(LaPorte, IN) - Over fifty people gathered Wednesday to pay tribute to one of LaPorte's biggest success stories.
Isamu Noguchi graduated from LaPorte High School in 1922. He became one of the most famous artists of the 20th century. There is a museum in New York City dedicated to his work. Noguchi's talents were discovered early and nurtured by many LaPorte locals, especially Dr. Edward Rumely and his family.
A few years ago, a group of local history and art enthusiasts calling themselves "Friends of Noguchi" put their heads together about how to honor the artist. A former LaPorte County resident and Rolling Prairie High School graduate, Barrie Peterson started the ball rolling. According to Peterson, the crux of Noguchi's story is the hospitality he was shown here. "In 1918, at a time when the Ku Klux Klan was running our state, people in Rolling Prairie and LaPorte took in this Japanese-American 13-year-old and welcomed him," said Peterson. "Edward Rumely mentored him and brought him to New York, introduced him to [Gutzon] Borglum, the sculptor of Mount Rushmore, and set him off on his worldwide artistic career. So we [LaPorteans] had a part in that."
Noguchi became one of the leading figures in midcentury modern design, with creations ranging from sculpture and furniture to landscape architecture and theatrical set pieces.
Friends of Noguchi commissioned a mural dedicated to the artist by South Bend painter David Blodgett. The painting now hangs at the LaPorte Library main branch, where a ceremony was held Wednesday evening.
Experts on Noguchi's artwork presented two talks. One of the speakers was art historian Dr. Deborah Goldberg, who came in from New York for the event. Goldberg is an authority on Noguchi's art and consults with auction houses when his work goes on the market. The other speaker was Amy Auscherman, Director of Archives and Brand Heritage for the Herman Miller Company. Herman Miller still produces Noguchi's iconic modern furniture. Examples can be seen at the LaPorte Library's new Exchange building at 807 Indiana Avenue and the LaPorte County Historical Society Museum.
Winners of the Noguchi art contest were also recognized Wednesday night. Over 180 LaPorte County high-schoolers submitted Noguchi-inspired art pieces, now displayed throughout the library. LaPorte mayor Tom Dermody presented awards to many runners-up and three finalists. The top prize of $500 went to LaPorte High School student Emma Mitschelen.
Before the ceremony, representatives from the Indiana State Historical Bureau toured locations around LaPorte County central to Noguchi's time here for possibly placing a historic marker somewhere in his honor.
This month was dubbed "Noguchi November." Wednesday was the artist's 117th birthday. Given the success of recent activities in his honor and newfound local interest in Noguchi's life and work, organizers say they hope to commemorate the 100th anniversary of his high school graduation next year.