A passion for 'the process of art'

·5 min read

Jul. 30—Stained-glass artwork hangs in Gary and Margaret Martens' home in Naperville, Illinois.

It's a fond connection for their granddaughter, Ally Midgley. "I've always remembered it being in my grandparents' house," she said earlier this month.

Midgley eventually learned the craft from her grandfather, became an artist herself and earned a studio-art degree from Taylor University. On visits to her grandparents, she'd work on stained-glass projects with Gary, sometimes six hours a day, and shop for the glass at a local artisan shop. With Ally anxious to create her own design, Gary told her to bring him a pattern. It was a fish with flowers above and below it.

"I said, 'Ally, you picked a difficult one to do,'" Gary recalled. Over time, she got it done under his watchful eye. They continue to craft stained-glass art together, when she visits.

"She picked it up quickly, and she loves doing it," he said of stained-glass art. "And I like watching her do it."

Artistic talent and a willingness to take on challenges has led Ally Midgley to become the new executive director of Wabash Valley Art Spaces — the nonprofit organization that's placed more than 20 outdoor sculptures throughout Terre Haute. She replaces Mary Kramer, who retired July 1 from the executive director's position but is continuing as a part-time project consultant for Art Spaces. Kramer brought numerous community projects to fruition in her 17 years in that role, including Terre Haute's Cultural Trail, the 2013 Year of the River celebration and the ongoing Turn to the River project that will connect the downtown to the Wabash River front.

There is no set of instructions on how to turn a community project into a reality, Kramer learned. She saw Midgley's knack for bringing concepts to life since Midgley became Art Spaces' operations and programs coordinator last September.

"She's very courageous in new circumstances, where there isn't a certain answer," Kramer said, "and that comes from being an artist."

Running Art Spaces and completing an artwork have similarities. "There's definitely a lot of problem-solving in both," Midgley said.

Art Spaces began in 2003 as a "grassroots effort" to enhance public art in Terre Haute, and Kramer stepped into its leadership role two years later. Today, its ongoing projects include Turn to the River, which unveiled its Phase I makeover of the Terre Haute City Hall and Vigo County Courthouse campus this spring; creation of a sculpture commemorating the historic Lost Creek Settlement, the fourth element of the Cultural Trail; and projects to revitalize the Ryves neighborhood on the city's north side.

"I love the projects we're working on and am anxious to see them come to life," Midgley said, adding, "I've learned a lot from Mary, and I'm really glad she's staying on as a project consultant."

The 26-year-old Midgley grew up her brother and parents Bryan and Julie Midgley in Naperville, where Ally dreamed of becoming an art teacher. She trained for an art career at Taylor University in Upland, where her own artwork focused on print-making — a craft that involves carving a design into a wood block, rolling it through ink and pressing the image onto materials. Midgley earned her bachelor's degree and moved with her husband, Jordan Shaver, to his hometown, Terre Haute, where she worked at Indiana State University's permanent art collection. She joined Art Spaces in fall of 2021.

"I think Terre Haute's great," Midgley said. "I'm really excited to be a part of this area and to better it through public art."

Art Spaces' process has shown Midgley another dimension of the art world. Artists chosen to craft the outdoor sculptures for Art Spaces projects come from various parts of America and beyond. Turn to the River's Phase I sculpture — a depiction of the Wabash River watershed carved in granite with running water, surrounded by benches, seats, landscaping and digital stations — was designed by Texas sculptor Brad Goldberg. Earlier this month, Art Spaces began the search for an artist to create a public art piece to be placed in Herz-Rose Park to "activate" the Ryves neighborhood.

Midgley said she's excited "just to meet people who work in different ways that I haven't ever thought about, and that's been really great."

Soon, Art Spaces will begin searching for an artist to create a sculpture honoring the Lost Creek Settlement, a group of African American pioneers who settled in a 20-square-mile area in northeast Vigo County in the early 1800s. It will add to the Terre Haute Cultural Trail, which includes sculptures commemorating historic local figures of national and international distinction. The trail currently features sculptures honoring "Desiderata" poet Max Ehrmann (by Bill Wolfe at the Crossroads of America plaza downtown), Indiana state song composer Paul Dresser (by Teresa Clark at Fairbanks Park) and "An American Tragedy" novelist Theodore Dreiser (by Russell Rock and Jeanine Centouri at the Vigo County Public Library).

Ehrmann, Dresser and Dreiser — all Terre Haute natives — are known worldwide, but not by all.

"I'd heard of Terre Haute before I got here, but really didn't know much about it," Midgley said. The Cultural Trail illuminates the town's backstory.

"I think [the Cultural Trail] is a really great tool to educate people about the history here, especially people that aren't from here," Midgley said.

Those sculptures take a few years to go from an idea to a reality. It involves organizing committees, selecting and securing a site, fundraising, grant writing, interviewing artist candidates and finding the right one, hiring crews to prepare and set the sculptures, scheduling dedications and more.

Creating stained-glass art with her grandpa takes time, too. "It's a long process for me, but it's really hands-on," Midgley said. "I like the process of art."

Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or mark.bennett@tribstar.com.