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“It’s About Making a Life”

Steve Charles—At the Children’s Museum in Indianapolis last Friday, I heard this inspiring thing.
I was interviewing David Orr —not David Orr ’57, trustee emeritus, citizen of Crawfordsville and San Cristobal, Chiapas, but David Orr 92, philosophy major, actor, co-founder with his wife Bonnie of the Sapphire Theater in Indianapolis, and listed in our alumni director as a “carpenter/artist."
David’s work includes building and finishing “sets” for the Children’s Museum, and I interviewed and photographed him in several different settings he’d made to help kids experience what it is like to live in modern Egypt. The work is not unlike writing—get a few concrete details right, and the imagination, thus directed, can do the rest. He pays remarkable attention to detail.
He also built the furniture for the Museum’s magic show, and while we were doing a photo session on the stage where that show takes place, I asked him about the connection between this work, the liberal arts, and his life as an artist.
 
WM: What does all this work at the Children’s Museum have to do with being an artist? 
David Orr: It’s about making a life. I’m an artist. If I don’t keep making things, making art, then I really don’t stay sane. So figuring out how to keep a life going trying to work as an artist, you tend to learn to do a lot of different things.
WM: Any connection to your liberal arts education?
Orr: For me, liberal arts is all about learning how to learn. I wasn’t told, “Here’s a formula, now go apply it, and just do your task.” In the liberal arts, there are all these ideas to explore, and it became all about learning how to learn. Once you’ve cracked that nut, you can do anything.
Doing a piece like this [the carving of pharoah on the “magic box”] becomes like creating a piece of sculpture for me.
I used to think that I was only an artist when I was painting on a canvas. I would separate my art from the jobs that I would have to do in order to support my life. But I realized that I couldn’t live that way.

So now, I look at the things I do as opportunities to be an artist. I use my talents, my eye for detail, and I hold myself to a high standard. Then all the things I do turn into works of art, and I get to maintain my sanity as an artist.

We’ll have a story with photos of David’s work in the Winter 09 issue of Wabash Magazine.