Mural artist captures city, coming and going
By Dell Ford
The Fort Wayne Journal-Gasette, Sunday Aug. 13, 1989

Anyone wanting to get in touch with Nancy McCroskey in the fall would be advised first to call the department of fine and performing arts at Indiana-Purdue, Fort Wayne. An assistant professor, she heads the ceramics program. If McCroskey isn't in the ceramics studio, she might be riding up and down the escalator in the lobby of Grand Wayne Center, 120W. Jefferson Blvd.

The Seattle native, who found her way to Fort Wayne seven years ago by way of Indiana University, Bloomington, doesn't care one way or the other about escalators. It's what is on the wall by the moving stairs that captures her artistic fancy: "River Run," a 25-by-12-foot clay mural she designed. The mural, commission~d by the Fort Wayne-Allen County Convention Authority for permanent display in the Grand Wayne Center lobby, will be unveiled in a reception from 5 to 7 p.m. Aug.22. Judy O'Bannon, wife of Indiana Lt. Gov. Frank O'Bannon, will be a guest at the reception.

McCroskey was one of five Fort Wayne area artists invited in spring 1988 to submit designs for a work that would capture the essence of Fort Wayne for conventioneers and other visitors to the city. She submitted her design in August 1988 and received word of her selection in September. She recalls there were no restrictions asIde from the display area - one of two walls in the lobby.

The first order of business was to inspect the walls. Her artist's eye told her it would be a challenge because both wall areas – one beside the escalator, the other over the entrance to the Anthony.

Wayne Exhibition Hall - were well above eye level. She liked the escalator wall "because you get a good view of it from the top landing and movement of the rivers relates to the ascent and descent of people on the escalator." In addition, she thought the other wall provided a limited view.

River motion was central to McCroskey's early thoughts about a theme.

Dressed casually in blue jeans, shirt and sandals, McCroskey, who preferred not to.reveal her age, sat on a Grand Wayne lobby wall , bench Friday morning as She talked about the making of a giant clay mural.

I thought the thing to do would be to design a work of art representing Fort Wayne to strangers. What is special to me is the confluence of the three rivers, so I acquired some aerial photography (of the Fort Wayne area) from the IPFW geology department.

"I also looked at some of the geology and paleontology of the region, trying to come up with ideas - images - I could work into the mural."

The design, she said, glancing up at the work temporarily hidden by a canvas, is based on similar shapes repeated throughout a rectangle.

"The circular and oval shapes, used in conjunction with blue glaze, represent the water element that dots the northeast Indiana region. And there's a fossilized fern that’s indigenous to this region. I use that four or five times," she said, pointing to a fern in one corner not covered by the canvas.

Toward the center of the work, where the three rivers converge, McCroskey placed angular shapes - buildings, bridges - representing the city element and, farther out, shapes representative of a rural landscape as it might appear from an airplane.

“Nothing," she emphasized, "is literal. This is an abstraction."

The river element flows across the mural and is "the unifying force. There is color harmony," she said, "but the river element holds all the elements together. It has so much motion. It's visually strong."

The river element is strong. The mural is heavy.

Seventy-eight tiles, each weighing about 40 pounds, make the McCroskey mural weigh more than a ton and a.hilf. The wall was rebuilt to accommodate the weight, and the installation was done by F&M Tile & Terrazzo of Fort Wayne. McCroskey worked withF&M from the beginning to find out what she needed to do to prepare the tiles for mounting. Special pinning anchors the tiles to a plywood base.

McCroskey began working on a relief model of "River Run" in January, and 'in March the selection committee gave final approval. The bulk of the work was done at the artist's studio; some of the tile work was done at IPFW. F&MTile began installation Aug.2.

"River Run" was a massive project, one McCroskey freely acknowledges she would not have been able to accomplish without assistance.

"I bounced a lot of my ideas off David Harman. He contributed to development of the design relief and worked with me in/executing the muraL" Other project assistants were Toria Betson and Pamela Voight, McCroskey's students at IPFW.

In commissioning the art work, the selection committee discovered "an awful lot of 'talent in Fort Wayne," said Edward Moppert, committee chairman."

McCroskey, he said, was the committee's unanimous choice. "In that particular piece," he said of "River Run," "she captured Fort Wayne."

Moppert, a Fort Wayne attorney, said the committee was impressed by McCroskey's observation that the wall area above the entrance to Anthony Wayne Exhibition Hall is "an impossible location. 'A pop of the eye, and then people would move on,' she said. She had excellent ideas."

The commission for "River Run" was $20,560.

Although she enjoyed art in high school, it wasn't until McCroskey took a design course at Maryland Art Institute, Baltimore, that she committed herself to art. "I knew this was what I loved, what I had to do – my destiny,” she said, grinning.

She received a bachelor of fine arts degree from Maryland Art Institute and a master's from I.U.

McCroskey is happy with “River Run." And she's relieved it's done.

As with other works she has "around town," McCroskey thinks it is possible she will visit “River Run" now and then. Her works include a terra cotta relief sculpture, "Holocaust Memorial” at Achduth Vesholom Congregation, 5200 Old Mill Road; a wall sculpture in the lower lobby at GTJ Headquarters, 8001 W. Jefferson Blvd.; and a wall sculpture at LincoIn National Life Insurance Co., 1300 S.Clinton St.

That is why, from time to time an artist may be riding the elevator in the lobby of Grand Wayne Center.

  ©2004 Nancy McCroskey
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