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August's Artist of the Month: Bob Nowalk

Bob Nowalk

Carrying a box of paintings, Robert Nowalk crosses the street from his studio behind Michelle’s Headquarters on North Main Street, to the Culver-Union Twp. Public Library. He’s come to discuss the paintings, a series of black and white renditions of…chairs.

 “Oftentimes, people surround art with a kind of mystery, as if it has some kind of magic,” says Nowalk. “It’s a lot more intimate than that; it’s about who we are as people.”

 “It’s what separates us from the animals,” Nowalk smiles. “I tell the kids that: we make art. They (animals) don’t.”

 Nowalk’s philosophy about the interdependence of people’s real lives and art will be prominently at work in his unique exhibition, “Story Chairs,” at the library, beginning on August 20, when Nowalk will display the 10-15 pieces he has already completed for “Story Charis.” He will spend the following week “in residence,” so to speak, at the library, painting three more pieces to add to the exhibit. Then, on Saturday, August 27 at 1:00 pm, a reception will be held to view the completed exhibit, though the public is also encouraged to visit Nowalk’s work in the meantime, or to stop by and watch him paint. His exhibition is part of the library's Summer Artist Series, which features a local artist each month through the summer months.

 “Story Chairs” follows a theme based on observations Nowalk made about everyday objects like chairs and the stories they may tell about people’s lives. “Every chair is made to have intimate relationship with people,” says Nowalk. “All your life, the chairs you sit in change by what you do for your job, who you are, where you are. In a way, you move from a rocker to a rocker in your life. Chairs tell stories. If this chair could speak, what would it tell me about people? What would it say?”

 With that in mind, Nowalk’s exhibition includes his series of paintings, and a “story,” written by Nowalk himself, about each chair. “Some of the stories are very point blank: one of them was a simple description of chair itself,” he notes. “Some of them are just imagination. I remember sitting in the corner as a kid (there is a painting of a child-sized rocker facing a corner)…the lawn chair that hibernates all winter, and so forth.” As a result, many of the chair stories are humorous, many are insightful, and some make a broader statement about people and their own stories.

Chair 01

Robert Nowalk is Master Instructor of Fine Arts at Culver Academies, where he has taught since 1996. Though born in Pennsylvania, he spent 25 years living in Ohio, where he majored in fine arts at the University of Dayton, receiving his Master’s from Michigan State University. He inherited his artistic leanings from his grandfather, who was also an artist. “I cannot think of a time in my life when I didn’t think of myself as an artist, age 3 on,” says Nowalk. “(But) I had no idea I’d be a teacher!”

While he has moved many times in his life, Culver is the place he has stayed the longest, bringing his wife, Jenny, and three children with him and adding two more children, their twin girls, to the family shortly thereafter.

Robert Nowalk’s art may be familiar to Culver residents from places they commonly visit. His photography and paintings, for example, have graced the walls of the Culver Coffee Company on Lake Shore Drive. A unique and visually engaging series of paintings hangs on the walls of the Marmont Grille on South Main Street, depicting an entire, 360-degree rendering of Lake Maxinkuckee as seen from the center of the lake.

Chair 02 “I initially started painting portraits,” says Nowalk. “That’s what I wanted to do. I moved to more abstract work. All my work has had a spiritual element: connecting the human spirit to aspirations the Divine...it’s all been about a deep-rooted belief system in the goodness that God has put on earth. I concluded that you can paint the social ills and show it to people: look, look what’s happening. (But) in a sense, there’s no prophecy in that. If do you paint prophecy, or paint the ideal, there’s a sense that that doesn’t work. Overly romantic art never matches what we feel inside.

“I try to go in between, to make people…look differently at life. If you can make people laugh, like “Story Chairs,” what a great gift! It lifts the human spirit. Matisse used to say he wanted people to enjoy his works and feel good about life, whereas Picasso was painting this rugged, individual vision of the world. I kind of favor Matisse’s feeling.

“In the post-September 11 world, in times when we are stressed deeply, there’s a need for recognition and connection. Though this Story Chairs series was started before September 11, it’s part of a whole group of works…now is a time for people to think about what they’re doing.”

Robert Nowalk’s “Story Chairs” may be seen in the west meeting room, downstairs at the Culver-Union Twp. Public Library, 107 N. Main Street in downtown Culver. More information is available by calling (574) 842-2941, emailing staff@culver.lib.in.us.