Exhibit celebrates ‘phenomenal women of IU’s history’

In the large oil painting, the late Elinor Ostrom is smiling.

“In the first few sketches, she was more serious,” said fine arts professor emerita Bonnie Sklarski, who painted the portrait for Indiana University’s collection. “But when I showed the sketches to her staff, they said, ‘No, she has to be smiling. She was not a somber person.’”

Elinor Ostrom (1933-2012), 2012. Oil on canvas. Indiana University Campus Art Collection. Bonnie Sklarski.

Elinor Ostrom (1933-2012), 2012. Oil on canvas. Indiana University Campus Art Collection. Bonnie Sklarski.

Ostrom’s portrait is one of more than a dozen hanging in the Indiana Memorial Union’s East Lounge, part of the “Women of Indiana University” exhibit unveiled Wednesday meant to highlight women who have had an impact on the university.

Her Nobel Prize is included in the image but is not conspicuous “because winning it didn’t define her,” Sklarski said. The scene behind her is of Nepal, where she did some of her ground-breaking research, and just at her left elbow is a portrait of her late husband, Vincent.

Ostrom, a distinguished professor and the only woman to receive the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, died last year. She was followed in death by her husband just a few weeks later.

“She was still living when I began working on this project, and at first she insisted it be a double portrait,” Sklarski said. “Eventually, we convinced her otherwise, but I promised he would be in there.”

McRobbie, Robel and Showalter portrait.

IU first lady Laurie Burns McRobbie, left, and Provost Lauren Robel talk in front of a portrait of Grace Showalter, the first woman elected to the IU Foundation board.

The exhibit was the brainchild of campus art curator Sherry Rouse, who borrowed the portraits from various locations across campus. The East Lounge was formerly home to a gallery of portraits featuring IU’s presidents, which have moved to the newly renovated Presidents Hall inside Franklin Hall. In addition to the portraits, the exhibit includes a piece of modern art by assistant fine arts professor Martha MacLeish.

Dozens of women — and men — from all over the Bloomington campus attended Wednesday’s reception for the exhibit, hosted by IU first lady Laurie Burns McRobbie and Provost Lauren Robel.

“We’re here to celebrate these phenomenal women of IU’s history,” Robel said. “It matters so much that these women who helped build this campus are honored and visible. It matters to our faculty, it matters to our staff and, most of all, it matters to our students to see women like themselves on these walls.”

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