where we grabbed a quick lunch (fish & chips), and then boarded the ferry to Vinalhaven (with 12 inches to spare on each side of our car as we pulled on).

The ferry ride was about one hour and 15 minutes, and it was pretty chilly. But we got the full experience on the deck and took in the beautiful rolling land and the never ending waves.

Arriving at the Tidewater Motel around 4pm, Phil, the owner (with whom I have corresponded back and forth over the last two weeks), pulled in behind us. “Your package is in your room (I had mailed some New Castle relics). The key to your room is on the counter, along with a message from one of Indiana’s guys.”

One of Indiana’s guys wants to talk to me?

I called Jamie (COO of Vinalhaven Seafood and studio manager/general assistant for Robert Indiana) back and had a great conversation. Jamie has known Robert Indiana for over 30 years, and used to work for him. He also told me about Vinalhaven Seafood’s incredible logo.

JT: I drew up what I wanted and took it to him. He said, “Jamie, it’s already done.” I said, “Yeah, but it’s got my name at the bottom and not yours.” He said, “So you’re using me?” I said, “I’m being upfront about it, which is more than we can say of the others.” He had a good laugh.

We talked about the goals of my trip.

JT: So, what are you guys thinking?
AD: I have no expectations really. If I can get 15 minutes with him, I’ll be happy. I obviously would be happier with more, but I respect his privacy and his health. We just brought him some things from New Castle, including a proclamation from the mayor.
JT: Well, I fix dinner for him every night. I’ll talk to him tonight and see what he wants to do.
AD: My thought of staying on the island was that maybe we could meet multiple days, a little bit at a time.
JT: Sometimes, it’s just better to knock it out with one time.

He offered to show us around the island, including where to eat lunch and some landmarks.

He also talked about showing us around The Star of Hope, from which we are a very short walk.

JT: If he’s not feeling well, I can take you on a tour of the house myself.

Wait.

We are going in The Star of Hope? Inside Mr. Indiana’s house and studio?

There are so many things I could ask Mr. Indiana. And I hope I will get the organic opportunity to ask him those things. But most of all, I just want him to know that New Castle loves him, and wants to solidify his legacy in our community for generations to come.

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Now Therefore

WHEREAS:
Robert Indiana was born Robert Clark in New Castle, Indiana on September 13, 1928. After moving frequently around the state during his childhood, he graduated from Arsenal Technical High School in Indianapolis, Indiana. He spent three years in the U.S. Air Force before studying at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Skowhegan School of Sculpture and Painting in Maine, and the Edinburgh College of Art in Scotland.

WHEREAS:
In 1956, Robert Indiana moved to Manhattan where he joined a community of artists, including Ellsworth Kelly, Agnes Martin, James Rosenquist, Charles Hinman, Jack Youngerman, and Andy Warhol, having an impact on his work. As a preeminent figure in American art since the 1960s, he is a self-proclaimed “American painter of signs,” developing the styles such as hard-edge painting, and pop art.

WHEREAS:
In 1966, Robert Indiana made a monumental impact on the world with the success of his LOVE image, permeating wider popular culture and appearing on a best-selling United States Postal Service stamp in 1973. It has also appeared on countless unauthorized products, leading some people to incorrectly assume the artist was a sell-out to commercialism. Yes, they were wrong and today, the image’s popularity transcends generations and diverse audiences, and has become an icon of modern art.

WHEREAS:
In 1978, Robert Indiana left New York and settled on the remote island of Vinalhaven, Maine. He has created and continues to create a number of iconic pieces of art, including his Numbers Portfolio in 1968, stage sets and costumes for the Virgil Thompson and Gertrude Stein opera, Mother Of Us All, in 1967, the basketball floor for the Milwaukee Exposition Convention Center Arena in 1977, and a HOPE sculpture, which was placed outside the Pepsi Center during the Democratic National Convention in 2008.

WHEREAS:
Robert Indiana has had an impact on the world, and has been, and always be, one of New Castle’s most beloved sons.

NOW THEREFORE:
I, Greg York, by virtue of the authority vested in me as Mayor of the
City of New Castle, Indiana, do hereby proclaim South 15th Street of
New Castle, Indiana, between Broad Street and A Avenue, as
Robert Indiana Parkway.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused to be affixed the seal of the City of New Castle, Indiana,
on this tenth day of June 2015.

Greg York, Mayor
City of New Castle, Indiana

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Just Call Me On The Phone

I had just hung up the phone after scheduling a meeting with several community leaders to discuss how to proceed with bringing to life the Robert Indiana Arts & Culture Campus in New Castle, which would include some Indiana-inspired art pieces and honorarily naming South 15th Street “Robert Indiana Parkway.”

I decided, on a whim, to call Mr. Indiana and leave yet another voicemail to try to connect with him and, instead, update him on our progress.

Except my voicemail was interrupted.

RI: Hello.
AD: Who is this?
RI: Robert Indiana…
AD: Ummm…uhhh…I have probably a million things I want to talk to you about but I cannot think of a single one.
RI: You don’t get a million.

Frazzled, I stumbled over the conversation in awe and in wonder.

He first let me know he was disappointed no one has sent him any newspaper articles from the Courier Times.

AD: I’m not sure why I haven’t done that. Maybe I thought you wouldn’t be interested. I think they close at 4.
RI: Well, no rush.
AD: I will go there first thing in the morning, find all of the editions, and overnight them to you.

We then talked about several different topics. We talked about New Castle and how Chrysler had left, but now, the community was picking itself up by its boot straps and dusting itself off. I talked about how I just was nominated for City Council and I was doing so to try to lead our generation to get their hands dirty building up the community.

RI: Is it working?
AD: I think it is. We’ve come a long way and are headed in a good direction. And I’m really proud at what is coming about, like this Arts & Culture Campus we’re working on.

He talked about Bean Blossom, Indiana from his early work. He mentioned he has a new exhibit in the works showing in a palace in Russia.

I decided to try for one of my goals.

AD: I’ll take a look for a preview online. But I’d really love to show some of your work here.
RI: Where would you show it?
AD: We have a gallery here.
RI: Oh yes, I’ve been there.
AD: When you visited the Civil War Memorial on the Courthouse lawn?
RI: Yes.

This 15 minute phone conversation seemed quick, and I could tell he wasn’t rushing to hang up.

But as the conversation came to a close, and as I stared out my office window, looking to the Courthouse tower, I tried for another one of my goals.

AD: I’m guessing a trip to New Castle isn’t possible.
RI: I’ve visited a couple times, but don’t think I can go back.
AD: Well I’d love to visit you at the Star of Hope there in Vinalhaven and bring you some items representative of New Castle…of home. Do you think that would be possible?
RI: You should know, I’m not in good health.
AD: I’d come and stay at least a few days, that way if there was one day you felt really good, we could meet.
RI: Have you ever visited Maine?
AD: I have not.
RI: Well that’s reason enough to come visit. Vinalhaven is beautiful.
AD: I hear there’s a good diner near your home I could check out.
RI: If you insist. That’s a big question mark for me.
AD: How would I set this up.
RI: Just call me on the phone.

Such a great forward step in reuniting Robert Indiana with his “long ago hometown.”

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Just A Fluke

Since I began my career as the executive director of the Art Association of Henry County (New Castle, Indiana), I had a goal. As outlandish as it seemed, I was going to reconnect my birthplace and hometown with one of its forgotten sons, artist Robert Indiana.

Educational Programming Director Angie Dishman passed along an address to the Vinalhaven, Maine Post Office that someone had given her, which is where I began sending letters. These letters were what’s happening in New Castle and with the Art Association, and how I was going to right the wrong of not having much of a tribute or association with the icon. Months went by with nothing.

Until a missed phone call.

A woman’s voice on our office answering machine: “Robert Indiana for Mr. Aaron Dicken.”

As disappointed as I was that I was not there to pick up that ringing phone, we had another means to try to contact Mr. Indiana.

A couple more months of letters and phone calls turned up no results.

Until we received a a large padded envelope.

I looked at the return address to see “Robert Indiana,” and suddenly I was a small child on Christmas morning. Excited, but cautious, I ripped open the flap. Inside were three large pictures with an accompanying letter on letterhead with “STAR OF HOPE” across the top. “Aaron — Delighted with your activities in my long ago hometown. Only revisited once!    Bob”

The photos were of his LOVE sculpture, his home/studio the Star of Hope on Vinalhaven, Maine, and an incredible picture of Mr. Indiana sitting on the base of the Civil War Memorial on the Henry County Courthouse lawn. After consulting with a local collector, that picture probably dates to April of 2002, when he visited Indiana to dedicate the INDIANA obelisk at the state museum on “Robert Indiana Day” in Indianapolis (April 9, 2002).

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Interest and excitement piqued, I called and wrote. And I called and wrote. And I called and wrote. Updating him on exhibits and community happenings and opportunities to honor him.

With no more contact.

Maybe the great envelope was just a fluke.