Ferdinand artist’s work features discarded, forgotten items

FERDINAND, Ind. (AP) — You’re familiar with it: The cliché image of an artist pondering in front of a blank canvas, wielding a messy pallet and donning a colorful beret. By that measure, Curt Uebelhor is not your typical artist.

The Ferdinand man — who works as an art instructor at Boonville Middle School — currently has 20 pieces of artwork spanning nearly three decades on display at the St. Meinrad Archabbey Library Gallery, all of which were assembled with more than brushes and paint. His 13-piece “Drive-By Archeology” series takes center stage at the show and is the product of Uebelhor crawling through, exploring and scavenging across various nearby areas as he tells a story through mixed-media collages composed entirely of discarded and forgotten objects he collects.

“I’ve always been interested in archaeology, rocks, and stuff like that,” said Uebelhor, 59. “I collect all kinds of stuff.”

The exhibition will be on display at St. Meinrad from now until Tuesday, Feb. 20. The library is currently open from 8 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4:30 p.m. CDT Monday through Friday, as well as 1 to 4:30 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. The seven other works of his on display include a three-dimensional recycled art piece called “Young Goth with Gauged Ears and Tongue” and another collage assembled with keys and photographs titled “Latch Key #2.” Half of the artwork on display is for sale.

Uebelhor became interested in collages in the late 1970s. While taking undergraduate art history classes at the University of Southern Indiana, he learned from studying modern and contemporary artists as well as from the guidance of a professor. He’s always loved collecting, and the exposure to the craft of collage was enough to hook him.

Uebelhor’s goal in the “Drive-by Archeology” series is to document the spaces he searches, so he limits the objects used in each specific collage to only items collected at a specific site on a specific date. Past drive-by locations he has foraged include the New Harmony Working Men’s Institute; the Union Station Depot in Henderson, Kentucky; and the Willard Library in Evansville.

In his writer’s statement for the St. Meinrad exhibition, Uebelhor wrote that the element of chance is an important part of the pieces. Making the cohesive composition requires the jurying of objects in or out of a collection as they present themselves. Some of the unique objects he’s found while working on the series include a bird skeleton, shards of stained glass from a St. Ferdinand Catholic Church storage facility, and parts of the closed, deteriorating New Harmony bridge while exploring around it.

Once he’s satisfied with his collected items, he arranges them all exactly the way he wants them and takes a photograph of the composition before gluing them down one-by-one. He works in a 10-by-15-foot studio in his home.

Uebelhor is a Forest Park graduate and has a master’s degree in sculpting from the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. He also has a bachelor’s degree in fine art and a teaching certification from the University of Southern Indiana.

As a graduate student, Uebelhor began exploring political and social commentary through his works, tackling major topics in the 1980s like apartheid, the environment and gender issues.

The “Latch Key” series (one piece is on display in St. Meinrad) is an example of a collection in which Uebelhor explores a divisive subject. The term was used to describe members of Generation X who spent extended amounts of time without parental supervision, house keys strung around their necks so they could let themselves into their homes while their parents worked.

People Magazine published a story in 1982 titled, “The Lonely Life of ‘Latchkey’ Children, Say Two Experts, Is a National Disgrace.” And though Uebelhor doesn’t agree with that, he doesn’t force an opinion on you with his art.

“I’m not telling you the story, I’m giving you the characters and you get to finish the story,” Uebelhor said.

His students ooh and aah when they hear of his work and achievements and are fascinated by his experiences. Uebelhor’s art has been included in nearly 250 exhibitions throughout the United States, Australia and New Zealand and it has won numerous awards.

He said not many middle and high school art teachers create and sell their own works.

When it comes to the Drive-By Archeology pieces, he said he spends between an hour and three hours collecting items at different locations. He said he works in spurts, as it can take months for him to complete the projects.

“I just find the time to do it,” he said, adding he works six to eight hours a week on the artwork, framing, and other tasks relevant to his art.

Uebelhor lives in Ferdinand with his wife, Rita, and daughter, Sara. His other daughter, Lori, attends Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis. His son, Ryan, lives in Jasper with his wife Casey.

Uebelhor also has work on display at a miniature chair exhibition at USI titled, “The Chair, writ small.”