Confronting a Don Kruse work for the first time may make you feel the need to dial up Mapquest, find the Rosetta Stone or search for a user’s manual. For without explanation of his context-driven art, you’ll need to rely on instinct and intuition to decipher meaning. Minus that, you’ll need to look within for a clue to his esoteric renderings. And that’s exactly what Kruse provokes, asks and wants. It’s not enough to exist, he challenges; being equates to exploration and discovery.
Contained in his exquisitely drafted pieces are views of Buddhist Temples, finely wrought Balinese masks, embedded Eastern religious icons, sections of Tibetan mandalas, a portrait of a little-known, but favorite artist George Inness, a stand of blooming flowers and a rendition of the child-like cartoon character “Little Nemo” created by Windsor McCay. Each element is meticulously colored in tones matching those you might find in the newspaper comic section, and sometimes with gold leaf.
The source of these images? Kruse tells it best as he did in this excerpt from an article he wrote recently for Quest Magazine, a publication of the Theosophical Society.
“Margaret Mead once asked a young child how she made a picture. The child replied, ‘I get a think. I draw a line around my think and then color it in.’
“I try to do approximately the same thing — simply, clearly and honestly. The real distinctions lie in my images or ‘thinks.’ How and where did I get them? Are they from nature or my imagination, maybe even from the world of art itself? What do they signify?
“I try to communicate to viewers a complex iconography, an esoteric world of Theosophy, Tibetan Buddhism and Jungian psychology. Does a child care if another person sees the line she has around her think and colored in? My images come from my wandering through museums and galleries, sitting in lectures and seminars, reading books, looking at comic strips and movies ... and meditating — just being a silent witness. Perhaps both the child and I get our visions from the same place, a most marvelous and wonderful gallery called by the Tibetans, the Great Matrix of the Mystery.”
Now retired after a 36-year career as an art instructor at the Fort Wayne Art Institute and later IPFW, Kruse continues to work, study, lecture and in general create in his studio/home in the city’s South side which he shares with his wife and fellow retired art teacher Sue, who formerly worked in the FW Community School system.
Kruse’s vita is strangely brief but loaded with experience. After graduating from South Side he earned scholarships to both the Art Institute and Mexico City College and later for graduate studies at both Ball State and Indiana Universities. In between he spent a hitch at the U.S. Army ‘language school where he studied Russian and served in Air Force Intelligence.
Kruse has amassed a history that includes more than 55 one-man shows. His works are held in several private as well as university and museum collections including the Library of Congress. He is represented in the Indiana State Museum and was designated a “State Treasure” by act of the governor.
Besides or in spite of all these accolades the artist remains accessible and humble, a trait traced to a personal journey of self-discovery that began with the recognition of a plane of existence beyond that where most of us dwell.
Throughout his journey he has turned to the writings of major influences like Joseph Campbell for myths and symbols, Carl Jung for dreams and the collective unconscious, the Theosophists for unlocking the keys to esoterica and mysticism, Margaret Mead for her studies of primitive culture, Tibetan Buddhism and Vedanta yoga for meditation and of late the work of Ken Wilburn and his trans-personal psychology. (Wilburn may the only person who has read more than Kruse.)
As a teacher Kruse has cultivated his own theories of how art is taught — and even if art can be taught — and is not shy about lecturing against the shift which began in the 1970s away from traditional teaching methods.
“Originally teaching art was based on ideas passed along in the manner of the medieval guilds to the apprenticeship system of the Renaissance and later to the 19th-century beaux-arts academies of Europe,” explained Kruse. “Then along came the Industrial Revolution which totally changed not only art teaching but the definition of art itself.
“Today we’re mostly left to confront the ‘intellectualization’ of art instruction which is why we get things like performance art, installation art and concepts like, ‘Art is anything you can get away with.’”
Dale Enochs, a former student of Kruse, is a nationally collected sculptor with several public installations to his credit along with many privately collected works. Enochs, who lives and works in Bloomington, recently recalled asking his former mentor for copies of handouts which he was hoping to use in classes he was teaching at DePauw University.
“I was making copies to distribute to my students and asked a colleague to review one in particular which dealt with the sorry state of contemporary art. His response was, ‘Enochs, if you pass this out, you realize you’ll piss-off everyone in the department.’”
At about the same time college and university art curriculum began its descent, Kruse and fellow Art Institute instructors Russell Oettel and the late Noel Dusenchon were busy engendering their own brand of pedagogy.
As Oettel related, “It was an ideal matchup of personality and professionalism. We were all artists first, teachers second. Noel brought the flavor of the abstract expressionists like deKooning, Albers and Rothko. I brought Weber, Groz and Beckman to the table, and Don had this more or less Zen philosophy coupled with really unsurpassed craftsmanship. He was the key to developing our printmaking, photography and printing departments.
“Often we would talk until the wee hours discussing, arguing, testing our ideas. The diversity of our approaches created a kind of caldron which not only attracted good students but forced them to teach themselves. Still today the biggest compliments we get are from students who returned and thanked us for being self-taught.”
Kruse remains one of the most respected artists in the area. Betty Fishman, the executive director of Artlink and a modest collector of his works, rates Kruse as “the absolute best draftsman around. His imagery can be most unusual and introspective, and he’s an incredible teacher, unselfish and reliable.”
Dean Franz, the long-time Jungian guru, is also a big fan. “He speaks from his own core of being and gives meaning to life’s essence. His work relates to the deeper part of our existence and to appreciate it the view needs to ascend a step or two or three to reach it. He’s the archetypical artist, allowing us insight into ourselves and the world. I’m a big fan, and I agree with his politics too.”
Finally, there is one problem: Kruse’s outlook on contemporary art from which he has distanced himself also includes articles like this where focus is targeted on the artist’s personality, quirks and idiosyncracies. He feels such work only helps perpetuate the artificial nature of art. So where does that leave a poor soul like me? A purveyor of rubbish knocking on heaven’s door? A reactionary bourgeois wordsmith covering for the exploits of capitalist enterprise?
While you ponder that, you can see some of Kruse’s work at Artlink in the current self-portrait show. He’ll have something in the print show, most likely, and then in July he’ll be included in the members’ show.
by David Tanner
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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