In the earliest days of the Gary Indiana Public Schools, William A. Wirt, the first superintendent, deemed that there should be an appropriate collection of the fine arts spread amongst the schools and owned by the school system (see examples in the background of the 1940 image to the right). This collection eventually grew to include works in all media in each school building; as of approximately 1911, the collection was funded by students’ lunch and/or milk money overages each year. It is told that an art appraiser was engaged by the school system to advise on which works to buy.
It is also part of the lore of the schools that the paintings were rotated to the Art Institute of Chicago for restorative maintenance and cleaning every three years. At one point, it is said that a piece by Rembrandt came into the schools’ collection. However, further study shows a misidentified work that was later sold by the schools.
Twelve John Jay Audubon watercolor prints were added to the now-growing collection during the 1930’s; these were last seen at the Theodore Roosevelt High School in Gary and seem to have been lost track of in the 1970’s.
Art works by many artists graced the walls of Lew Wallace: Frank V. Dudley, known for his renderings of the Indiana sand dunes; Pauline Lennards Palmer, whose “The Musician” enchanted many Hornets over the years; Cassidy, and Mozell.
Provenance for some of these art works has, however been muddied over time by poor management of the collection. Christ Christoff, former Lew Wallace principal (1970-88), recalls seeing a voluminous ledger book when he was at Emerson High School. Each work belonging to the school system - and this included Memorial Auditorium - was listed in so-described “copperplate” handwriting in this journal. Would that the book existed today, the secrets of the GPSC collection might become manageable.
In researching this piece, a news article from the Post-Tribune newspaper dated October 14, 2015, was found stating that the school board of Gary had approved a $14,612 contract with the Conversation Center in Chicago, Illinois, to store and preserve its art collection. Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt is quoted as saying the district would, under the agreement, be safeguarded from losing the collection should there be a payment default to the Center.
Jerry Greenblatt, an official with the school district’s financial management team, said at that time the collection could be moved within the week.
Gary resident Jim Nowacki has been investigating the disappearance of some of the art works originally donated by the students. Ms. Pruitt assured at the time that the works being transferred would be photographed and the images stored on a compact disc. To date, inquiry through Ms. Pruitt’s office has produced no answers regarding the collection or a CD.
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