Indianapolis Museum of Art: A Blend of Art and Nature

by Jenni Ingersoll on August 31, 2016

Indianapolis Museum of Art photoThe Indianapolis Museum of Art is not your every day art museum. Yes, with four floors to explore, it does display a significant collection of art spanning 5,000 years of culture and history. And yes, with 54,000 cataloged pieces it showcases all forms of media from paintings to costumes. But what makes the IMA special is not what is inside the museum, but what it displays outside.

The museum is set on 152-acres of grounds in Indianapolis, making the IMA one of the 10 largest art museums in the United States. Within that acreage stands the Oldfields-Lilly House & Gardens and The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 Acres. The landscaping and architectural pieces, sculptures and gardens associated with the IMA highlight the connection between design, art and nature.

The Oldfields-Lilly House is an estate listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Originally named Oldfields, the house museum has been restored to its 1930’s grandeur.  More commonly known as The Lilly House, the 22-room French-chateau-style mansion was once the home of J.K. Lilly, Jr., who served as president of the family’s pharmaceutical company. Most of the furnishings were used by the family in the home giving a true peek at life in the early 2oth century.  Docent lead tours are conducted once daily on Friday-Sunday, or through self-led listening device tours. A popular time to visit is during the Christmas season when not only the halls, but the rooms are decked for the holidays.

Outside the home, the Oldfields gardens stretch out welcoming all visitors. To create the gardens, the original home owners hired a landscape architect from the famed Olmstead Brothers firm. (The same firm that developed New York’s Central Park).  Beginning in the 1920’s, his vision brought about the formal garden, border gardens, walkways and a ravine garden cascading down the hillside. The plantings are still hand selected, as much for their fragrance as for their beauty, creating a multi-sensory experience.

Stationed around the gardens are sculptures, some original to Oldfields, others like Robert Indiana’s LOVE and Robert Lichtenstein’s Five Brushstrokes are more modern additions. A printed map is available that identifies not only the sculptures and their artists, but outlines the layout of the gardens, as well as the plantings of various conifer and flowering trees. Walking tours of the Gardens are led weekends April-October. Other tours including weather dependent Tram tours, audible and downloadable tours are available.

From the Gardens, two paths (one scenic, one paved) lead to The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 acres. Quite a mouthful for one of the country’s largest museum art parks located on 100 acres of  land including wetlands, woodlands, meadows and a lake. The Park features contemporary art installations focusing on the relationship between the worlds of art and nature.

One of the installations within 100 acres is entitled, Funky Bones. Located in the meadow and comprised of 20 benches it appears as white blots in the field. As you approach it becomes more clear. The blots are benches shaped and painted to represent bones of a giant human skeleton. The bone benches are met to sit, climb, even recline upon and it is pretty much a guarantee someone within your party will inevitably begin singing “…. the ankle bone’s connected to the …..”. Another piece, Chop Stick, was created from a single Tulip tree and offers guests a chance to sit, swing and enjoy refreshments.

The park is admission free and open daily from dawn to dusk allowing plenty of time to hike, picnic, and laze about. Leashed dogs are permitted, clean-up required. Which reminds me, restrooms located at the Ruth Lilly Visitors Pavilion are only open April 1-October 31.

Pres. HarrisonMini Golf at the IMA is an interactive outdoor exhibit that combines art with the sport of miniature golf.  Created to celebrate Indiana’s 2016 bicentennial, all holes are themed around state history, heritage or landmarks and are designed by local and regional artists. One hole honors former President and Indianapolis native, Benjamin Harrison, while another challenges golfers to putt around a series of autographed electric guitars in a nod to famous Hoosier musicians. One round of 18 hole mini-golf is included with museum admission and is available for play through October 30.

The Indianapolis Museum of Art is open Tuesday – Sundays, with the exception of a few major holidays. The Oldfields-Lilly House closes for a few weeks in November for holiday decorating and for the month of January. Be sure to check the website for specific dates of closures. Admission fees grant access to all areas of the IMA campus. With the colors and textures changing through the seasons, it is difficult to choose when, or if, there is a best time to visit. My suggestion, visit often and decide for yourself.

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Disclosure: The author was given complimentary admission to the Indianapolis Museum of Art for the purpose of a review. This post also contains some affiliate links. You get the same great price on products you buy, we get a little money to keep the blog going.

Photo credit: navets , J. Ingersoll

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Having been transplanted numerous times, I have learned to explore the sites around our new found hometown, uncovering hidden gems and attractions. When vacation time rolls around, I enjoy traveling with my family and the occasional weekend escape with my husband, coming home to share our travel experiences with others. You can follow me on Twitter @JAIngersoll. My top three destinations are Walt Disney World Resort, the Midwest and any beach I can walk along.

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