I received my degree in art from The Herron School of Art in Indianapolis. A small, somewhat prestigious, very good school that is part of Indiana University. Not only was the education instrumental in making me the artist I am today, I the time I spent there. We created endlessly, partied occasionally and I left feeling like I was truly an artist.
The main building of the school was in the original Indianapolis Museum of Art. They’ve since built a modern facility, but the old buildings are currently Herron High School. The building itself had marble floors, high ceilings and a dual staircase that lead up to what was the senior studios. In your final year you were given a place to paint in these spaces. There were four huge galleries that were divided up every 8 feet or so and your space was just yours. You could paint or draw 24 hours a day and leave your easel and come back. It was amazing. Like being a part of an artist commune. There was always someone there either working or talking about art. Music played, curse words flew (which meant that person usually needed input from someone else or they might murder their current piece) and cigarette smoke wafted to the ceiling.
I had two painting instructors while there; Robert Berkshire, who was a fairly prominent Midwestern artist and Steve Mannheimer, an artist himself and still a part of Herron. Mr. Berkshire, has unfortunately passed away. I consider Mr. Berkshire to be my true painting mentor as he saw my potential with the brush and fostered it. After having started painting a number of still lifes, we moved onto painting the figure. “Don’t you ever paint another still life,” he said chuckling, “you see the human body and your paintings are wonderful.” To this day I love to paint and draw the human body.
I never had much issue with Mr. Mannheimer, but he was known for his sharp tongue and loud outbursts. I did actually receive a nice compliment from him about my final work; an 8′ x 8′ painting of clouds. He simply said he liked it… From him that was akin to being on the cover of Artworld magazine!
There are two other moments that stand out in my dealings with Mr. Mannheimer. The first involved a classmate during a critique. He so thoroughly hated the student’s painting that he snatched it off the easel rushed out of the studio and threw it down the marble staircase where it bounced, cracking the wooden stretcher bars! We were aghast… but not surprised, as we all knew him.
The second thing I remember is something he said to the entire class (@24 students); towards the end of our last year with him, he told us that in 5 years less than 10% of us would be working artists. We were blown away! How could he say that?! We just spent 4 years doing this!! We ARE artists! We will change the art world as we know it.
He was right.
I pass this story on now to the students I teach, I never thought I would. But as my years of teaching accumulated, I began to understand what Mr. Manheimer saw back then. I don’t just tell them that in 5 years less than 10% won’t be working in the fashion industry, I relate the story told here. I don’t do it to be mean, but to try and motivate.
Unfortunately, I was right as… and the students whose creativity, passion and work ethic stood out in my classes are the ones who are now colleagues.
Five years after Herron, I was not a working artist, but I was in the fashion industry using my knowledge of art materials selling to designers. That lead to me being a working artist, and ultimately to where I am now; a full time designer and artist and a part-time teacher.