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.
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)
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.
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.
He then led us over to a table where there was a marble, miniature LOVE sculpture for another photo op.
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?
So I sat down, and snapped a selfie unlike any other one I’ve taken.
Then Mr. Bouslog sat down, and we took one more picture, of three boys from New Castle, Indiana.
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.
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 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.
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.”