Sincerely Yours: How Artists Research with Alma Eikerman

Alma Eikerman, IU Archives image no. P0059062

I recently had the opportunity to reprocess correspondence in the increasingly popular Alma Eikerman papers (C621) for better researcher access. The series contains slices of the Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Fine Arts’ life, including letters home from her extensive travels, thoughtful communications with former students, discussions with fellow IU faculty, and more. Eikerman’s correspondence shows her independent spirit, wit, and artistic and pedagogical philosophies.

Recently, I’ve been experiencing some summer blues—it is always difficult for me to not feel vegetative in the hot months between school years. In my dreary state, I came across a 1984 letter from Eikerman to Metalsmith editor Sara Bodine that mentioned the Metropolitan Museum of Art—something that piqued my interest. As I continued to read, I could almost hear Alma laughing at my intellectual lethargy. Her passion is evident:

“My life has been made most rewarding by following my interests. My research started when I was in college, it followed no plan, except that of my interests, and continues today. I have been a world traveler, and research of many different areas of metal objects has certainly added to the pleasure and my knowledge. I acquired a strong feeling that a professor of metal should also know as much as possible about the history of metal. Well, that means, knowing almost all of world history.”

Alma Eikerman to Sara Bodine, 2 April, 1984. Alma Eikerman papers, C621, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington
Alma Eikerman to Sara Bodine, 2 April 1984. Alma Eikerman papers, C621, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington

Her honest account of following her research interests struck a chord with me. As practicing artists may know, however, it can be overwhelming to know where to start research. Alma includes helpful—and non-intimidating—advice for Metalsmith readers:

“For a beginner it is fun to start with a historical object that fascinates you. Gather a number of library books about the area of your interest. Fortify yourself with good maps of the area and begin to make sketches of all the important pieces in a given field. Sketches help you see and seek out the details.”

This is why research in the visual arts interests me so much. Artists are able to use their technical skills of creation to understand research material in a unique way. Being able to actually draw one’s research subjects is a powerful way to connect with learning. She continues to emphasize the importance of looking as an active verb in research, writing:

“Learn where the pieces were made or found-and in which museum they are located…This kind of study research can start in the museum nearest to you—or it can simply start from book study. Libraries are full of wonderful books, with good reproductions.”

As someone whose most vivid childhood memories include parent-dictated art museum trips and the pages of the Time-Life Library of Art books, I second Alma’s affections. For artists, visual research (or looking) is just as important as text-based research.

Alma Eikerman to Sara Bodine, 2 April, 1984. Alma Eikerman papers, C621, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington

Alma Eikerman to Sara Bodine, 2 April, 1984. Alma Eikerman papers, C621, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington
Alma Eikerman to Sara Bodine, 2 April 1984. Alma Eikerman papers, C621, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington

Even so, Alma’s powers of textual description make this letter so fun. Following her advice, which she wrote to serve as an introduction to a piece in Metalsmith, Alma describes three pieces at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that she wants to include with her magazine piece. There are no accompanying slides for these, so in order to identify them a reader has to do a bit of searching. Amazingly, just entering her description of each piece + “Metropolitan Museum of Art” into a search engine immediately retrieved the three pieces. Now that is some powerful descriptive skill!
The three pieces are: a pair of gold armbands with two tritons from Hellenistic Greece, a 4th century silver head of a Sasanian king, and a gold and stone necklace from Egypt’s Middle Kingdom. Looking at these pieces, it is easy to understand Alma’s perspective on art history. Although she was a mid-twentieth century artist, she was able to pull from eons of history to inform her research and work. For anyone feeling stuck on an artistic or research project this summer, take Alma’s advice and trust your instincts—follow your interests. The way forward may not always be clear, but there is a path.

Feeling inspired? Get more motivation by contacting an archivist to check out this collection.

The Big Apple Comes to Blooming-town : Part II

See Part 1 of this blog series at

Drum roll please… For those of you who’ve ever taken an introductory Art History course, you’ll understand why I got so excited to uncover that our small town in Indiana was for approximately two months in 1948 the temporary home to 30 of the Metropolitan Museum of Art‘s masterpieces, including works by Rubens, Titian, Rembrandt, El Greco and Bonheur (see complete inventory below). Many of these works even today hang on the gallery walls of the museum.

Indianapolis Star Magazine, April 18, 1948

Upon arrival in Bloomington (by way of the Dallas Museum of Fine Art and the State University of Iowa), the university immediately overtook responsibility for the security of the precious cargo. The crates were transported by University truck to the Auditorium where they were unloaded at the south scenery entrance to the main stage.They remained in storage on the stage until they were unpacked and hung by personnel furnished by the Metropolitan.

Lawrence Wheeler (left), watches Metropolitan Museum experts Elmer Miller and Henry Stone uncrate “Virgin and Child” by Rubens

Judging from the reports, it appears that the uncrating and installation of the exhibition went off without a hitch, aside for some humorous anecdotes surrounding Rosa Bonheur’s (8 x 16 1/2 foot) “Horse Fair.” According to the May issue of the Indiana Alumni Magazine it “took a dozen of them [University workers] more than a half-hour of grunting, sweating and tugging to maneuver the big “Horse Fair” out the end door of the railroad car. Loaded

Uncrating the “Horse Fair”

onto the truck, it stuck out four feet from the tailgate.” When it came time for installation, according to the Lawrence Wheeler’s April 23, 1948 column in the Star-Courier, the enormous painting was apparently uncrated in the scenery room back stage and then carried out through the big doors near the stage along the street adjacent to the Auditorium. Said Wheeler, “Some twelve men were handling the picture. Everything went well until the turn had to be made toward the front door of the Auditorium.

Metropolitan staff members Elmer Miller and Henry Stone, among others hang “The Horse Fair”

There the wind caught the big surface and it was touch and go for a minute as to whether the horses wouldn’t become air minded and sail off down wind toward the B. and E. building.” (“B. and E.” = Business and Economics, or present-day Woodburn Hall.) These stories certainly do add to the humor and drama of those minutes! Once back inside, Met staff members re-framed the canvas, as the large canvas had to travel without its frame.

Paintings under guard in a storage room below the seating area of the Auditorium



The security of the treasures was of the upmost concern. Campus police, under the direction of Don Kooken and Fred Cogshall, and ROTC upperclassmen under orders from Col. J.E. Graham, mounted a 24-hour armed guard of the priceless paintings. According to a March 25 memorandum outlining the arrangements and responsibilities for the various parties involved, “Five men from Pershing Rifles and/or ROTC will stand armed watches during normal exhibit hours. Additional men will be used during public programs. The Safety Department is to provide armed night protection.” Obviously, the university administration took the position as temporary caretakers of the paintings quite seriously!

30 Masterpieces: An Exhibition of Paintings from the Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art – April 18 through May 16, 1948

The exhibition opened to great fanfare – newspaper coverage flooded the Indiana Daily Student and the local and state papers. According to reports, on the opening Sunday of the exhibition, several hundred people waited outside the Auditorium for the doors to open and a reported nearly 4,000 saw the exhibition on that day alone.

Crowd waiting to see paintings, April 18, 1948

Over the course of the coming weeks grade school children, social organizations, religious and family groups, farmers and businessman flocked from near and far to see the 30 masterpieces outside of New York City. The May 1948 Indiana Alumni Magazine reported an anecdote about one young student visiting with his grade school class. While standing in front of “The Horse Fair”, he wrinkled up his nose and stated: “Not only do they look like real horses, they smell like horses, too.” University professors of literature, history, art and music used the paintings as the subject matter for their lectures; Fine Arts Department faculty provided special lectures and tours and students from the School of Music, under the direction of Dean Bain, provided Renaissance period music to serve as the backdrop to the display of 14th through 18th centuries artwork.

The full list of paintings included in the exhibition are below and where possible, links are provided to each object in Metropolitan Museum of Art database. Make special note of the number of paintings which are currently on view and their locations!

  1. GIOVANNI DI PAOLO, Presentation at the Temple
  2. FRA FILIPPO LIPPI, The Annunciation
  3. DOMENICO GHIRLANDAIO, Portrait of a Lady of the Sassetti Family
  4. GIOVANNI BELLINI, Madonna and Child
  5. CARLO CRIVELLI, The Pieta
  6. AMBROGIO DE PREDIS, Girl with Cherries
  7. COSIMO TURA, Saint Louis of Toulouse
  8. FRANCIA, Madonna and Child with St. Francis and St. Jerome
  9. TITIAN, Portrait of Doge Andrea Gritti
  10. TINTORETTO, Portrait of Benedetto Varchi
  11. MORONI, Portrait of the Prioress Lucretia Cataneo
  12. SALVATOR ROSA, Portrait of the Artist
  13. LUCAS CRANACH, Judith with the Head of Holofernes
  14. FOLLOWER OF JAN VAN EYCK, Portrait of a Man
  15. QUENTIN MASSYS, Portrait of a Man
  16. JOOS VAN CLEVE, The Last Judgement
  17. FOLLOWER OF HIERONYMUS BOSCH, Christ’s Descent into Hell
  18. PIETER BRUEGHEL THE YOUNGER, Gamblers Quarreling
  19. PETER PAUL RUBENS, Virgin and Child
  20. ANTHONY VAN DYCK, Portrait of a Man
  21. FRANS HALS, Malle Babbe (The Witch)
  22. REMBRANDT VAN RIJN, Portrait of an Admiral
  23. REMBRANDT VAN RIJN, Portrait of an Admiral’s Wife
  24. GABRIEL METSU,  The Artist and His Wife
  25. SALOMON VAN RUYSDAEL, River Scene with Castle
  26. JAN DAVIDSZ DE HEEM, Still Life
  27. JAN VAN DER HEYDEN, A Street Scene in Delft
  28. EL GRECO, The Adoration of the Shepherds
  29. GOYA, Dona Narcisa Baranana De Giocoechea
  30. ROSA BONHEUR, The Horse Fair

According to the final reports, the show brought 69,900 individuals to the Auditorium with no final cost to the University. While the University was responsible for transportation, insurance and security, Dr. and Mrs. Henry Hope provided a generous gift of $3,000 to cover the majority of the expenses. Sales of the printed catalogues resulted in an additional $1,453 which covered the full cost of the exhibition.

Following their brief stay in Bloomington, the 30 paintings traveled back to New York City where they again took their place upon the walls of the Metropolitan.

For more details about the exhibition, including correspondence, exhibition literature and additional photographs contact the IU Archives.

The Big Apple Comes to Blooming-town

In the spring of 1948, Henry R. Hope, chairman of the Fine Arts Department, in collaboration with the I.U. Foundation, pulled off a small miracle for the then sleepy town of Bloomington, Indiana and the campus of Indiana University, which was then home to only 11,414 students. The rapidly expanding and nationally recognized Fine Arts department as well as the recently completed campus Auditorium (1941), caught the attention of the Metropolitan Museum of Art which was in the process of organizing a traveling exhibition of some of its most famous paintings.

The introduction to the exhibition catalogue pointedly laid out the intent behind the Metropolitan traveling exhibition program and partnership with Indiana University:

The Metropolitan Museum of Art welcomes this opportunity to bring its treasures before the public of the Midwest. Since 1870 this Museum has pioneered in the cultural and artistic life of this continent. It has opened the door to three generations who have seen beyond it the broader horizons of our common past…

The Museum now has accumulated collections beyond, indeed, the capacity of its present buildings and the immediate needs of its metropolitan audience. Our duty and our opportunities lie in the nation at large where by sending exhibitions to other museums we may assist our colleagues in the common task of awakening Americans to the responsibilities of world leadership and the understanding between peoples.

We are grateful to Indiana University for its initiative and hospitality and hope this will be but the beginning of an exchange of people, ideas, and works of arts.

~Francis Henry Taylor (Metropolitan Director)

April 5, 1948

After great anticipation, at the beginning of April a special steel railroad car under special guard arrived in Bloomington via the Monon Railway, bearing, according to the Bloomington Star-Courier, “about a million and one quarters’ dollars worth of wood and canvas that has been decorated over a period of more than 400 years.”

Lawrence Wheeler (Director of the IU Foundation) and Henry R. Hope (Chair of the Fine Arts Dept.) inspecting the crates, April 5, 1948




Once unloaded, the crates were transported by truck to the south entrance of the Auditorium, where within days they would hang alongside the famous Thomas Hart Benton Murals.  Over the course of the coming weeks an estimated 70,000 individuals would flock to the halls of the auditorium to gaze upon the marvels, while numerous lectures, classes, musical performances, and public and private tours were held in conjunction.


Wondering by chance WHICH 30 famous Old Master paintings traveled to Bloomington? For that you’ll have to wait until next week for Part II of the story –  but I’ll just tell you that it gave this art nerd goosebumps! 😉