Art Adds to Atmosphere in Valparaiso University Law Library

It’s been said that the practice of law is an art. Students at Valparaiso University School of Law may or may not agree with that view of their future profession. But we recently confirmed that they do notice and appreciate works of art on display on the walls of our law library.

For the past 18 months, the library has been the beneficiary of a unique collaboration with Valparaiso University’s Brauer Museum of Art. More than 30 works of art are on display throughout the library, on long-term loan from the permanent collection of the museum. This connection between the museum and the law school, and between art and the law, began in August 2013. Over that summer, the main floor of the library had received a makeover (new chairs, new carpeting, and freshly-painted walls). With lots of clean, bare wall space newly-available, the librarians decided it would be a great idea if we could find some “real art” to display, rather than re-hanging the previous random selection of inexpensively-framed posters.

After discovering that a loan of art from the collection of the campus art museum was a possibility, Sally Holterhoff and Jesse Bowman (now at Northwestern, but who was at that time at Valpo Law) arranged a meeting with the museum’s director, Gregg Hertzlieb. The Brauer Museum has an impressive collection of artwork, much of which is in storage at any given time. Hertzlieb allowed the two librarians to select for a long-term loan to the law library a total of 32 original, unique pieces, depicting a variety of subjects and in many different styles—including paintings, photographs, and lithographs. With the start of fall semester rapidly approaching, we were pleased when our chosen artworks were delivered to the law library a few days later. We found wall space for all of them to be mounted in appropriate spots on all three floors of the library. Hertzlieb assisted with the hanging and provided small signs with information about each work: title, artist, medium, and donor information, if relevant.

Since then, this collection of borrowed artwork has become a distinctive feature of our library, providing interesting, unusual, and truly beautiful art for our students and faculty to view and enjoy. While our space (approximately 25,000 square feet on three floors) is first and foremost a law library and not an art gallery, the art seems to be very popular with our faculty and students. Jesse Bowman still remembers in particular one of the paintings that he helped select. It is a Chicago industrial scene, A 400 Pulls Out (Opera and Steel), by Richard A. Chase. Bowman and Holterhoff were told that this painting was also the favorite of a past president of Valparaiso University and hung in his office for years. So we are pleased to have it now in the law library.

Recently, our librarians decided to conduct a student survey to determine which individual works were their favorites and to gauge the effect, if any, that the art in our library has on our users. With the encouragement of candy and eligibility for a drawing for a Kindle Fire in return for submitting a completed survey form, the students responded enthusiastically. Their votes and their comments were surprising and informative, drawing attention to particular pieces that now enrich our library workspaces.

The majority of students surveyed named as their favorite Law as a Calling by 2010 Valpo Law graduate and successful artist, Justin Vining. This colorful, multi-media mural depicting Chicago and Valparaiso University is actually not part of the Brauer collection, since it was a gift from the artist to the law school. The piece was created from 694 pages of a civil procedure textbook, which were torn, painted, and glued to nine panels. It is prominently displayed on the curved wall of the library’s staircase. Various student comments about the mural show that each viewer’s relationship with a work of art is individual:

“The multi panels blend like a process – and law is a process!”

“It gives me hope for the days I won’t be spending in the basement [studying].”

“…a reminder that although law school is tough you have to make time for other activities you enjoy.”

left to right: Demarkus Muhammad (1-L student), Justin Vining (artist), Anjelica Violi (2-L student), & Sally Holterhoff (librarian) viewing the mural, Law as a Calling, by Justin Vining (2010)
Left to right: Demarkus Muhammad (1-L student), Justin Vining (artist), Anjelica Violi (2-L student), & Sally Holterhoff (librarian), viewing the mural Law as a Calling, by Justin Vining (2010).

Displayed in our Reference Office (and a favorite of several of the librarians) is Sunday Afternoon, a landscape by Karl C. Brandner (a regional artist who studied at the Art Institute of Chicago). The peaceful rural scene with its soft colors has proved to be calming for anxious students with questions about legal research assignments and for the reference librarian providing assistance.

Sunday Afternoon, by Karl C. Brandner (1947)
Sunday Afternoon, by Karl C. Brandner (1947)

Besides Vining’s mural, other pieces favored by students also featured bold colors. One is a somewhat somber painting with a darker but striking color palette: Fantastic Landscape. Painted in oils by Dean Porter, this work depicts a New Mexico scene of mountains and a church. Porter is director emeritus of the Snite Museum of Art at the University of Notre Dame and a recognized authority on the art of the Southwest. He is known for his modernist New Mexico landscapes and churches. Another oil painting by Porter, Santurio de Chimayo, hangs on an adjacent wall in the library.

Fantastic Landscape, by Dean Porter (1998), with Melissa Borom (2-L student)
Fantastic Landscape, by Dean Porter (1998), with Melissa Borom (2-L student)

Also on display are several pieces depicting the unique natural environment of Northwest Indiana, with its proximity to the Indiana Dunes and the beaches of Lake Michigan (only 15 miles from campus).  Many of us would agree with one student’s comment in his survey response: “Anything dealing with water is calming, soothing, and helps me focus.” One favorite is West Beach Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, an oil painting by Joel Knapp, a 1961 VU graduate.

West Beach Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, by Joel Knapp (2004)
West Beach Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, by Joel Knapp (2004)

While some of our students are so engrossed in their studies that they barely notice their surroundings, others confirmed through their survey responses that artwork is improving their experience in the library, just as we had hoped it would. As several of them commented about the art, it provides “a good way to remove oneself from the tension,” “helps me focus better on the work I’m doing,” and “allows students to immerse ourselves into something other than the law.” We are pleased that bringing art into the library has helped our group of future lawyers to cultivate the art of the law.

Photo credits: Adam Holterhoff