July 2016 Spotlight: Area Local Artists

BY Maia Hawthorne

In July and August, Prairie Arts Council’s Lilian Fendig Gallery will spotlight the work of four of our area’s professional artists: Michael Crowthers, Ryan Preston, Lindsey Preston, and Corey Crum.

Michael Crowthers is a sculptor of ceramics and wood who also routinely mixes media, using plaster, metal, and found objects. He is fascinated by the way that art can make an “intense connection” with people when they experience it directly. “We can look at images of artwork on a computer screen or hear someone describe a piece of artwork to us with a great amount of joy. However, there is no substitute for actually being there in the same space as a piece of art that interests you.” Michael cites his own experience with the marble sculpture David by Michelangelo as an example. “I had seen numerous images of David prior to visiting Florence. But nothing prepared me for seeing the actual piece. I can still remember the feeling I got when I turned the corner in the Accademia and saw him down the hallway for the first time. The marble looked alive. It’s an electric feeling when you connect with a piece of artwork.”

Michael Crowthers

Michael Crowthers

As a sculptor, Michael thinks in three dimensions. But his sense of three-dimensional space is reinforced by his work as Curator at the Art Museum of Greater Lafayette. “When I install an exhibition I must consider how the artwork relates to everything around it in a broad context. I consider the physical space and any particular needs it may have.  Also, it is essential to think about the three-dimensional space when it will be occupied by the patrons/viewers and [to consider] how they will interact with the artwork. I think all of these elements are considered while creating the artwork.”

Michael’s interest in thinking and creating in three dimensions is shared by Ryan Preston, whom Michael has known since the two were art students together at Saint Joseph’s College. “We worked side by side on more projects than I can count or remember,” Michael says of Ryan. Many of those projects were sculptural, which influenced the work Ryan does today. Ryan says he thinks of himself primarily as a “builder,” creating in three dimensions, using ceramics and other media. When asked how his work life and his art intersect, he cites his work in construction, which is much like art in that it is about “building and creating.”

Ryan Preston

Ryan Preston

An important moment in Ryan’s development as an artist was interviewing a potter named Scott Schafer in Ryan’s hometown of Centerville, Indiana. “I was able to tour his studio and see what it was like for an artist to work daily in his studio. It made art as a career path more attainable to me.”

Ryan met Lindsey Preston at Brown’s Garden Shoppe in Rensselaer, where they worked together for some time. The two married in 2013. Lindsey was already making art professionally when she and Ryan met, primarily painting and making ceramics, though she has always experimented with mixing media and incorporating found objects into her work. Whatever medium she’s using at the time, Lindsey finds herself working with disparate pieces that she brings together to create a meaningful whole. “I feel the process of healing as I make it,” she says. The result of this process is a highly textured and layered organic shape that echoes the natural world.

Lindsey Preston

Lindsey Preston

One early experience that fueled Lindsey’s passion for visual art was a school-sponsored spring break trip to Spain when she was a junior in high school. She had one of those “electric” direct experiences of art that Michael had when he saw David. For Lindsey, the art in question was Pablo Picasso’s Guernica. Lindsey calls seeing it a “powerful experience.” “I remember standing in a doorway looking into the room with the massive painting. I was awestruck and captivated by the feeling of the painting. This was significant to me because it shows that experiencing artwork can create a deep emotional and personal connection. The artist's story and thoughts can captivate the viewer and stir up their own deep thoughts about an experience or memory.”

When asked what inspires her own art, Lindsey says nature. “I grew up on a farm, and I have always spent a lot of time outdoors. I feel the most energy and inspiration when I am doing an outdoor activity. All of my art relates to nature in some way.”

Nature also inspires Corey Crum, whom the Prestons met shortly after he began teaching art at Saint Joseph’s College in 2012. But because he is an abstract artist, Corey feels driven to transform what he finds there, using whatever media--oil paint, clay, colored pencils, collage--best suits the idea he has in mind. What results is a highly colorful and textural abstraction that hints at the natural and anatomical landscapes that motivated the piece.

Corey Crum

Corey Crum

Most recently, Corey’s art has been fueled by the concern that Earth is “doomed.” “Now more than ever, I am interested in my carbon footprint and its impact on our environment. Therefore, I have created a fictional character named Space Face, which I call my alter ego; he travels through space to find a more suitable habitat. Space Face watches the destruction of our planet from the hollow moon, and returns to Earth to find that our natural world has changed. All living things have become unrecognizable hybrids with one another. Anatomy and plant life have become one.”

He says that what called him to be an artist was the freedom he was allowed being raised on a family farm. “That allowed me to play, but not in a childlike sense. I found that my interests were to dissect, tinker, work, experiment, and investigate. These interests drove me to create, which eventually led me to ‘express.’ The achievement that I felt after I created something far exceeded all sensations that I felt from any other activity going through school and still to the current day.”

Being encouraged early on to explore, create, and express is something all four artists cited as a part of their development as professional artists. (Corey: “My first solo exhibit showcased my drawings of the beloved Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on my bedroom wall.”) Those early, positive opportunities for creation are part of the similar experience that has made these four artists friends (Michael and Corey having met several years ago through their mutual association with the Prestons) and that put them on the trajectory that led them to being working artists in our area. It’s also, in part, what inspired the title for their show, “Cycles,” as the four have watched their life cycles as artists develop and evolve. See their work at the Lilian Fendig Gallery, located in the Carnegie Center, 301 N. Van Rensselaer Street, Rensselaer, on July 22, from 6:30-8:30pm CST. The exhibition will run through August 26.




ARTCAMP Spotlight


Submitted by Bonnie Zimmer

For the 23rd summer, Prairie Arts Council offered a wide range of arts workshops for all ages in the greater Rensselaer area. Beginning in 1993 with just six workshops, this year over 100 workshops were offered by 11 artist teachers. Classes were held primarily at the Carnegie Center but also at Gail Woolever’s Hand to Heart Studio, Wheatfield, Saint Joseph’s College Art Department, and the DeMotte and Wheatfield Libraries.

One exciting and important new feature of ARTCAMP this year was the move to total online information and registration.  Ending the popular but expensive and unsustainable large paper brochures, PAC distributed a hard copy colorful postcard with registration information to all elementary school children in Jasper and Newton counties and made the information cards available at all middle and high schools and county libraries in Jasper and Newton counties. While enrollment was down a bit this year, attributed to the change from paper to online registration, there has been overwhelmingly positive responses from parents for the beautiful new website featuring photos of all projects.  Thank you to PAC board member, Joshua Smith who designed and managed the ARTCAMP website.  PAC will continue to make improvements for 2017 ARTCAMP based on ideas and suggestions gathered in this pilot year.

2016 ARTCAMP again offered classes a full range of art media including drawing, abstract and realistic painting, collage, ceramics, jewelry, printmaking, henna tattoo, fused glass and more, to special off-site classes such as the Nature Photography Workshop led by Barb Lucas at the Kankakee River Sands and Nancy Klockow’s many fabulous jewelry workshops held at her home workshop. Ryan Preston filled two classes held at Saint Joseph’s College Art Department where adults explored Throwing on the Potters Wheel and learned methods for altering those forms. ARTCAMP founder and retiring director Bonnie Zimmer took “Tie-Dye on The Road” to the DeMotte and Wheatfield Libraries where 34 children and adults made unique shirts.  New classes such as Kelley Spurgeon’s Recycled Robots and Lindsey Preston’s Starry Night Collages, were total “hits” with their students.  Gail Woolever’s wide range of classes held at her rural Hand to Heart Studio located north of Wheatfield were also well attended and thoroughly enjoyed by her students, ages preschool to adults. Veteran teacher Doris Myers’s painting class thrilled her adult students who learned to paint a nature scene with reflective water. David Herriott returned again to teach his ever popular Fused Glass Plate workshop and Valerie Milhousen with her Henna Tatoo class delighted her participants with beautiful, temporary adornment.

The 2016 ARTCAMP Committee included Gail Woolever and Bonnie Zimmer, Co-Directors, Joshua Smith, Web Designer, Lindsey Preston, Claudia Pletting, PAC Gallery and Office manager, and Payton Lewis, returning for her 3rd year as PAC ARTCAMP Intern. PAC welcomes art teacher Ashley Welch to our staff of teachers this year.  Her love of children and art was evident in the faux ice cream sculptures her 3-5 year old students created at DeMotte library. Claudia and Payton  managed registration along with longtime PAC treasurer, Barb Michal. A huge thank you goes out to all individuals who helped with this important annual PAC event including Jane Hullings who was our ARTCAMP refreshment hostess all week. A special thank you to REMC for their generous sponsorship

For 2016 ARTCAMP, here are the numbers:
67 classes
373 students
13 teachers

If you have feedback or suggestions for next year, please contact us at





Thanks REMC for your generous sponsorship of 2016 ARTCAMP!

Thanks REMC for your generous sponsorship of 2016 ARTCAMP!



April 2016 Spotlight: Bonnie Zimmer

Written by Maia Hawthorne

Study the elements used in Rensselaer artist Bonnie Zimmer’s handiwork--foxtails, butterfly weed seed pods, corn kernels, rusty bolts, discarded tractor parts--and you could probably guess that she is from the area. Zimmer, who has earned numerous awards for “merit,” “honor,” and “distinction” for her art, and who has exhibited throughout the Midwest consistently over the last thirty years, grew up playing in the woods and fields surrounding her family’s Wheatfield farm. As she has evolved as an artist, it has been to the materials of the woods, fields, and roadsides of rural northwest Indiana that she has turned to shape an artistic vision. But developing that vision has been something of an evolution.

One early influence that would come to shape Zimmer’s aesthetic was the Lilly Teacher Creativity Fellowship she was awarded in 1995. The Fellowship sent Zimmer to the Pacific Northwest to study the contemporary Native American artists of Ketchikan, Alaska. Zimmer says she found herself “humbled by the reverence and gratitude those artists hold for all things” and the “logical, respectful practices of their daily lives.”  Zimmer was inspired to see the sacred quality of the elements of the natural world, and she began trying to infuse her own art with the balance of “beauty, function, and economy” she found in the Ketchikan work.

At some point along the way, the revelation of Ketchikan began to resonate with Zimmer’s love of the Dada artists of the early twentieth century. Zimmer had always admired the Dadas’ protest of “a society gone mad.” The madness of contemporary society became increasingly more clear to Zimmer as the lessons of Ketchikan began to take hold in her imagination. “Our society seems to have veered so far off track in our priorities and practices,” she says. “Our lives are filled with over-consumption, greed, and waste.”

Determined not to waste and not to overlook the sacred in the everyday, Zimmer began to collect commonplace materials from the natural world--grasses, stones, feathers--and neglected and abandoned roadside detritus--rusty cans, bottle caps, chicken wire. These collected objects began to come together in her art in surprising ways: richly-textured mandalas that remind us of the cycles, patterns, and balance of the natural world, arresting installations that activate and spiritualize the surrounding space, playful totems that rise from rusty parts like merry tricksters. Zimmer’s aim in reconfiguring these collected items into artwork is to encourage observers to notice the beauty of those often unseen items. “I hope that viewers wonder at an object’s evolving history in its journey to finally be resurrected as ‘art,’” she says.  “I hope, also, that my re-purposed objects and materials will inspire viewers to look at resources and possessions in a fresh way and pause before they throw away or acquire one more ‘thing.’”

But Zimmer’s vision of place includes more than just the material objects around us; it includes the people as well. This becomes clear when you appreciate that her career as an artist has included a great deal of community partnerships. Some of these partnerships have arisen through her teaching. Zimmer has been teaching art for 40 years at every levelfirst grade through collegewinning a number of teaching awards in the process. These awards include Indiana Art Educator of the Year and Western Region Art Educator of the Year. But Zimmer has also been an active art educator and volunteer outside of school, serving as a board member of the Prairie Arts Council (PAC) since its inception in 1993, scheduling and curating art exhibits in PAC’s Lilian Fendig Gallery, fostering meetings among art educators across five counties, establishing annual Regional School Art Exhibits where the work of over 700 children is exhibited, and designing and managing ARTCAMP, PAC’s week-long summer series of arts workshops. These community service efforts have won Zimmer a number of accolades, including the Saint Joseph’s College Community Service Award, the Tippecanoe Arts Federation John Corey Arts Leadership Award, and the Indiana Arts Alliance Outstanding Volunteer Leader Award, among others. When you ask Zimmer what has driven her to put in such long hours for community projects over so many years, she will tell you that she has always felt called to work with like-minded people to bring experiences with the arts to her rural Indiana home.

And so Zimmer frequently finds herself at the center of a group of people working together to accomplish something surprising, beautiful, grand. When Zimmer was awarded an Indiana Arts Commission “Individual Artist Grant” to create a public sculpture for the ARTSPARK at the Indianapolis Arts Center, for instance, the experience was anything but limited to one individual. Zimmer invited dozens of people to join her, including area art teachers, local friends, and her Saint Joseph’s College students, who all worked with Zimmer to create over 90 orbs of various sizes made of natural materials. “Participants traveled to Indianapolis all five days of my residency at the Arts Center,” she says, “cutting truckloads of willows, weaving a giant orb the size of a Volkswagen Bug, installing pieces in trees, bushes, and grounds throughout the park.” She carries with her an image of the event that she says she will never forget: “I can still remember a number of us perched on huge ladders to install our giant orb about 15 feet off the ground between two tall trees as the focal point of the installation,” she says. “We had so much fun working together to create a major art project!”

Perhaps the ARTSPARK orbs resemble Zimmer’s vessels, which she describes as “baskets that hold ideas.” If so, the ideas they hold might include a reminder of what we could find if we were to practice slowing down, looking closely, connecting with our surroundings, surroundings which include the natural world, material objects, and other people. In the artist’s words, “I hope my art offers you an opportunity to discover an idea or gain sense of a place that takes you beyond yourself.” Zimmer’s art and art collaborations most certainly do call us beyond ourselves and put us more firmly in touch with our Indiana home.



December Spotlight: John Groppe

Written by Connie Kingman

John Groppe was born in Brooklyn on April 23, 1933, and raised in the Bronx, completing all of

his education through his MA in New York City. While doing further graduate work at Notre 

Dame University in 1962, he was offered and accepted a position with St Joseph’s College in 

Rensselaer, Indiana, from which he is now retired, honored with the title Professor Emeritus. 

John and his wife, Rose Marie, had just been married when he they came to Rensselaer and have 

five grown children: Elizabeth, Jennifer, Maureen, John, David, and nine grandchildren.


A respected member of the area’s art community, John is both a photographer and a writer. His

first encounter with the camera came during high school when he began developing film in a 

makeshift darkroom in a bathroom and has remained interested in photography ever since. He 

grew up before the prominence of television when photo magazines such as Life were the 

primary visual medium other than film.


In 2003, upon retirement from his position as Professor of English at St. Joseph’s College, John 

took a dark room class at the college. It was at this time, before adapting to digital photography, 

he walked around the campus and biked the surrounding roads searching for images to capture. 

Returning home to get his camera while the images were still fresh in his mind, he returned to 

snap the photos. He got his first 35mm camera in the early 1980s and began exhibiting his photos 

in the Jasper County Art League’s annual exhibits.


Today, John prefers to capture still lifes with his camera. Although these images take time to set

up, both in staging and lighting, they require no travel time. “I cannot bike far these days,” he 

said. His most recent still life is created from inspiration drawn from Vincent van Gogh’s 

painting of his hiking boots. John’s still life is entitled Prime Movers, a color photograph of his 

work-worn boots against a blue background. It will be on display at the Wells Center in Lafayette 

during January as part of Jasper County Art League’s traveling exhibition “Primary Colors.”


John enjoys visiting art museums. There, he studies all forms of art to develop a sense of what 

makes a work of art great—study not in a formal way through instructor and classroom, but 

intuitively, on his own. This simple task of observation leads him to the elements and principles 

of design and teaches him techniques and basics such as composition, angles, and cropping. 

When a busy museum makes it difficult to linger for any length of time, John, when possible, 

takes photographs of work that interests him to further study at home.


For his photographic endeavors, John has received the following awards: honorable mention 

from a recent NICHES exhibition; a number of grand champion ribbons from the Jasper County 

Fair; and most recently from the Fair, both a grand champion and reserve champion ribbon for 

separate photographs.


John first thought of himself as a writer while taking a short story course in college. In returning 

an assignment, his professor approached John and quizzed him about it as he thought John had 

copied it from Seventeen, a popular teen magazine at that time. John was more flattered than 

insulted at this idea, and must have eased his professor’s suspicions, for his story received an A. 

Inspired by his professor’s suspicions, John sent his story to Seventeen, only to have it returned 

to him—his first professional rejection. He continued to write short stories and received 

recognition when his “A Shred of Decency” was designated an Outstanding Story of the Year in 

The Best Short Stories of 1969.


Today, inspiration to write comes to John from things he “reads, phrases and situations, and, at 

times, the inability to sleep, when things come to mind and ideas percolate.” His story “The Bird 

Died—A Parable in One Act,” which appeared in From the Edge of the Prairie 2012, came about 

one late, sleepless night as he worked out the dialogue in his mind, laughing to himself.


When asked how his writing has evolved, John answers, “Initially, my poetry was about my 

experiences as a father and my observations of nature outside my windows in the back yard. 

More recently, I have given myself to poetry that is much more self-consciously tied with 

religious themes. Some of these poems have grown out of the opportunity I had in 1990 during a 

six-week faculty development program in Israel. The historical studies in that program enabled 

me to have a concrete, vicarious sense of what Jerusalem might have looked like in Jesus’ day 

and how the people might have felt at that time.”


John enjoys reading books authored by writers “who are self-conscious about the use of language

—those who have things to say and stories to tell but whose work shows a concern for the way in 

which the story is told with careful word choices and arrangements.” He notes writers like 

novelist John Updike and poet Seamus Heaney.


Outside of the arts, John has accumulated a wealth of professional experiences, associations,

fellowships and honors, publications, and papers. Within the arts, he has given generously of his 

time to volunteering, having served the artist community by sitting on the boards of the Prairie 

Arts Council, Jasper County Art League, and Prairie Writers Guild. John’s name appears on the 

Literary Map of Indiana: 200 Years—200 Writers 1816-2016 under the poetry heading. This map 

was created as part of the celebration of Indiana’s Bicentennial. He has two chapbooks in the 

mail to publishers and is hoping that one of them will be published.


John’s deep respect for the area’s artists inspired these words, “What is a much overlooked 

resource in this area is our artistic community. When people think of artistic communities, they 

immediately name places like Brown County where people come from around the country to 

paint and show their work. Our community is home grown. It is a community of artists who 

support one another and produce quality art in a variety of art forms from painting to music to 3-

dimensional work to photography to writing. The more advanced artists appreciate the beginning 

artists and encourage them to continue to develop their art. I would not have become the 

photographer I am without the encouragement of the Jasper County Art League and PAC, and 

my writing has been encouraged by The Prairie Writers Guild.”