“Road to Monument Valley” by Bryan Bromstrup of Terre Haute
“Road to Monument Valley” by Bryan Bromstrup of Terre Haute

Steve Kash, Special to the Tribune-Star

Michael Tingley has loved for many years being out on the road in an RV with his wife, Susan. Before he became the director in 2015 of Arts Illiana’s remodeled modern gallery in The Deming on North Sixth Street, he and Susan enjoyed nothing better than just taking off down the highways of the United States on road trips in their remodeled ‘96 Hornet RV, often stopping at points of interest along the way either to take in majestic panoramas or to explore shops, galleries and historical museums of all kinds in little and big towns along the way, then parking for the night in scenic campgrounds.

Since becoming a gallery director, Tingley has appreciated his opportunity to decide what themes he wants to pursue for Arts Illiana’s four art exhibitions a year. To date, he has presented 12 popular exhibitions with such themes as “200 Years On The Banks Of The Wabash.” The gallery’s “The Crow Show” displayed art on the theme of Terre Haute’s super-sized crow population. Other recent exhibition themes have included a retrospective “Outsider: The Art of Marjorie Jordan-Sauer.” A show featuring “selfies,” was called “Self Portraits: The Original Selfie.” An exhibit using only black and white colors was named “Black&White.” The gallery also has an annual show on the theme of “small art.”

In 2017 — by this time Tingley was the proud owner of a 22-foot-long, Class C Winnebago RV that transported Susan and him as far west as the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone — he decided Arts Illiana would host a 2018 art exhibition called “The Road Show” featuring art in some way connected to roads, usage of roads, images seen alongside roads or from vehicles, and road-related vehicle memorabilia. 

“The Road Show” at Arts Illiana will have its opening reception 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, and will run until Oct. 19. It is the gallery’s first show that called for entries from all countries of North America. 

The show’s curator, Mary Ann Michna, formerly had her studio in Terre Haute but now maintains a studio in New Harmony, where her work is represented by the Mason-Nordgauer Fine Arts Gallery.

For “The Road Show,” Michna selected 56 artworks by 36 artists who live in six American states, including Indiana, Illinois, Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri and Ohio. In all, 98 works were submitted to the show from 41 North American artists. The deadline for submitting art was July 20. The art selection process concluded on July 22.

As guest curator, Michna will also display 21 pieces of her own art in Arts Illiana’s north gallery. These will include large artworks and smaller ones with images ranging from an old-time barn painted with an ad touting “Rock City” to a figurative painting of the back of a Greyhound bus parked in a lot for buses.

“Each juror or curator uses his or her own taste in selecting images to use,” said Michna. “I found myself being most attracted to multiple media art combining two genres like digital and painting. Most images I selected for the ‘The Road Show’ are really beautiful and right on target with the theme of ‘road art.’"

“The gallery has a blind curation process, so I had no background info to influence me as to what art I should enter into the show. I only looked at digital images of work submitted by artists without knowing who the artists were, where they were from, or the natural setting of the artwork. I was impressed with the wide variety of art media that entrants used. The artworks included oil paintings, water colors, charcoals, mixed media, digital, photographs, and sculptures — one sculpture was a composition of what appeared to be roadside debris.”

The changing American landscape

A few artworks standing out in Michna’s mind as being notable examples of road art were a picture of a woman walking alone down a highway, the interior of a Greyhound Bus station, beautiful charcoal drawings of highways, and even pathways in the woods that she felt were within the boundaries of “The Road Show” theme.

“I recall one image highlighting the grill of an antique car from the 1930s,” said Michna. “Another image captured the sensibility of what it feels like to drive down the road for a long time. A mixed media piece displayed license plates set on ceramic.”

Michna, who grew up in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, has been highly tuned into America’s “road scene” since getting a bachelor of arts degree from Purdue and then receiving a master in fine arts from Pratt Insititute in Brooklyn, New York. A primary focus of her artwork has been showing through her colorful paintings and mixed media artworks the ever-changing American landscape as inspired by observations she makes during her frequent road trips.

“My enthusiasm for American roadside culture began with childhood trips I took with my family in the fifties and sixties,” she said. “In 1961 we went in our ‘61 Comet on a summer car trip to Panama City, Florida. The following year we drove out to Yellowstone Park to see Old Faithful geyser.

“My most memorable trip was riding a Greyhound bus with my mother to visit a cousin from Decatur, Georgia. The bus seemed to stop quite frequently in small towns along the way, and it gave me a small window of opportunity to experience those communities when they were still in good condition. Our trip also provided me a moment in time to glance at the neon signs, diners serving ‘Good Food’ and movie theaters’ marquees advertising Jerry Lewis in ‘The Bellboy.’ For the last twenty years my painting and photography have been influenced by my ongoing search for these roadside remnants of the past.” 

Michna feels that some of the art she curated for “The Road Show” reveals remnants of the American past in interesting ways.

Casting a wider net

Tingley explains how he has managed to reach out so widely to prospective entrants during the time he he has been Arts Illiana’s gallery director.

“Now that the digital age has come to the art world, Arts Illiana can literally reach out to the world from Terre Haute,” Tingley said. “When I started here, I researched websites offering notifications of upcoming shows around the nation and the world. I always call for entries to our shows through Arts Illiana’s Spectrum magazine, its Arts Vine newsletter and local media, but now there are affordable ways for us to reach out to people throughout North America and beyond.”

Tingley has experienced success promoting entries to Arts Illiana’s shows by using Facebook, Instagram and a website called Entrythingy.com that helps gallery directors worldwide to get the news out to artists about exhibition opportunities. In the future he plans to have an international curator for a future Arts Illiana show that will have a worldwide call for entrants. He said a grant has made it possible for Arts Illiana to have frames for 20 pieces of art shipped to the United States from abroad, which would greatly reduce shipping costs of international artists whose work is accepted at Arts Illiana.

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