Favorite subjects: The grounds of the Indianapolis Museum of Art

I don’t know if I’m fully over it yet, the stiff fee the Indianapolis Museum of Art started charging in 2015 to visit any part of the museum and its grounds. I understand a fee to tour the museum — but the grounds? Really?

There is a fee-free way in, via the far west end of the campus, a small parking lot, and a long walk. But I haven’t done it. It’s a principle, darn it, and I’ve stood staunch. This walk should be as free and easy as it ever was!

But I’m almost over it. My idealism stretches only so far. If I weren’t about to move away, I’m sure that shortly I’d become willing to buy an annual membership and get back to photographing the lovely campus, on which I have not set foot in more than two and a half years.

Entering the IMA
Nikon F2AS, 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor, Kodak Ektar 100, 2014

The Indianapolis Museum of Art traces its roots to 1883, when the Art Association of Indianapolis held its first exhibit. The Art Association established its first permanent home in 1902 at 16th and Pennsylvania Streets, where Indianapolis’s Old Northside neighborhood ends and the Herron-Morton neighborhood begins. Herron-Morton gets its name in part for John Herron, who left most of his fortune to the Art Association on the condition that the funds establish a museum and art school in his name.

IMA entrance
Kodak EasyShare Z730 Zoom, 2010

By 1964, the Art Association’s museum was out of space. In 1966, the John Herron School of Art lost its accreditation. It was time for change. The Herron School was transferred to Indiana University, which reaccredited it and operates it today. And the Lilly family of the Eli Lilly pharmaceutical company donated the family estate, Oldfields, on Michigan Road at 38th Street. The Art Association changed its name to the Indianapolis Museum of Art, and in time its new facilities were built on the sprawling Oldfields grounds.

Sprawling — and stunning. The White River runs behind it; the Indiana Central Canal runs through it. (The Canal is a feature of many of my favorite subjects!) The classical buildings of the Oldfields estate contrast with the modern buildings the Museum built to house its collections. And it’s all tied together by a system of beautifully landscaped paths and trails.

Man with dog
Nikon F2AS, 135mm f/3.5 AI Nikkor, Fujicolor 200, 2014
Kodak Pony 135 Model C, Fujicolor 200, 2013
Kodak Pony 135 Model C, Fujicolor 200, 2013

Everywhere you walk, there is something interesting to see.

Bridge at IMA
Olympus Stylus, Kodak Gold 200 (expired), 2013
Eden II
Pentax ME, Fujicolor 200, 80-200mm f/4 Sears zoom, 2013
Nikon F2AS, 135mm f/3.5 AI Nikkor, Fujicolor 200

I don’t know why it took me so long to visit the IMA for photography. Except for a few photos I made when I surveyed the Michigan Road in 2008, my first visits for photography were in 2013. And my last were in 2014, for that year the IMA announced it would henceforth cost $18 to set foot on the grounds. I wrote a scathing blog post criticizing this decision then; read it here. But for those two years, I visited all the time and made dozens of lovely photographs. So many outstanding subjects lurk everywhere!

On the grounds of Oldfields
Minolta XG-1, MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2, Fujicolor 200, 2013
At the Indianapolis Museum of Art
Canon FT QL, 50mm f/1.8 Canon FL, Fujicolor 200, 2013
Pentax ME, SMC Pentax-M 50mm f/1.4, Fujifilm Superia X-tra 800, 2013
On the bridge
Minolta XG-1, MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2, Fujicolor 200, 2013
Nikon F2AS, 135mm f/3.5 AI Nikkor, Fujicolor 200, 2014

You can spend hours just photographing the flowers and other plant life.

Phlox, I think
Pentax ME, SMC Pentax-M 50mm f/1.4, Fujifilm Superia X-tra 800, 2013
Polaroid Colorpack II, Fujifilm FP-100C, 2014
Minolta XG-1, MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2, Fujicolor 200, 2013

Statues dot the grounds.

Minolta XG-1, MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2, Fujicolor 200, 2013
Arms wide
Minolta XG-1, MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2, Fujicolor 200, 2013
The girls
Nikon F2AS, 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor, Kodak Ektar 100, 2014
At the Indianapolis Museum of Art
Canon FT QL, 50mm f/1.8 Canon FL, Fujicolor 200, 2013
Studying the map
Nikon F2AS, 135mm f/3.5 AI Nikkor, Fujicolor 200, 2014

For me, though, the campus’s showpiece is the Lilly house.

Kodak Pony 135 Model C, Fujicolor 200, 2013
Minolta XG-1, MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2, Fujicolor 200, 2013
Kodak Pony 135 Model C, Fujicolor 200, 2013
Nikon F2AS, 135mm f/3.5 AI Nikkor, Fujicolor 200, 2014
Nikon F2AS, 135mm f/3.5 AI Nikkor, Fujicolor 200, 2014
Nikon F2AS, 135mm f/3.5 AI Nikkor, Fujicolor 200, 2014
Evening light at Oldfields *EXPLORED*
Nikon F2AS, 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor, Kodak Ektar 100, 2014
Through the window
Pentax ME, SMC Pentax-M 50mm f/1.4, Fujifilm Superia Xtra 800, 2014
A Lilly Christmas
Pentax ME, SMC Pentax-M 50mm f/1.4, Fujifilm Superia Xtra 800, 2014
Tea service before the fireplace
Pentax ME, SMC Pentax-M 50mm f/1.4, Fujifilm Superia Xtra 800, 2014
Pentax ME, SMC Pentax-M 50mm f/1.4, Fujifilm Superia Xtra 800, 2014

Oh my gosh, but do I miss wandering these grounds with a camera in my hands. It’s why I’m almost over the IMA’s ridiculous entry fee. $75 would buy an annual pass for me and my family.

The IMA recently announced that it is rebranding all of its offerings on its 152-acre campus — the museum, the grounds, the Lilly house, the acreage between the canal and the river, and all of the events that happen anywhere within these spaces — as Newfields. It deftly ties all of their offerings together, and reminds me that even a stroll on their grounds is good and valuable.

My wife enjoys what is now known as Newfields as well. Even though we’ll be farther away, up in Zionsville, it’s still an easy drive along I-65 to get here. A family membership might still be worth it.


A visit to the American Sign Museum

Garrett and I took a spring break trip together last month, a two-day jaunt over to Cincinnati to see the sights and do the doings.

This was the last of our spring break trips. I’ve documented many of them here: Mammoth Cave; Route 66; a cabin in the Tennessee woods; Washington, DC, and the National Road as far as Ohio (where we wrecked our car). It’s been all about building good memories with my sons, the car crash notwithstanding. I’m sad to see this era in our lives end.

This final spring break trip was so short and lightly planned that it felt a little anticlimactic. Garrett had just had his wisdom teeth removed and needed several recovery days before he felt like traveling. And then the weather was bad for a 300-mile radius, limiting our options. So it wasn’t until Tuesday of that week that we decided to just go over to Cincy and see whatever there was to see, preferably indoors.

American Sign Museum entrance

I knew for sure that we’d visit the American Sign Museum. I’ve wanted to go for years. My old-road excursions have put me in contact with lots of Americana, frequently in neglected condition. At the American Sign Museum, everything is restored and fully functioning. And I hoped to connect with some childhood memories.

Holiday Inn

I admit it: I went primarily to see the neon. I’m just old enough to remember neon’s waning days along America’s roadside. As a kid, I loved to drive US 31 through Roseland, a little burg just north of my hometown of South Bend. It’s a strip of motels, mostly, serving the nearby Indiana Toll Road. Many of them boasted neon signs, one of which was an iconic Holiday Inn sign similar to the one above. There was even a Roto-Sphere, a neon-pointed rotating star, on that strip. It’s still there, actually. I have no idea why I didn’t photograph it when I made my trip along Indiana’s US 31 many years ago! But you can see it on this page of Roto-Spheres.

Sky-Vu Motel

The museum didn’t disappoint, serving up neon aplenty (like the Sky-Vu Motel sign that used to be on US 40 in Kansas City, Missouri). But the museum also educates its guests well on the history of American advertising signs, and other icons, like this Big Boy statue. But notice especially the signs behind it, individual letters all lit from behind with light bulbs. Such signs preceded the neon era.

Big Boy

But back to the neon. I’m not quite old enough to remember McDonald’s signs like this one, although I do remember my hometown still having a twin-arch walk-up Mickey D’s not far from my great-grandmother’s house.


I also remember seeing Howard Johnson’s hotels and restaurants by the roadside, but it was well past that chain’s heyday. Mom tells stories of her father, who often traveled on business during her 1950s girlhood, preferring to stay at Howard Johnson’s.

Howard Johnson's

One section of the museum set up a Main Street of sorts, with recreated storefronts lit by neon signs.


A whole bunch of signs, all from businesses local to Cincinnati, illuminate an event space in the back of the museum’s large building.


Backlit plastic signs show up here and there at the museum, as well. As a kid I liked these distinctive Shell signs. They were still pretty common when I was small.


Our tour of the museum wrapped with a visit to a neon sign shop that operates out of the museum’s building. This shop is independent from the museum, but does all of the museum’s neon restorations. Here, this fellow is joining glass tubes.

Making a neon sign

I also shot a roll of film inside the museum, but as of this writing those photos haven’t come back from the lab yet. If they turn out, I’ll do another post from the museum.

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To the Indianapolis Museum of Art: Way to shoot yourself in the foot

Last week, the Indianapolis Museum of Art announced that admission to the museum and its gorgeous grounds will no longer be free starting in April. It will cost $18 for adults, $10 for children.

Entering the IMA
IMA welcome pavilion

It’s neither unusual nor unreasonable for a museum to charge. But the IMA bungled this announcement, slathering it in suspicious PR doublespeak. They are also making this enormous price jump too suddenly, leaving a feeling of sticker shock and pricing visits out of reach for many.

In all, this announcement has damaged community goodwill. I think they just shot themselves in the foot. I think they’ll lose visitors to the point where the admission fee doesn’t generate the revenue they seek.

In a press release, the IMA announced this change as a “campus enhancement plan to improve the visitor experience and financial sustainability.” The IMA’s admission fee appears to cover both the museum and grounds. They will reconfigure access to require all visitors to pass through the museum building’s welcome center to build “long-lasting relationships with IMA guests.”

Oldfields, on the grounds

Hogwash. News reports say that the museum is using too large a portion of its endowment for operations, and the IMA needs to correct that so the endowment can serve long term. It’s obvious that money entirely drives this decision, and that requiring all visitors to enter through the welcome center is how they will collect admission fees.

It would have been better for the IMA to just own that. They should have said plainly that they need to charge admission to ensure the museum’s long-term operation, and skipped the “campus enhancement” and “long-lasting relationship” nonsense. Nobody’s falling for it. Transparency engenders trust; bad PR-speak makes everybody think you’re hiding something.

On the bridge
$18 to ride through? Seriously?

But more importantly, the IMA appears not to have thought through the emotional impact of this tall admission fee. Cries of elitism and exclusion pepper the comments sections on every news story posted about this change. The IMA was not going to entirely avoid that even if admission had been set at $5; it takes quite an adjustment to pay for anything that had been free. But after you cut through their invective, many of those commenters have a good point: what had been a wonderful free family outing is now mighty expensive, and has been priced out of reach for many.

It is clear that this change will cost the IMA its most casual patronage, those who visited once in a while because it was something to do and it didn’t cost anything. But how many people who really appreciate the art and the grounds will no longer go, either out of principle or because they just can’t afford it now?

LIttle bridge
The IMA is a great place for a stroll

Perhaps the IMA wishes to drive their non-casual patronage toward memberships, which cost $55 per year for individuals and $75 per year for families. With a membership, a family of four can visit anytime for $19 more than one visit at admission price.

I’m going to buy a membership, even though I don’t like how the IMA is handling this. I visit the IMA a dozen times a year, usually just to walk the grounds and take photographs. I would hate to not do that anymore, and I can afford a membership.

But I wonder what would happen if the IMA instead set admission at $5, which would avoid this sticker shock. I’m betting they’d lose far fewer visitors up front. I also think they might make up on volume what they lose on that $18 fee. If it didn’t, they could raise admission a buck or two every year until they find that sweet spot.

I think the IMA has hurt itself. I hope, for the IMA’s continued good fortune, that enough people like me buy memberships to make up for the loss of visitors for whom a day at the museum is now too expensive.

Old Cars

A visit to the National Auto and Truck Museum

As long as I’ve been online — and that’s 25 years now — whenever a virtual community thrives, it eventually wants to meet in person. The community at Curbside Classic, the old-car blog for which I write, is no exception. I had to miss last year’s inaugural meetup, but I didn’t want to miss this year’s meetup since it was set right here in Indiana.

Auburn, Indiana, was the site of the Auburn Automobile Company, which made high-luxury automobiles under the Auburn, Cord, and Duesenberg names from the early 1900s through the Great Depression. Today, the Auburn factory and office buildings are museums. The factory houses the National Auto & Truck Museum, while the offices are home to the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Museum. This post is about the former; I’ll write up the latter soon.

The 810 and 812 Cords were radical automobiles for their day, featuring front-wheel drive and an independent front suspension. This 1937 Cord 812 is painted in Indiana State Police livery because it was used in the fleet, although I’m not clear on what it meant to be a “safety car.”

1937 Cord 812 Supercharged Sedan

Auburn, Cord, and Duesenberg were luxury makes. This 1929 Auburn Model 8-90 was not targeted at the Ford Model A demographic.

1929 Auburn Model 8-90

Here’s this car’s radiator cap and hood ornament.

Radiator cap

The museum had a handful of the namesake cars right up front, where the lighting was terrible. I shot RAW all day, though, and that let me to bring several washed-out photos to life, such as this one of a 1936 Auburn 654.

1936 Auburn 654

I never found the card teling what year this Auburn 851 is.

Auburn 851

That didn’t stop me from taking this detail shot. Here, the room’s lighting worked in my favor: the source was behind me.

Air inlet

I’m a sucker for dark-blue cars, like this 1931 Auburn 898A sedan.

1931 Auburn 898A sedan

The rest of the museum is filled with cars made ostensibly in the spirit of Auburn, Cord, and Duesenberg. As a native of South Bend, I was drawn to this 1965 Studebaker Wagonaire, despite it having been built in Canada after the South Bend plant closed. That thing in the back is a refrigerator, showing the Wagonaire’s retractable roof.

1965 Studebaker Wagonaire

One of my favorite cars of all time is the step-down Hudson. Here’s a 1951 example. The difficult lighting continued in this part of the museum.

1951 Hudson

I’m always happy to come upon an Avanti, especially when it’s from the Studebaker years. This one was built in 1963.

1963 Studebaker Avanti

I’m not sure how a 1959 Buick LeSabre captures the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg spirit, but it was good to see this basic black Buick nevertheless.

1959 Buick LeSabre

This Kaiser was wedged into this spot, making it hard to photograph. It’s an unusual Kaiser, in that it was built in 1962 — seven years after the last Kaiser automobile was built in the United States. Apparently, automobile production continued in Argentina. This car was built for Henry J. Kaiser himself.

1962 Kaiser Manhattan

The basement of the museum was filled a huge selection of International Harvester trucks, which were built in nearby Fort Wayne. I didn’t photograph any of them, but I did photograph this 1968 Ford LTD. My mother’s mother’s mother had one in dark blue. I rode in it a couple times.

1968 Ford LTD

Several other cars dotted this basement. I was completely smitten by this 1948 Pontiac Silver Streak.

1948 Pontiac Silver Streak

My girlfriend fell in love with this 1951 Nash Healey — the first one built. She would look good in it. I’m confident I could never afford it.

1951 Nash Healey

I barely scratched the surface of this museum with my photographs. It was such a large collection it was hard to take it all in! This means I must return another day.


Entering the IMA

Indianapolis Museum of Art
Nikon F2AS (review), 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor, Kodak Ektar 100

Film Photography