by Eric Stearley
The main attraction at April’s First Friday Art Walk was the Wabash County Museum’s Grand Opening of the Charles R. Showalter Gallery. Along with Chamber of Commerce representatives and a large group of community members, Mr. Showalter’s son, John, and his family, were in attendance to cut the ribbon and officially open the gallery.
The gallery will be a permanent installation in the museum. It was designed to showcase the work of Wabash County artists, and will feature new artists each quarter.
The Showalter name has a long history in Wabash. Charles R. Showalter was the son of two-time Wabash County Mayor Homer T. Showalter. Described by his grandson, John, as a gregarious, glad-hand politician and “Mr. Wabash,” Homer Showalter was a great promoter of the city, county, and state.
Growing up in his family’s home on Sinclair Street, Charles Showalter was the “black sheep” of the family, according to John. He left Wabash as a young man, traveling to Chicago to pursue his passion for art. After returning from military service, Showalter began working with Haddon Sundblom, creator of the original “Coca-Cola Santa Claus.” Showalter gained recognition as Sundbloms’ protégé, continuing to work on future Coca-Cola Santas. In addition, he created advertisement illustrations for Sealy mattresses and Hush Puppies Shoes. He was also the man behind the poster for the original “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” film and the designer of the first Coppertone Baby.
“It’s classic oil painting artwork, back when illustration art was classical art,” said John. “It wasn’t cartoons, it was classical art. The irony is, unless you ran the studio, unless you were the ad agency, nobody knew who you were.”
John and his wife, Peggy, spoke highly of Wabash and its museum. They have fond memories of visiting Homer, who died in his home on Sinclair Street in 1978.
“Coming back here and going back down the streets that we visited when I was a kid…going down Hill Street to the park, and down the hill and looking at what used to be the cafeteria where we had lunch every Sunday when we would come to visit, it’s just kind of neat,” said John. “Some of the grand old mansions and homes in this town, it’s so beautiful. The architecture is just incredible.”
“It’s amazing that a small community in the middle of Indiana has such a great museum,” said Peggy.
“There aren’t many museums like this,” John added. “This is phenomenal.”
Three local artists are currently featured in the Charles R. Showalter Gallery.
Kristy Church moved to Wabash from North Carolina in 2013. She is a folk artist who takes inspiration from her life on the farm, among other things. Her work has been featured at Dorothy-Ilene in downtown Wabash and was awarded first place in the Charley Creek Arts Festival’s fine arts category last year. Many things can be said about Church’s work, but there is no doubt that she is passionate about color.
Britta Gene E. Glass currently lives in Indianapolis, but has roots in Wabash. She graduated from the University of Saint Francis with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in painting and drawing. Her work is a whimsical combination of pen and watercolors. In the future, she hopes to see her work used to illustrate a children’s book, which is currently in the works.
Skyler Lawson is a designer, photographer, painter, and filmmaker. He grew up in Wabash County and graduated from Southwood High School, before receiving a Bachelor of Fine Arts in visual communication from Indianapolis’ Herron School of Art and Design. His work combines photography and graphic design, resulting in a modern hybrid of the two disciplines.
On July 4, a new set of artists will be featured in the Showalter Gallery, with a subsequent show premiering October 3.
Charles R. Showalter’s work will be on permanent display at the museum. A screen in the gallery features more than 100 works of art by the notable illustrator and Wabash native.