Fine arts professor earns $50K grant to support work with indigo, textiles

Henry Radford Hope School of Fine Arts assistant professor Rowland Ricketts has been named a 2012 United States Artists fellow.

The first artist from Indiana to receive a fellowship from the national advocacy organization, Ricketts will receive an unrestricted grant of $50,000. And he’s in good company — other 2012 fellows include novelist Annie Proulx, contemporary choreographer-dancer Trisha Brown and jazz musician Jack DeJohnette.

Rowland Ricketts

Rowland Ricketts, working with indigo-dyed fabric.

“I knew about the organization, but they have an anonymous nominating process. When I received an email out of the blue, I halfway wondered if it was some guy in another country who was going to ask for my Social Security number next,” Ricketts said with a chuckle. “I put together my application and, as I’ve been very busy this year with two large projects, honestly kind of forgot about it.”

He was floored when he received a congratulatory phone call.

“It’s very exciting on many levels,” he said. “It’s become more and more difficult for individual artists to find funding, and this organization is really filling a gap. They’ve recognized the irony that a huge percentage of people say they value the arts, but only a small percentage say they value artists. Artists are fully engaged in what they’re doing and their creative activity and consider it serious work, but I think a lot of times the general population considers what you do as something for fun, a hobby or something you do on the side. And that’s not the case at all. So it’s really wonderful that U.S. Artists has come together to support artists in this way.”

Ricketts’ work utilizes natural materials and historical processes to create textile-based installations. Trained in indigo farming and dyeing in Japan, he farms indigo both at his rural Bloomington home and IU’s Hilltop Gardens, incorporating both the process and the dye in his work.

This year, he’s spent much of his time working with an installation at Krannert Art Museum at University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana that depicts the life cycle of indigo — collaborating with IU telecommunications lecturer and sound artist Norbert Herber — as well as a large-scale public art project focused on indigo for Japan’s National Cultural Festival. For that project, he and a small group of his students recently traveled to Tokushima Prefecture on the small island of Shikoku to study indigo and textiles.

Ricketts said he hasn’t fully decided how to spend the grant but will purchase a newly developed indigo harvesting machine from Japan, allowing him to increase production and minimize some of the manual labor involved with harvesting his plants.

“The support I’ve received here at Indiana University for my work and for my creative activity is really what has made this sort of recognition possible,” Ricketts said. “The support from the university community and my department for things like studio space and a New Frontiers in the Arts and Humanities grant has allowed me to move my work forward. If it weren’t for all those factors, I don’t know that I’d have been able to do the work that has received this recognition.”

In the heart of the fine arts plaza on the Bloomington campus, the Henry Radford Hope School of Fine Arts is part of the College of Arts and Sciences.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,