His name may be on the best-selling novel of the 19th century, but when he picked the brush back up to reignite a love for art, Lew Wallace never signed any of his paintings.
Or so the staff of the General Lew Wallace Study & Museum thought until the gold-framed portrait of Isaac C. Elston Sr. arrived.
Wabash College had donated the painting of the general’s father-in-law for an upcoming exhibit on Wallace’s art and music. When the work was first hung in Elston Bank in 1868, the Crawfordsville Journal wrote that it “would be looked upon with much pleasure by those who were daily accustomed to meet the original.”
“We had it down at a certain angle, and all of sudden we saw ‘Lew Wallace’ in red paint,” said Larry Paarlberg, the museum’s director.
The unexpected discovery gives new insight into the artistic side of Wallace’s life, which is the focus of the exhibit “Versatile Genius: Lew Wallace’s Creative Endeavors” opening March 13.
The exhibit features rarely-seen artifacts from the museum’s collection including preliminary sketches, as well as Wallace’s more notable paintings such as “The Conspirators,” which depicts the men connected to Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Wallace’s violin and his wife Susan’s guitar also will be displayed.
“It is fun to show this aspect of Lew because it was so important to him,” Paarlberg said.
Local museums are gearing up for a new season as the tourism industry looks to rebound from the coronavirus pandemic. A recent study by the Berlin Institute of Technology found that COVID-19 is far less likely to spread in museums and theaters than in supermarkets, restaurants, offices or public transportation, based on the risk of infection from aerosol particles.
Still, museums are taking steps to limit the spread of the virus. At the Wallace study, visitors are asked to reserve tour appointments online and the facilities are sanitized between tours. The museum’s Hoosier Authors Book Club went virtual, with the next event on March 18 featuring the biographer of suffragist May Wright Sewall.
The museum hopes to resume in-person activities later in the summer once more people are vaccinated against COVID-19, Paarlberg said. Plans are being made for an in-person Taste of Montgomery County Aug. 29 on the study grounds with health precautions.
At the Carnegie Museum of Montgomery County, normal hours resumed Feb. 28 with masks and social distancing required.
The Rotary Jail Museum, which has been serving visitors by appointment since November, plans to reopen March 10. Bloomington PBS station WTIU recently filmed a segment at the museum for an upcoming program.
The Lane Place typically begins its season in March and the Linden Depot Museum will reopen for the year in April.