Rain pours out my window from gray skies covering gray buildings. I look through the arched windows and find great beauty in this landscape. This building, the Indiana Historical Society in Indianapolis, is my home this week.
Each morning I drive through the Indy traffic, park my Jeep and weave my way into the building. By now I am greeted by name, given my library pass and sent on my way.
I never take the short pathway to the library up on the second floor. No, instead I dawdle. How can I not? In each hallway, each space surrounding the rotunda, history pours itself into my very soul. Brock stands outside his 1816 exhibit, the year Indiana became a state. I stop and chat and ask about his work. Brock has a master’s degree in American history. I asked him how he became interested in history.
“My parents took me everywhere when I was a child. Gettysburg. Washington, D.C. Mount Vernon.”
He is young and hopes to teach in a university someday, but until then he manages the exhibit and tells first-person stories from Indiana’s birth. I pass him each morning on my way to work.
Finally I reach the library. I put my worldly possessions into a locker for a quarter, which I get back at the end of the day, and open the doors to Indiana’s history.
There are two parts to the library … one is in front where I can work and talk to folks, but can’t get to the collections. I research what I want to know in front. On this trip I am working on a new piece for the Indiana Historical Society and Storytelling Arts of Indiana. I have been commissioned to do a story on T.C. Steele, one of Indiana’s great painters.
I fill out all the forms for the collections and then I pass through the pearly gates into the quiet room, the Sally Reathard Reference and Collection Rooms. I sit quietly at a large maple table and spread out my tools … laptop, pencils (no pens allowed), paper and my silent cellphone. One by one history comes to me in boxes and I am lost in stories and time. There are letters, speeches, photographs, passports and so much more that I am at a loss for words.
T.C. Steele was born in Indiana on Sept. 11, 1847. From an early age he loved the Indiana landscape. I guess you could say he was born to be a painter. When he was a young man with a family he did portrait paintings as a way to pay the bills in Indianapolis. Soon money was available to him to go to Munich for five years to study art. Again it was more portrait work. He painted such folks as Benjamin Harrison and James Whitcomb Riley. When he returned to the United States, he began to paint landscapes. He was the first artist in Indiana to do so. His paintings captured the beauty of early Indiana much in the way that Riley captured early Indiana in poems.
I write. I type. I read. I listen. I make friends with Mary who also loves. T.C. Steele and she travels in the belly of the archives to bring me photographs and offers ideas for my show. I am grateful for her help … for all the help as I am just beginning this journey.
At noon I leave everything set up and meet Ellen downstairs in the Stardust Terrace Café where the sound of Cole Porter’s voice blends with our lunch chatter. Ellen’s office is now in this building and I tell her how jealous I am.
After lunch we visit the gift shop, which is filled with books and other memorabilia of Indiana. Many of the books I already own, but others I just hope for.
I return to work after lunch and time slips away as I let myself fall away into another world. My mind is in a state of possibilities as I wait for the brilliant ideas to find their way into my head. How to tell the story? What character should I be? What will I wear? What will I say?
Five o’clock comes and the library closes. I tell them I will see them tomorrow. I open the locker for my belongings and put my quarter back into my pocket.
And then I walk back outside into the real world of 2016.
LOU ANN HOMAN-SAYLOR lives in Angola at the White Picket Gardens where you can find her gardening or writing late into the night under the light of her frayed scarlet lamp. She is a storyteller, teacher, writer, actress and a collector of front porch stories. She can be contacted at email@example.com.