A school of stainless steel fish swims majestically in the air along the banks of the White River just south of the Michigan Street bridge. Metallic fins glint in the afternoon sunlight as they move and catch reflections from the quiet river. This peaceful vista is just minutes away from the bustling heart of downtown Indianapolis.
This latest addition to the city’s public art scene is the brainchild of University of Indianapolis Art & Design faculty James Viewegh and Nathaniel Foley. The 12 kinetic sculptures, representing four fish species native to the White River, are within sight of the new Riverview Apartment complex just opposite the White River Trail. The public art project is a collaboration between the University of Indianapolis and Riverview Apartments, developed by Strategic Capital Partners and Goodwill of Central & Southern Indiana through the City of Indianapolis’ Public Art for Neighborhoods Program.
“These projects are important because they put art in the public realm,” explained Viewegh, Department of Art & Design chair and professor. “We’re taking the sculpture we have here and extending it beyond campus. People bike, walk, and jog along the White River corridor. Now they’ll be able to engage this artwork in a way they couldn’t if it was in a gallery.”
Viewegh conceived the design for the artwork, while Foley, who heads the new sculpture program at the University of Indianapolis, brought it to life.
“Nathan, with his amazing talents, took a raw idea and made it into something tangible,” Viewegh said.
The River Fish project acknowledges the fishing culture that has long been part of the local community, including the nearby Westside Bait and Tackle Shop, now closed, which had a 67-year history on the White River Parkway. The artwork pays homage to the wildlife of the river through its representation of four species of fish that inhabit the river: bass, bluegill, crappie, and catfish. Positioned along the banks of the White River, the sculptures can be viewed with the river behind them.
“We hope that by highlighting the fishing heritage of the area through our public sculpture, we can contribute to the revitalization efforts of the waterways in Indianapolis,” Foley said.
Hired, in part, to bring his experience in sculpture to projects like River Fish, Foley was able to utilize the University’s broad expertise and talented students to make the project a reality. He collaborated with the R.B. Annis School of Engineering to use the department’s water jet cutter and welding equipment to fabricate the sculptures. The collaboration with engineering problem-solved the kinetic elements of the pieces, which ensured successful movement.
“This highlights what the potential is for the Department of Art & Design,” Foley added. “That we can achieve anything we’d want and create any ideas or concepts we have in our mind and collaborate with other organizations in the community.”
While Viewegh and Foley provided the idea and supervision in the year-long effort, Maya Johnson ’20 (studio art) was able to put a student’s touch on this lasting project. The first sculpture major in the department, Johnson was responsible for adding the textures to the fish, giving them life and features that masked the welding marks of production. She was able to learn new techniques in the truest form of experiential education.
“It was really fantastic, honestly,” said Johnson, whose dream is to open her own art studio and teach people outside of the art community. “This [project] has been an incredible chance to build my résumé and get out in the world and really experiment with things.”
River Fish signifies many of the strongest values of the University of Indianapolis: unique student experience, collaboration across departments, new ideas, and lasting community impact.
Viewegh celebrates the coming expansion. “This department is really growing and this project is a great opportunity to show who we are now.”
More Space Taking Shape
The Christel DeHaan Fine Arts Center has been home to the Department of Art & Design since 1994. In Fall 2019, the University announced the department’s expansion to the facilities management building and a reorganization within the Christel DeHaan Fine Arts Center that will grow the department’s space from 15,000 square feet to 26,000. The Department’s Sculpture and Ceramics Studios will relocate from the Christel DeHaan Fine Arts Center to the newly renovated building on campus, bringing new creative opportunities for students and faculty.