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Library’s Hoosier Art Collection dates back to 1905, valued at nearly $700,000

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Shakti Scircle

LOCAL ART — Shakti Scircle, manager of the Kokomo-Howard County Public Library's Hoosier Art Collection, displays "Winnie-the-Pooh II" by Ruth Baker in KHCPL's art storage room. The room was added in 2010 and designed specifically to store the collection, as many of the pieces date back to the early 1900s.

In addition to housing an extensive book collection, the Kokomo-Howard County Public Library also is the home to an extensive art collection that’s valued at nearly $700,000.

The collection, dubbed the “Hoosier Art Collection,” currently is made up of 167 pieces painted by prominent artists who were born in Indiana or painted in the Hoosier state. And many of the pieces date back to the early 1900s.

“It’s here, and it was started because of people who truly valued art and the contribution of the artists to Hoosier history and the art world in general,” said Shakti Scircle, manager of the Hoosier Art Collection at the Kokomo-Howard County Public Library.

The collection got its start in 1905. There was an art exhibit at the St. Louis World’s Fair that year, and Scircle said the library was involved in some capacity, though records are unclear exactly how. At the end of the World’s Fair, the library retained two pieces from the exhibit, and those pieces became the start of the Hoosier Art Collection.

Over the years, KHCPL has had directors who were highly involved in growing the collection to what it is today. The first director was Phil Hamilton who was with the library from 1958 to 1981 and then Charles Joray who directed the library from 1982 to 2012.

“[Joray] was really into it, and he would frequently travel and go to auctions and gallery showings and just had people that looked out and made recommendations on things that would add depth and breadth to the collection,” Scircle said. “But between those two directors, that’s when it really has expanded.”

Today, the collection represents a variety of styles and periods. One of the most well-known artists in the collection, Scircle said, is Misch Kohn. Kohn, a painter and printmaker, was born in Kokomo in 1916 to Russian immigrants. He studied at the John Herron Art Institute in Indianapolis, and in 1949, he began a 22-year career teaching printmaking at the Institute of Design. He later worked at June Wayne’s Tamarind Lithography Workshop in Los Angeles in Los Angeles. He died in California in 2003.

The library’s collection is home to five of his pieces: “A Friend of the Family,” “Dark Bird,” “Letter from Japan,” “The Cello Player,” and “Tiger.”

Leota Loop is another artist in the collection who has a following, according to Scircle. Last year, the library loaned five of her pieces to the Indiana State Museum for a nine-month exhibit.

Loop was born in Fountain City, Ind., in 1893 and spent her career as an artist in Brown County, painting floral still life and landscapes. She died in 1961. KHCPL has 10 of her original works.

Carl Graf is another popular artist in the collection. The library frequently has his pieces out on loan to other galleries, Scircle said. Like many artists in the collection, Graf also was born in the late 1800s and was an American impressionist painter. He grew up in Bedford, Ind., and began his artistic career sketching paintings for the Bedford Daily Democrat. Later, he attended the John Herron Art Institute. He died in 1947.

Due to the age and value of many of the paintings, the library has a climate-controlled room with custom storage to house that artwork. The room was added to the main branch library during renovations in 2010, according to Scircle.

While the library hasn’t purchased any pieces in the last several years, pieces have been donated by people who know of the collection. Scircle said she would love to see it continue to expand in order to continue to preserve and present local art. All artwork is purchased through the library’s gift or memorial fund.

In addition to KHCPL loaning out the art to museums and galleries, the local branches regularly display the art and rotate the collection quarterly. Currently, the Russiaville branch is displaying Kohn’s pieces.

Scircle encouraged the community to visit the branches to view local art.