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A beautiful, familiar light

Steve Charles—We featured Jim Urbaska’s oil paintings of the region near his home in West Brattleboro, Vermont in the Summer 2004 issue of Wabash Magazine, so I arrived at the opening of his show in Indianapolis with plenty of respect for his work.

What I hadn’t realized was that Jim’s Indy show features his new paintings of Indiana. I walked into the Ruschman Gallery on a frigid early December night and was warmed not only by the gallery’s central heating, but by the beautiful and strangely familiar light emanating from Urbaska’s linen canvases.

These were paintings of places I know—the hayfields around the T.C. Steele Memorial, forests along Old State Road 37, pine-laden peninsulas jutting into Lake Monroe. My gaze went instantly to a scene of Yellowwood Lake, painted, it appeared, from the exact spot where my daughters and I kayaked for the first time almost 10 years ago. The light was perfect, the painting drawing me into beauty and memory.

“How do you capture the essence of these places so well?” I asked the artist after his mentor, Wabash art professor Greg Huebner H’77, introduced us. Jim explained that he’d spent about a week in Indiana last summer at the invitation of gallery owner Mark Ruschman, photographing and sketching the landscape as raw material for paintings for the show. Those slides, projected on the wall of his studio, are just a launching point for the artist’s imagination. said, poking fun at his skills as a photographer. But one can’t help wondering if the sense of scale provided by those projections is a catalyst for Urbaska’s ability to create these land- and skyscapes that seem to extend far beyond their frames. (See photo album)

That expansiveness is no coincidence coming from an artist raised in the Big Sky country of Montana. But when I asked Jim what it was like to return to Indiana to paint his old Hoosier stomping grounds, he said that the long, glowing Indiana sunsets actually reminded him of that Big Sky! The mountains and woods of New England rarely offer such unobscured views.

Viewing Jim’s paintings changed the way I look at this Indiana landscape we sometimes take for granted. I was reminded of another artist, J. Ottis Adams, Wabash Class of 1876, who with T.C. Steele and William Forsyth brought an impressionist’s interpretation to Hoosier hills, farms, and streams.

Urbaska’s exhibit—“Indiana Landscapes Revisited"—runs through January 7 at the Ruschman Gallery, 948 N. Alabama St., Indianapolis, IN

Along South Shore Drive, Lake Lemon, oil on linen, by James Urbaska

Getting Past the Headline

Jim Amidon — Did you see the little page two-story on Wabash College in the local papers last week? I think the headline read something like, “Lilly Endowment Awards $12.5 Million to Wabash.” What followed were a couple of paragraphs of mostly esoteric jargon about an additional five years of funding for the Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts at Wabash.

I oughta know about the esoteric jargon; I wrote the press release and the one which appears on the Wabash website.

And I wouldn’t be at all surprised if almost none of our regular web readers bothered to go past the headline. So one of the world’s largest private endowments gave Wabash’s prestigious Center of Inquiry another $12.5 million. Big deal.

I’ve struggled for the last five years to adequately put into words the work of the Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts. Part of the problem is that almost nobody — even in higher education — can agree on what the liberal arts constitute. Millions of Americans have no idea whatsoever what the liberal arts are. Even more care less about another “think tank” doing research nobody understands. Fair enough.

Let me break it down more simply than I was able to do in the press release I sent out last week.

Lilly Endowment’s commitment to the Center of Inquiry is a commitment to Wabash. The Endowment further funded the Center’s work because it believes in Wabash, its administration, and liberal arts education.

So, what exactly did Lilly Endowment fund with its $12.5 million?

Sweeping opportunities for Wabash College faculty and students, not to mention researchers at the Center of Inquiry.

Put in this context, the grant doesn’t seem esoteric at all, and the Center of Inquiry looks less like a think tank and more like a laboratory for higher education.

Lilly’s generosity will continue to reshape Wabash and the education our students receive. And the Endowment makes this investment because it truly believes in the Wabash brand of the liberal arts, which is evolving every day thanks to the work of the Center.

Was that a community meeting?

Jim Amidon — We had a Staff Community Meeting on Tuesday. These are typically pretty routine; you know, reports from the senior administrators and president. Sometimes the news is actually new; other times many of us already know the details presented.

Yesterday felt different. Every presenter gave thanks and presented kudos to various staff members who made this an exciting fall on the Wabash campus. Maybe I’m still lingering in the spirit of the Thanksgiving holiday, but it was refreshing, I think, to listen as Rachelle Merkel gave thanks to the many, many people on campus who made the Top 10 Scholarship Visit Day so remarkable. Dean Tom Bambrey gave a deserving hat’s off to the Schroeder Career Center Staff — Scott Crawford, Stephanie Hopkins, and Toni McKinney — for what was the most exciting, energetic fall in Schroeder anyone around here can remember.

Dean Joe Emmick (yes, he asked for money, but politely) started by lifting up the staff of the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion and the Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts for their remarkable grants from Lilly Endowment Inc. Joe reminded us that renewal grants are rare, and that $20.5 million for ongoing work at Wabash’s two international centers doesn’t happen by chance. Hard work, dedication, and the pursuit of excellence are required.

One by one, Deanna McCormick, Steve Klein, Ray Williams, and President Ford all tipped their caps to their staffs and those who work with them for a great fall at Wabash.

Think about it. In the last four months Wabash can boast: A Rhodes Scholar recipient; $20.5 million in grants from Lilly Endowment; an 11-1, conference champion football team; a successful Homecoming weekend; positive progress on searches for the new president and dean; two of the most successful Admissions visit weekends ever; a clean audit in the Business Office; terrific new web site initiatives; a new director of the Malcolm X Institute; great, collaborative work on the Academic Program Review; off-the-chart NSSE scores and "America’s Hottest Colleges" designation; the list goes on and on.

I think I’d trade that one, 45-minute meeting for all of the previous dozen staff community meetings. For me, listening to our leaders give thanks simply demonstrated how interconnected all of our work at Wabash is; how all of us rely on one another to advance the mission of Wabash College. And the beneficiaries are the 877 fortunate young men who attend this remarkable college.

A great example of blogging!

Howard Hewitt – One of the goals we have had since starting up Wabash blogs is to use them on immersion learning trips. Toby Herzog’s "English 497: Seminar in English Literatures: Place, Space, and Community in the Novels of Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy" is a great example. If you haven’t taken a look at it, published on the faculty/staff and current students page – click here.

The students took lots of photos and blogged each day on their visit to England over the Thanksgiving holiday. Jenna Rogers provided some technical assistance but the guys did a really great job talking about their incredible journey.

This is a great example of what we hope to do with immersion learning in the spring. It creates a real-time documentation of the experience, a journal for future classes, and a piece future students and alumni can read to learn more about immersion learning.

We will also be adding a blog from Wabash swim coach Peter Cesares this week. Look for Peter’s "Lanelines" on the sports and swim pages later this week.

Robinson and Rhodes: A Perfect Fit

Jim Amidon — I vividly remember when I interviewed Jeremy Robinson ’04 for a Works in Progress feature in Wabash Magazine. We talked about everything — travel, politics, religion, family, and Wabash. It was obvious to me then that Robinson was a young man wise beyond his years; his life experiences neatly woven with his intellectual curiosity to produce a bright, sensitive, and thoughtful person. He wanted to be a teacher, he told me. "Wow," I thought. "He’s the kind of teacher I wish I had when I was a kid."

I am not at all surprised that the Rhodes Scholarship committee selected him as a Rhodes Scholar, Wabash’s eighth and first since 1966.

As one of Wabash’s top graduates in 2004, Jeremy probably could have gone anywhere or done anything. Fred Wilson, CEO of Saks Fifth Avenue, spotted the potential in a half-hour meeting with Robinson at Saks’ headquarters. Wilson told Robinson that if teaching didn’t work out for him to come see him.

Teaching has worked out for Robinson. Joining the ultra-competitive Teach for America program seemed like a perfect fit for someone who told me as a college senior how discouraged he was with the inequities in America’s public schools. At Harper High School in Chicago, Robinson has seen education at its worst; he also has seen the positive impact he can have on young people. And that’s precisely what Teach for America hopes to accomplish when it places the country’s best and brightest college graduates into the nation’s neediest schools.

Harper will lose Robinson next year when he heads to Oxford to seek a second undergraduate English degree. My hunch is that when Jeremy returns to the States after finishing his Rhodes Scholarship, he will be even better suited to tackle the problems in America’s public schools.

Wamidan: Another Brilliant Performance

Jim Amidon — Once I swallowed the last of the tail feathers, the crow I had eaten didn’t taste all that bad.

See, almost a year ago I wrote a piece in Wabash Magazine that featured Julian Moureaux. In that article I wondered how Wabash’s brilliant world music ensemble, Wamidan, would hold up after Julian’s graduation. Artistic Director James Makubuya was quick to point out that while Julian was a key part of Wamidan, the group was made up of dozens of dedicated musicians — and Wamidan, thanks for asking, would be just fine. New leaders would emerge, he said.

He was right. Wednesday’s show was a 50-minute, edge-of-your-seat, foot-stomping good time. Lots of new faces did emerge, and familiar old faces looked more confident on their unusual instruments. There’s joy in that African music and there was joy on the faces of the performers. Check out the photos by clicking here.

I simply can’t imagine a better way to spend an hour than going to a Wamidan concert. The show was tight and featured an array of ensembles and dancers. And once again, Reynaldo Pacheco thrilled the audience with his singing voice when he performed a French tune L’Hymne a l’amour. (My wife and I have agreed to pay Rey any amount of money to sing for us; heck, we’d pay to hear him read the newspaper with that voice.)

And it’s family entertainment at its best. With child performers Brian Thompson, Jake Feller, and Robin Morillo bringing down the house, Wamidan literally offered something for everyone.

James, you were right. Wamidan is doing just fine. And I can’t wait for the spring concert!

“Bell Week”

Jim Amidon — I wish I had a nickle for every call or email I’ve gotten this week that began with, "Jim, I know it’s Bell Week, but…"

Yes, it’s Bell Week. Coming in each morning I’ve seen smoke billowing out of burning trash cans, the freshman campus guards long gone and on their way to catch a little sleep before class. That smell — of the burning wood that keeps our rhynies warm at night — hangs in the campus air until about noon or so each day. Then it begins all over again as soon as night falls.

Bell Week. It’s the week when scores of former Wabash football players pick up the phone to call me or email me just to chat. Sure, they want to get caught up and tell me what’s new in their lives, but mostly they want to know the pre-game skinny. "How will Wabash play at DePauw?" "Is everybody healthy?" "What’s your gut telling you?" "How good are they?"

This is my 23rd straight Monon Bell Classic and they never get old; I never get tired of the hype and drama leading up to the big game. Nothing in my life — perhaps other than the birth of my daughter — compares to the emotion of the five or 10 minutes before kickoff of Wabash vs. DePauw. And imagine this: I’ve never played in a Bell Game!

Standing on the field and feeling the earth tremble as 8,000 to 10,000 fans jump up and down when the players charge out from the locker room is breathtaking. It’s right up there, I think, with watching the start of the Indianapolis 500 from the end of the main straightaway: you sort of hold your breath until all 33 cars come through. In the Bell Game, you hold your breath from the coin flip until the first big tackle, then settle in, focused and glued to every play.

I’ve never been able to explain why the Monon Bell Game is such a big deal to Wabash men, even those of us who have never suited up for one. Maybe it’s a male bonding thing or communal rite of passage. I don’t know. But I do know that when I gather with Wabash alumni of all ages and generations, talk quickly gets down to Bell Game memories. And trust me when I say those memories are vivid and alive in every single Wabash man.

Tomorrow, beginning at about 1:07 p.m., new memories will be seared into the minds of the Wabash fans in attendance. And we’ll spend our lifetimes recalling how great it was to be there.

DePauw to Hell. Bring Back the Bell!

Wabash Always Reads!

Jim Amidon — About two months ago I got a call from Mary Smith over at Nicholson Elementary School. She was working on a grant-funded program to encourage kids at her school to spend more time reading and less time in front of the TV. Her plan was the first Family Fun Sports Reading Night. What she needed from me was a big turnout from Wabash’s student-athletes.

Knowing that boys tend to read less, the theme was sports and the books selected for the evening were all sports-related. Nearly 50 kids and their families came out Tuesday night where they got to meet about as many Wabash student-athletes, who took time out of their busy lives (and practices) to read to the children. Coach Brian Anderson brought his whole wrestling team; I think the whole cross country team was there; and Coach Tom Flynn sent about 10 baseball players, too. Joined by a handful of Betas, the hulking Little Giants got down on the Nicholson gym floor and demonstrated that reading really is cool. As Mary said, "We know Wabash Always Fights and that Nicholson Always Reads!"

After the event, the kids and Little Giants enjoyed popcorn and soda (or course, it was a sports theme). The Wabash guys signed autographs and even Wally Wabash made an appearance.

I can’t say enough about how proud I am of the athletics department for its encouragement of community service. Our coaches — unlike so many in the Division I and Pro ranks — know that their athletes can and should be role models for our youth. And, honestly, I think our students love the opportunity to play "Dad" or "Big Brother" with our community’s children. The potential for further links between Wabash men and school-aged kids is limitless.

It’s good for our students, it’s good for kids, and it’s good for this College to make a difference in the community. Last night was a resounding victory for Wabash and Nicholson!

Senior Theater Majors Bring Down the House

Jim Amidon — It’s been a busy fall, so I guess I hadn’t noticed it was again time for the "studio one-act plays" to be performed. So when Denis Farr sent out the campus announcement, it caught me off guard. As it turns out, the one-acts were ditched in place of a full-scale production mounted entirely by senior theater majors.

I wanted to draw some attention to the work of the seniors, so I sneaked in Monday night to snap some photos. What I saw was collaboration among students — without faculty or staff involvement — that knocked my socks off. In the green room, Denis was leading a cast meeting and the actors were respectfully listening to him. Back stage Don Claxon was making last minute adjustments to the set. Everyone was in make-up and costume and ready to go. The dress rehearsal began right on time.

What I saw in the next hour or so had me glued to my seat. I planned only to stay long enough to get a few pictures. I couldn’t leave until it was over. The Vietnamization of New Jersey is NOT an easy play. The themes and characters are difficult and complex, yet the performances are excellent. And I suspect the timing of the delivery of lines — already quite good — will only get better with every passing night through Friday.

I knew Matt McKay was in the show; I did not know the guy trained in stage fighting would play the mother. I knew Rey Pacheco (that’s him above) was in the play; I didn’t expect his hilarious performance as the family’s (female) maid. Think The Bird Cage and you begin to get the idea. But the show is caustic and it does make you think hard between laughs.

As a former theater student at Wabash, I’m proud of the work of this year’s senior class — they really did bring down the house. And that was only at dress rehearsal. In a week filled with talk of football, make sure you catch this play.

Even Canon’s Best Can’t Get It Right

Jim Amidon — Since the day our office got the new Canon camera lens I’ve used to shoot sports this fall, I couldn’t wait for the colors of autumn to arrive. Finally, I thought, I’d have a lens and camera that could do justice to the gorgeous palette of colors nature gives us on the Wabash campus.

Nope, not even close. Even the super-duper lens that has transformed our sports photography isn’t capable of what the naked eye can capture. The subtle shades of yellows, golds, greens, pinks, and reds from a single maple tree don’t boast the same delicacy on screen as they do in my mind.

Gazing out my Kane House window I marvel at the maple tree that stands along Wabash Avenue; those brilliant colors standing out against a deeply blue sky. My camera turns the sky whitish-grey and blows out the Federalist backdrop of the Arnold House. My eyes, though, see the scene clearly; I can pick out four or five shades of red on a single leaf.

We photographers — oh how we love our toys. For us, the camera and lens can preserve moments forever; can capture the momentum-turning play in a football game or the instant a student makes an intellectual discovery in class. But our cameras and lenses — no matter how intricate or expensive — are not capable of paying tribute to the gorgeous hues of fall at Wabash College.

See the futile attempts at capturing nature’s beauty by Steve Charles and Jim Amidon by clicking here.