Last year, I shared a full guide to the Indiana State Museum during the holidays, and I mentioned that I couldn't have been more impressed with how the museum had changed since my last visit as an elementary school student over 25 years ago.
My daughters still talk about the Snowflake Express train the museum has during the holidays! All of us were excited to return with my best friend last weekend for the debut of a new temporary exhibit, "Inspired By the Dunes: Paintings By Frank V. Dudley."
Dudley, who became known as the "Painter of the Dunes" during his lifetime, was born in Wisconsin on November 14, 1868. However, he spent most of his life in the Chicago area, falling in love with the incredible Indiana Dunes National Park.
He passed away in 1957 at the age of 87.
Dudley did wonders not only for the art world but for conservation. "Inspired By the Dunes" is not only an ode to Dudley's beautiful beach paintings -- I still can't get over the stormy sky in "Shelter Bound" [below] -- but to his ecological legacy.
As a matter of fact, Dudley's nationally-recognized paintings brought significant attention to the wildlife and flora of the Indiana Dunes region. The legacy his art left behind still plays a major role in conservation programs that exist in the area today.
One of his most famous works, "Duneland," won the prestigious Logan Medal of the Arts presented by the Art Institute of Chicago in 1921. The piece is on display in the Indiana State Museum's gallery, along with fascinating facts about how the painting spearheaded Dudley's career as one of the Indiana Dunes' biggest proponents.
As the Museum puts it, "Duneland" brought Dudley "closer to the Dunes" in a literal sense. He used the $500 prize -- about $7,649 in 2023 currency -- that was given with the Logan Award to build a studio/residence that overlooked his beloved National Park.
Dudley spent the rest of his life in this home, committed to creating art that would spur potential visitors to experience his favorite place for themselves.
Before he became a Logan Medal recipient, Dudley struggled as an artist. This was partially due to the fact that he attempted to blend relatively modern styles, like the late 19th century's Impressionist movement, with his naturally conservative eye.
"He would've said he was conservative in the best possible way," art historian Wendy Greenhouse once told WTTV, "He valued the traditions and the fundamental idea that art should enlighten and uplift and please and be something you'd wanna live with."
While the Indiana State Museum's exhibit doesn't actually transport you to Northern Indiana, it is an immersive gallery that urges you to imagine yourself in each of Dudley's paintings.
In addition to 28 paintings, the "Inspired By the Dunes" gallery has a number of interactive stations for children and adults alike. These allow visitors to use various senses to fully enjoy Dudley's coastal-inspired artwork.
My girls were particularly fond of an ecosystem table that featured driftwood, foliage, a taxidermy turtle -- a big hit with all kids according to an employee -- and sculptures of other animals that live near the Dunes.
Other hands-on activities include a noisemaker sensory table that sounds like waves crashing on the shore [below], and a glass case with a fan where gallery guests can create their own tiny sand dunes.
As a mom and an art-lover, one of my favorite things about this particular art exhibit is that it's family-friendly.
There's plenty for little ones to do while parents take in Dudley's stunning artwork.
Whether you want to introduce your children to the world of art exhibits or you simply want to learn more about Frank Dudley's amazing life, don't miss out on "Inspired By the Dunes."
The exhibit runs through June 25, 2023. Admission is included with your museum ticket.
What do you think about Frank Dudley's artwork?
The Indiana State Museum is located at 650 W Washington St, Indianapolis, IN 46204.
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