Loading five kids into a van and zooming down the road to drop daughters off at ballet class, then turning around to race to the soccer field for another child is something Frank and Marcia Bougher, and most other parents in the Midwest, are quite familiar with. Frank Bougher, a local hidden talent, wakes at the crack of dawn and divides the rest of his day between serving his five children as chauffeur and keeping the family business, Riegel’s Tobacco, stocked and full of satisfied customers.
His day-to-day life sounds rather common: attending his children’s ballet performances and soccer games between rectifying a plumbing crisis that triggered a waterfall cascading through the kitchen. When Bougher piles the family into the van, he may appear quite ordinary, but the artistic talent contained in his mind is something that shouldn’t be taken for granted.
While the life he spends above ground with customers and family may seem ordinary, Bougher leads another life in an underground world. A visit to Bougher’s basement is a trip to an artist’s lair. Like a mad scientist who surrounds himself with beakers and flasks bubbling over Bunsen burners, Bougher’s basement is a sculptor’s lab, filled with old drawings of brilliant ideas, clumps of modeling clay waiting to be formed and empty plaster molds that once held molten bronze. An assortment of unattached clay arms and wax heads fill the background of the photos I snatched of Bougher as he chatted, sharing his life history, artistic evolution and spiritual journey. A visit to this man’s basement reveals a talent that is overshadowed by the everyday responsibilities of life – earning a buck and caring for a cherished family.
Bougher attended St. Meinrad seminary from 1984-1988 where he prepared to become a priest. While he was there, he spent empty evenings and spare hours developing an amazing talent for drawing. Countless hours with a pencil in solitude resulted in some crazy drawing skills.
“My drawing style mimics etching,” says Bougher. But the personality of line created by his hand adds a layer of humanity that tends to be removed by the etching process. His drawing of Lakeside Park, which Bougher created for a fundraising effort back in 2001, captures the beauty of the park and surrounding foliage with a clever use of negative space, pointillism and thousands of tiny hash lines, some crossed, some faint and others bold. If you weren’t looking for it, you may not notice, but the drawing contains a reference to one of Bougher’s sculptures: a lion’s head fountain that spews water from the mouth into a half-circle bowl that connects directly to the face of the wall. The sculpture fits into its surrounding so perfectly, one may pass it without noticing the detail of the piece or giving thought to all the energy it took to create the piece. How complacent we have become, assuming beautiful things somehow form themselves miraculously with little effort.
As easy as Bougher’s skills appear, he has spent over two decades developing his craft. Drawing during his free time at the seminary later led to his attending classes at Fort Wayne’s Saint Francis University. Within six weeks of attending his first sculpture class, Bougher’s skills caught the eye of Sufi Ahmed, a renowned local sculptor. Ahmed hired Bougher as a studio assistant where the 20-something student worked alongside his mentor, learning as much as he could from the experience. Throughout his training, Bougher’s work habits were unmatched by other students.
“I had a different work ethic than most students,” he recalls. “I was the first to class and the last to leave, even while holding a job at the same time.”
After working with Ahmed for three years, Bougher spotted an opportunity to branch out on his own. The Allen County Courthouse had removed the Lady Liberty sculpture from the building’s pinnacle for cleaning and repair. Bougher asked if he could use the opportunity to study the piece. Courthouse officials agreed and allowed Bougher to work in the rotunda for three weeks. Scrambling to make a small-scale replica of the piece, Bougher became a curiosity for passing attorneys, visitors and community officials who observed the miniature Lady Liberty take shape. Bougher shared that during the night, “security guards would have fun with the piece and add their own details to my work, usually something to do with breasts.”
Despite the lack of respect by some, Bougher was able to finish his work before Lady Liberty was hoisted back to her perch atop the city. He sold four castings of his piece to local business people and caught the attention of others. The project led to more work: a commission for two busts of physicians for the Brooklyn Medical Center; a bust of Samuel Huntington; and cluster of three large figures including Christ, a monk and a student, which hang together at Bougher’s alma mater, Saint Meinrad. Most recently, on May 24, 2012, Bougher installed a piece titled, “The First Step Toward Salvation,” outside of Saint Jude Catholic Church at 2130 Pemberton Drive in Fort Wayne.
While Bougher’s list of work includes many significant pieces (the above description is only a partial sampling), he is still widely unknown. Most of his work has been completed at cost, meaning Bougher has made little or no money from his effort. While he may not be motivated by profits, he says that “cash is often a demotivational factor for me. I look for pieces that come from inspiration.” He does dream of one day being able to support his family through his work as an artist.
Witnessing such fine talent is yet another confirmation that Fort Wayne is in no way void of artistic talent. We are a community of uncovered and under-appreciated treasures. Bougher is just as committed to his work as any artist. He is a spiritual, passionate thinker, devoted to his work.
“You bring everything to your art. I bring my spirituality,” says Bougher. “When I finish a major piece I shut down for a while. I go through a period of separation anxiety from losing the piece.” Those aren’t the words of a man who simply tinkers in his basement; it is a statement from an artist who is at his core, consumed by the energy to create.
Bougher’s current work in progress stands like a pinnacle in his basement. Descending the narrow wooden steps, it was the first thing I noticed. Rising above the collection of clay sketches and molds, a great arm extends from a life-sized figure, gesturing upwards, leading me to conscious realization of my hopes, prayers and dreams for the future. Saint Anthony, a figure standing 6 feet tall, dominates the space. Constructed with help from a student intern from Saint Francis, Rebecca Till (can you say what goes around comes around?), the piece “is a combination of life casting, solid clay and foam, layered and sandwiched with glue,” said Bougher.
Without further prompting, Bougher took off with a whirlwind of vocabulary explaining his technique, inspiration and plans for the piece. Words like “posturization” and “triangular motion” spewed from his mouth faster than I could capture. No doubt, Bougher is on fire with passion for this piece. The work depicts a young boy offering his prayers to the saint, who receives them and ultimately sends the child’s wishes to the heavens via the flame of the Holy Spirit. With plans to finish the piece with a flame cast from red glass and etched with the symbol of the Spirit, one can’t help but join Bougher in his enthusiasm for the massive work in progress. It is the culmination of decades of practice, divine inspiration and interpretation of a complex religion by a man who treads around the earth unassumingly. For now, Saint Anthony is homeless, but with any luck he will soon be claimed by a buyer and can look forward to life outside of the basement.
If monetary value were based strictly on ability and skill, Bougher would have overflowing pockets. He is a talent that should be cherished. Luckily for us, Bougher still finds time to pursue a labor of love that decorates our city. It would be nice to see more of his work raised from the underground and shared with the general masses of surface dwellers.
by Heather Miller
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Art on Broadway — Tours of 5 downtown venues featuring art from Alexandra Hall, Julie Wall, Peter Lupkin, Daniel Dienelt, Knotodday, Kay Gregg, Terry Ratliff and St. Monci, 5 p.m. Saturday, March 25, Broadway Street, Fort Wayne, free, 417-5925
Beer, Bourbon, Bacon Festival — Unlimited beer sampling from national and regional craft breweries, fine bourbon sampling and bacon inspired treats, 6-9 p.m. Saturday, March 25 (5-9 p.m. VIP), Marquis and Three Rivers Ballrooms, Hotel Fort Wayne, Fort Wayne, $35-$75, 484-0411
An Evening with Author Tom Frank — Author of What’s the Matter with Kansas talks about his new book; hors d’oeuvres, lecture and book signing included in admission, 6 p.m. Saturday, March 25, CS3 Hideaway, Fort Wayne, $15 plus donation, 602-1008
Puttin’ on the Ritz —Active 20-30 club fundraiser with live music from Chris Worth and Company, gourmet edibles, wine and beer, live and silent auctions; black tie optional, 7 p.m. Saturday, March 25, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, Fort Wayne, $50-$90, 450-2844
Shipshewana on the Road — Food, craft and primitives show and sale, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, March 25 and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday, March 26, Allen County War Memorial Coliseum, Fort Wayne, $4, 483-1111
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Big Dick and the Penetrators — Classic rock at Navy Club, Ship 245, New Haven, 7-11 p.m., no cover, 493-4044
Brat Pack — Rat Pack/variety at Nick's Martini & Wine Bar, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., no cover, 482-6425
Cougar Hunter — 80s glam rock at Vinnie's Bar, Decatur, 10 p.m.-2 a.m., $5, 729-2225
Ellsworth Sharp — Neofolk at Friendly Fox, Fort Wayne, 6:30-8:30 p.m., no cover, 745-3369
FBC Band w/Sheba — Variety/Music and Memories benefit at C2G Music Hall, Fort Wayne , 8 p.m., $7-$15, 426-6434
Fireball Matinee — Rock at Hideaway Lounge, Bluffton, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 824-0455
Fleshwounds — Rock at Hamilton House, Hamilton, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 488-3344
Fort Wayne Funk Orchestra — Funk at Dupont Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 9:30 p.m., cover, 483-1311
Fu5ion — Variety at Mitchell's Sports Bar & Neighborhood Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m.-2 a.m., $3, (260) 387-5063
The Illegals — Rock at O'Sullivan's Italian Irish Pub, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 422-5896
Joe Stabelli — Jazz at Don Hall's Gas House, Fort Wayne, 5:45-9 p.m., no cover, 426-3411
John Curran & Renegade — Country at Alley Sports Bar, Pro Bowl West, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 483-4421
Johnny Freakin' Xcitor — Country rock at Beamer's Sports Grill, Fort Wayne, 9:30 p.m.-1:30 a.m., no cover, 625-1002
Kat Bowser — Variety at Don Hall's Guesthouse, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 489-2524
The Orange Opera w/Mickyle James — Rock at Brass Rail, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., $5, 267-5303
Prime Suspects — Variety at American Legion Post 499, Fort Wayne, 8-11 p.m., no cover, 483-1368
Quincy and the Q-Tet feat. Phil Potts — Rock/variety at Downtown Eatery & Spirits, Warsaw, 10 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, (574) 267-6000
Second Nature — Pop at Crazy Pinz, Fort Wayne, 8-11 p.m., no cover, 490-2695
Shannon Persinger Quartet — Jazz/variety at Club Soda, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 426-3442
Todd Harrold & Nick Bobay Duo — R&B/blues/variety at American Legion Post 148, Fort Wayne, 7 p.m., no cover, 423-4751
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Ambitious Blondes Karaoke — Variety at Office Tavern, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 478-5827
Beat Karaoke & DJ — Variety at American Legion Post 296, Fort Wayne, 8 p.m. , no cover, 456-2988
Bucca Karaoke w/Bucca — Variety at Tower Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 436-6310
Classic City Karaoke w/Bryan Lee — Karaoke at Corner Pocket Tavern, Fremont, 10 p.m., no cover, 495-9255
Classic City Karaoke w/Tobin — Karaoke at Toad's Tavern, Monroeville, 10 p.m., no cover, 623-6226
DJ Shawn — Karaoke/variety at Club Paradise, Angola, 10 p.m., no cover, 833-7082
Fort Wayne Karaoke — Karaoke at Latch String Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10:30 p.m., no cover, 483-5526
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/Brian — Variety at AJ's Bar and Grill, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., , 434-1980
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/Josh — Variety at Arena Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 557-1563
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/TJ — Variety at Chevvy's, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 436-4748
House DJ — Variety at Early Bird's Ultra Lounge, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., cover, 483-1979
House DJ — Variety at Flashback on the Landing, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., cover, 422-5292
Karaoke — Variety at Crooner's Karaoke Bar, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m.-3 a.m., no cover, 486-1979
Live DJ — Variety at Wrigley Field Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 485-1038
Shooting Star Prod. w/Barbie — Variety at Uncle Lou's Steel Mill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 436-5787
Shooting Star Prod. w/Stu — Variety at Pike's Pub, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 478-6200
Sidecar Gary's Karaoke & DJ — Karaoke at Kville Pub, Kendallville, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 348-1677
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The Children’s Hour — Lillian Hellman’s seminal drama about bigotry perpetuated against the LGBT community and how easily a lie can spread, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 25, First Presbyterian Theater, Fort Wayne, $12-$20, 426-7421 ext. 121
Getting Sara Married — Comedy about an unmarried lawyer in need of a husband (according to her aunt), 7 p.m. dinner, 8 p.m. curtain, Saturday, March 25, Arena Dinner Theatre, Fort Wayne, $40 (includes dinner & show), 424-5622
One Foot in the Gravy — Howard Kingkade’s comedy and winner of Fort Wayne Civic Theatre’s Northeast Indiana Playwright Festival, 8 p.m. Saturday, March 25; 2 p.m. Sunday, March 26, Arts United Center, Fort Wayne, $10-$20, 422-4226
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22nd Annual Valentine’s Invitational — Works from local and national artists, Tuesday-Saturday and by appointment thru March 31, Castle Gallery Fine Art, Fort Wayne, 426-6568
2017 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards — Award-winning works from northern Indiana and northwest Ohio middle and high school students, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 9, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Afros: A Celebration of African Hair by Michael July — Contemporary photography exhibit by Brooklyn author/photographer, daily thru April 14, D’Agostino Art Gallery, Indiana Tech, Fort Wayne, 399-8626
An Artful Spring — Works by Gwen Gutwein, Patricia Weiss, Austin Cartwright and more, Tuesday-Saturday thru March 31, Crestwoods Frame Shop & Gallery, Roanoke, 672-2080
Decatur Sculpture Tour — 31 original sculptures and 15 permanent exhibits on display, walking tour maps available, thru April 1, Decatur, free, 724-2605
Echolilia — Works from Timothy Archibald and his autistic son, Eli, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Entropy — Daniel Swartz solo exhibition explores relationship between death and mourning through combinations of mythology, mathematics, multi-dimensional physics and pop culture, Monday-Saturday thru April 1, Jennifer Ford Art, Fort Wayne, 740-1309
Diane Allen Groenert — Exhibition of local artist’s Downtown Series and new works, Monday-Saturday thru June 24, West Central Microcreamery & Cafe, Fort Wayne, 415-9293
Expressions of Existence — An exhibition of works by artists through history, including Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Francisco Goya and others whose works have been influenced by disabilities, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Fort Wayne Artist Guild Exhibitions — Works by Alice Siefert at Aldersgate United Methodist Church, Jennifer Caudel at Allen County Retinal Surgeons, Anita Trick, Citizens Square (2nd and 3rd floors), Darlene Selzer Miller at The Einhaus Group for Women’s Health, Patricia Weiss at Heritage of Fort Wayne, Emily Jane Butler at Ophthalmology Consultants (Southwest), Linda Binek at Ophthalmology Consultants (North), Carolyn Stachera at Rehabilitation Hospital of Fort Wayne, John Kelty at ResCare Inc. Adult Day Service, Wiletta Blevins at Town House Retirement, Karen Bixler at Visiting Nurse Hospice and Barb Yoder and Karen Harvey at Will Jewelers, thru April 30, fortwayneartistguild.org.
Fort Wayne Photographers Club — Exhibition featuring local photographers, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 30, Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, Fort Wayne, $3-$5 (2 and under, free), 427-6440
Garden Party — Garden-themed works in a variety of mediums from over 30 local artists, Monday-Saturday thru March 31, Orchard Gallery of Fine Art, Fort Wayne, 436-0927
Generations: A View of Who Was Who — Works by Romare Bearden, Kara Walker, Alma Thomas, Jacob Lawrence and other African-American artists, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 9, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Glass: A Medium in Art and Automobiles — Dale Chihuly blown glass and fiberglass auto, daily thru Sept. 8, Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum, Auburn, $7.50-$12.50, 925-1444
A Mary Poppins Garden Party — Child-oriented garden exhibit, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 1, Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, Fort Wayne, $3-$5 (2 and under, free), 427-6440
Moments in Time: Reflecting on the Human Spirit — Elizabeth Opalenik photographs from her recent Amish series A Journey Home and her Reflecting on the Edge exhibition, daily thru March 26, Visual Arts Gallery, IPFW, Fort Wayne, 481-6709
Outdoor Sculpture Invitational — Fifteen outdoor sculptures from regional artists, daily thru April 30, School of Creative Arts campus, University of Saint Francis North Campus, Fort Wayne, 399-7999
RAW. Untamed. Unashamed. Visions of Freedom. — Abstract romanticist works in acrylics and epoxy from Kristy Jahn, Fridays and Saturday-Thursday by appointment thru March 25, The Gallery at Pranayoga, Fort Wayne, 423-9642
Sharon — An exhibition of Leon Borensztein photographs chronicling the struggles he faced raising his severely disabled daughter, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Wabash County Schools Exhibition — Works by high school art students, daily thru April 16, Clark Gallery, Honeywell Center, Wabash, 563-1102