Artist Steven Paul Judd will present an interactive portrait painting Nov. 8-10 at the Indiana Memorial Union. The portrait will feature Jim Thorpe, a prominent Native American athlete and former IU assistant football coach.
Judd will also give a lecture at 6 p.m. on Nov. 9 on the IMU main stage.
The event is a collaboration between the Indiana Memorial Union Board and First Nations Educational and Cultural Center in association with the Native American Student Association.
Thorpe, the portrait’s subject, was a former Olympian and professional athlete. Widely known as the “World’s Greatest Athlete”, he competed as a member of the American track team at the 1912 Olympics, played baseball for the New York Giants and became president of the American Professional Football Association in 1920.
Thorpe is also the most celebrated Native American athlete in Indigenous communities, Nicky Belle, director of the First Nations Educational and Cultural Center, said. In addition, Thorpe has a local connection: he assistant-coached IU’s football team during its 1915 season.
“This is something I didn’t realize for years of being here at IU,” Belle said. “It’s part of these histories of campus that aren’t always known.”
Judd has visited campus in the past. In 2016, he was invited by the FNECC to speak for Native American Heritage Month. He was chosen to paint Thorpe’s portrait because of how he brings traditional Native styles of artwork into modern composition, Bell, who is also a non-student director and an administrative representative for Union Board, said.
Judd will paint the portrait live on the main stage at the IMU food court, and the piece will eventually hang in the IMU. Painting in real time was his idea, according to Belle.
“He loves setting up interactive painting displays,” Belle said. “He wants to be in a very public space, where people can see him paint but also interact with him.”
To make the process as inclusive as possible, in the past, Judd has invited viewers to participate in the painting process. By preparing sections of the piece specifically through audience involvement and guiding individual spectators through the process, students will be able to leave their own mark on the union, said Sadia Habib, president of Union Board.
“I wanted to make sure we had students involved so 10 years down the line, you could come back and say ‘Oh, I painted this square!’,” Habib said.
The portrait project is part of a larger push for diversity in the IMU by Union Board leadership, according to Habib. Called The Union Art Initiative, the movement is meant to remove outdated art and bring in pieces that represent the student body and student life as a whole, Habib said. The goal is to feature both subjects and artists who come from marginalized backgrounds.
“A lot of us have found a home at the IMU,” Habib said. “So we hope that the IMU can, for a lot of people, feel like a place where they’re at home.”