Local sculptor named Michiana Master

·5 min read

Aug. 6—GOSHEN — The Midwest Museum of American Art recently inducted John Mishler, Goshen College professor and sculptor, into the Michiana Masters Series.

He is the fourth artist to receive the annual title since its inception. Mishler was invited to speak at the museum's Noontime Talk series, in honor of his recent distinction and an exhibit at the museum, to tell a little bit about his journey as a sculptor.

Mishler told the audience that after attending a graduate program at the University of Tennessee in 1977, he was working with large wood construction pieces. In 1981, his alma mater Goshen College had a surplus in the budget and wanted to make improvements on the campus. They contacted Mishler to do a sculpture that now resides in the center of campus.

"It's really kind of a landmark now, especially with alumni," Mishler said.

Since then, he's sold many dozens of commissions and shared stories of his favorites to those at the Noontime Talk series, explaining how some of them transformed the way he produced art.

In 1988 Bradley Vite contacted him about doing a sculpture for High Dive Park. He named it "Windstream."

"Bradley Vite is one of the first people to discover me in this area," Mishler acknowledged. "He really talked me up and kind of helped meet with the mayor and get the mayor thinking about art — public art."

Mishler also attributed his future include of kinetics on many of his sculptures to Vite. His journey into the kinetics and moving pieces began with "Windstream," a steel structure that he now understands makes movement difficult. Today, he generally uses aluminum, which is much lighter and better for mobility.

"Almost everything you'll see from me, from now on, is kinetic," he said.

In 1994 he received a Genesis grant from the city of Elkhart to make a public art piece. It was controversial at the time.

"People do not like money being spent on art, but cities are realizing that public art is a good way to show that you have culture," Mishler explained. "It used to be that when a new business or people were thinking about moving to a city or town, they wanted to know what sporting events you had. Now they want to know what schools, what cultural events are taking place... Public art is a good way to show that."

The same year, he was commissioned to produce a piece in front of the Rec-Fitness Center at Goshen College. The piece was set to be 21 feet tall, but the home garage he worked in was only 14 feet tall. The Old Bag Factory had been talking to him about renting out the property that had been the boiler building.

"That's helped with many different things," he recalled.

The sculpture, "Sky Rythms", weighing in at two tons, itself became iconic to Mishler's style.

In 2002, Mishler was juried into a sculpture show at Navy Pier.

"I thought this was going to be my big break," he recalled. "I realized that it's just part of the journey. There's no one thing that's going to make you or break you."

In the city of Elkhart, Mishler has at least five long-term public art sculptures and in Goshen, he has three. There are dozens more home art exhibits.

"I really enjoy making sculptures, but meeting the people that are involved, it's really what makes it all worthwhile," he said.

Mishler has been teaching sculpture at Goshen College for over 30 years, bringing his passion for sculpture to a new generation.

"I teach a little different than most people," he explained. "Part of that reason is because I'm dyslexic. I turn numbers around, I can't spell, and sometimes I say things backwards... At one time I thought I wasn't as smart as other people, but I realize now that it's part of my creativity. I look at the world a little different than a lot of people do."

At the annual Elkhart Juried Regional, Mishler has received Best of Show twice and boasts over 20 Purchase Awards over his four-year decades of work, but Director and Curator of the Midwest Museum of American Art Brian Byrn said that's not why they named him one of the museum's Michiana Masters.

"It gives other artists something to shoot for," he explained. "They can say 'This museum has paid attention to this artists because his work has grown beyond the geographic confines."

The museum has a spotlight exhibition with many of Mishler's pieces on display until Aug. 21. Byrn said it's a "mini-retrospective" of Mishler's work from the first time he won a Best of Show at the juried regional in 1986 going forward. His second Best of Show came in 1989.

Mishler's outdoor sculpture can be seen across the country as well as in France and in Canada. The spotlight exhibit features works from the MMAA collection, models for outdoor works and pieces borrowed from area collectors. For information on his collections visit his website, www.johnmishler.com.

The Midwest Museum of American Art is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Admission is $10 for adults, $6 for ages 8-12, $8 for ages 13-18 and college students with ID. Noontime Talk entry is half off every Thursday for the programs which are noon to 1 p.m.

For more information visit www.midwestmuseum.org.

Joseph Weiser is a photojournalist for The Goshen News. Contact him at joseph.weiser@goshennews.com or at 574-538-2349 or (cell) 574-202-8479.