By Mark Ruschman, Chief Curator of Fine Arts at Indiana State Museum
Growing up in Indiana surrounded by limestone buildings, you take for granted this amazing natural Hoosier resource and its impact on the rest of the world. Stone Country: The and Now, on display at the Indiana State Museum, captures the raw qualities of the people and places that inhabit this story.
In 1985, Jeffrey Wolin and writer Scott Russell Sanders published Stone Country. The book documented the limestone industry and its profound impact on the people of southern Indiana. Since then, technology has greatly evolved and shifted the direction of the industry. Stone Country: Then and Now shows the 30-year progression and tells the stories of the men and women tasked with moving the tradition into a modernized future. The photographs in the exhibition tell the stunning visual story of how the stone is transformed to create some of the world’s most iconic structures. There’s also a snapshot into the lives of the hardened quarry workers who put their lives on the line to help unearth the beauty in the stone. The exhibition then comes full circle with images of the finished structures, including the Empire State Building, National Cathedral and Pentagon.
I first became aware of Wolin’s work when I attended Indiana University in the early 1980s, where he was just beginning his tenure as a photography professor in the art department. Prior to coming to IU, he was a forensic police photographer, dealing with matters that would unnerve most. It’s perhaps that experience that paved the way for the strong narrative qualities found in his work. His early black and white images have a candor and honesty about them, a sense the artist is pulling back the curtain and revealing a closely held secret. For the new book, his recent color digital images not only capture a changing limestone industry, but employ the new technologies associated with his craft. Brute force and bulk have been replaced by advancements that are more efficient and nimble. Yet despite these changes over the past 30 years, the work demonstrates the talents of a skilled photographer with a keen eye for detail and composition.
Jeffery Wolin is a highly celebrated artist and author. His photographs are in the collections of museums across the country including: The Museum of Modern Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, just to name a few. He’s published books on the Holocaust, Vietnam veterans and the colorful residents of the Pigeon Hill neighborhood of rural Bloomington, Indiana.