Important women in IU’s history gaze down from their portraits in the East Lounge of the Indiana Memorial Union.
“Women of IU,” an exhibit conceptualized by IU campus art curator Sherry Rouse, was conceived three years ago when the portraits of former IU presidents, which hung in the East Lounge, were moved to Presidents Hall.
“It left me with a pretty big void to fill,” Rouse said. “I knew it had to be spectacular.”
Recently, Rouse said she has added nine new pieces to the collection.
“Some of the smaller pieces are new pieces we put up this year that we got from families of these women,” Rouse said. “I always have my radar tuned in to women who do important things for IU.”
Rouse was inspired by a portrait of Elinor Ostrom, an IU professor who was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize in economics, that was in progress at the time.
“Ostrom was dying of cancer and having the portrait done,” Rouse said. “It was a portrait of a remarkable woman being painted by a woman, and I just loved that idea. It felt appropriate.”
IU first lady Laurie McRobbie said she backed the project because it was an opportunity to represent and honor successful women in the University’s history.
“Women have been part of Indiana University since 1867, but their presence on our campuses and their legacies are not particularly visible,” McRobbie said. “Portraits are eye-catching and they capture people’s interest in who these women were and are.”
McRobbie said only about a quarter of all the buildings, statues and other types of memorials on campus are named for women. “Women of IU” marked the first ever exhibition solely of notable women at the University.
“IU owns lots of portraits by and of IU women as well as many other works of art by IU women,” McRobbie said. “But there haven’t been good locations available to have a permanent exhibit.”
Rouse gathered portraits that were already scattered in various buildings throughout the Bloomington campus. Through the years, she has continued to search for new pieces to include while also borrowing paintings of women who made their mark on other IU campuses.
“Sherry Rouse, our fabulous curator of campus art, has been very creative in cycling new pieces into the exhibit,” McRobbie said.
Every portrait has a description beneath it that lists the subject’s name and her achievements for the University. Rouse said she appreciates the portrayals and insights the portraits give for each woman.
“One of my favorite portraits is of Dagmar Riley, a former publisher for the Herald Times,” Rouse said. “She was a hardnosed business woman yet she chose to be represented as a beautiful, airy and rather ethereal.”
Other prolific women represented in the exhibit are Nellie Showers Teter, the first female IU trustee, and Frances Marshall, IU’s first black female graduate.
McRobbie said the IMU is the ideal place for the exhibit because so many people pass through and have the opportunity to see the artwork on a daily basis. Both Rouse and McRobbie said they hope the exhibit will be something long-term and will be updated through the years to have continuous recognition of women that help make IU great.
“We want to keep providing new portraits, photographs and other pieces of art by IU women for people to see,” McRobbie said. “There’s no shortage of art to display, so I hope people keep coming back to find out what’s new.”
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