Cutting A Broad Swath Through American Culture

At a time when most museums were purchasing European art, the Swope's first director was acquiring the new American paintings that would define the field.

  • Indiana Artists gallery

    Image 1 of 7

    Photo: Swope Art Museum

    The Swope's Indiana Artists gallery showcases landscapes by 19th and 20th-century Indiana-based artists arranged seasonally.

  • E.K. Williams, Scene in Brown County (detail)

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    Photo: Swope Art Museum

    E.K. Williams, Scene in Brown County (detail)

  • The Swope's 1960s Gallery

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    The Swope Art Museum's second-floor 1960s Gallery.

  • Edward Hopper Route 6, Eastham Oil on canvas 1941

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    Photo: Swope Art Museum

    Edward Hopper, Route 6, Eastham, Oil on canvas (1941)

  • Thomas Hart Benton, Threshing Wheat (detail), Tempera, egg and oil on canvas mounted on board (c.1938-39)

    Image 5 of 7

    Photo: Swope Art Museum

    Thomas Hart Benton, Threshing Wheat (detail), Tempera, egg and oil on canvas mounted on board (c.1938-39)

  • Fairfield Porter, Under the Elm (detail), Oil on canvas (1972), Gift of the Alliance of the Swope Art Museum

    Image 6 of 7

    Photo: Swope Art Museum

    Fairfield Porter, Under the Elm (detail), Oil on canvas (1972) Gift of the Alliance of the Swope Art Museum

  • Janet Scudder, Frog Fountain, cast bronze (1901)

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    Photo: Swope Art Museum

    Terre Haute-born artist Janet Scudder's bronze Frog Fountain (1901) enlivens the Swope's ground-floor Indiana gallery.

Event Information

Swope Art Museum

Open since 1942, the Swope Art Museum houses one of the Midwest’s premier collections of American painting, sculpture and works on paper.


25 South 7th Street Terre Haute, In 47807

Tuesday-Friday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday: Noon to 5 p.m. Closed Sunday, Monday and National Holidays

Free

Terre Haute’s Swope Art Museum is a tiny bastion of American art on the western edge of Indiana. The impressive regional museum occupies a proud Renaissance Revival building in downtown Terre Haute, just a half-block south of an intersection so significant that a century ago it was known as the Crossroads of America.

Before he passed away in 1929, the building’s owner—Terre Haute jeweler Sheldon Swope—made provisions for the commercial property to become an art museum whose collection would be funded through his estate.

Cornerstones Of The Collection

That collection now comprises 2,000 works of American art, including 19th- and 20th-century paintings, sculptures, and works on paper. The museum’s holdings of regionalist work include paintings by Thomas Hart Benton, Charles Burchfield, Edward Hopper, Reginald Marsh, and Grant Wood.

But the collection is “not just paintings by Hopper and by Wood and Benton,” insists Swope’s executive director, Brian Whisenhunt. These are “important paintings by these artists, which is important to distinguish.”

Bucking The Trend

The bulk of the museum’s earliest acquisitions may be credited to John Rogers Cox, the museum’s first director. At a time when most museums were purchasing European art and antiquities, Cox’s patronage of contemporary American art—in tandem with the acquisitions made by a handful of other visionaries in the 1940s—validated those artists and secured their place in the canon of art history.

The Swope collection has breadth as well as depth in particular areas. It represents artists working in the second half of the 20th century collection—from representational painters Raphael Soyer, Moses, and Fairfield Porter to Abstract Expressionist Robert Motherwell to Pop artists Robert Rauschenberg, Robert Indiana, and Andy Warhol.

A Vault Of Indiana Art

The museum’s collection of Indiana artists is particularly strong. Arranged along the apricot-colored walls of the Swope’s elegant ground-floor gallery are landscapes by members of the Hoosier School and artists from the Wabash Valley. The fin-de-siecle décor sets the tone for these paintings, while the chrome curves on the second floor usher the viewer into the 20th century.

Along the way, there are such treats as a landscape by African-American painter William Edouard Scott, who left Indiana to study with Henry Tanner in Paris; a sculpture by Paul Manship, whose Prometheus graces the Rockefeller Center skating rink; and a once-controversial mural by Terre Haute artist Gilbert Wilson, which is based on Melville’s Moby Dick.

Yaël Ksander

WFIU's Arts Desk Editor, Yaël seeks out and shepherds the stories of artists, musicians, writers, and other creative people. In addition, Yaël co-hosts A Moment of Science, writes essays for A Moment of Indiana History, produces Speak Your Mind (WFIU's guest editorial segment), hosts music and news hours throughout the week, and lends her voice to everything from accounting courses to nature documentaries. Yaël holds a MFA in painting from Indiana University, an MA in art history from Columbia University, and a BA from the University of Virginia, where she studied languages and literature.

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