Things to Do in Fort Wayne and Beyond

Joel Fremion


David Tanner

Whatzup Features Writer

Published June 29, 2006

Heads Up! This article is 16 years old.

Collared once with the label “man of the cloth”

for his intricate fabric collages,

fifty-few-year-old local galleryist Joel Fremion

remains today an enthusiastic and dedicated

proselytizer for homegrown talent.

“It has always been a disturbing part of the

area art scene that collectors have historically

placed an emphasis on work, whether in the fine

arts or crafts, created outside Fort Wayne,” he

says to anyone listening. “It is as though they

relate value and quality solely on the basis of

its being ‘imported’ rather than locally

created.

“That’s one of my main themes now – in-sourcing, not outsourcing talent.”

“While he doesn’t hold the exclusive patent on

that idea, the articulate and talented

artist/entrepreneur has demonstrated a two-decade

long history of championing local artists and

artisans first in 1987 with his Old House

Galleries in Lakeside and now, begun in 2004,

with his Indiana for Modern complex in

Uniondale.

Reclaimed from what may have been an auto

dealership on the main street of this tiny

northern Wells County hamlet off of State Road

224 Fremion, together with partner Raymond New

and collaborators Bill Lupkin and Richard Tuck,

have created a gallery and studio workshop the

likes of which have never before been seen in

these parts.

This foursome, each with well-established

reputations in their separate areas, has combined

to form a consortium of talent that mimics a

guild of craftsmanship that harkens back to other

times and places. Tuck (the much collected and

celebrated stoneware sculptor), Lupkin (whose

leaded stained glass and mosaic installations

adorn numerous regional churches) and New (a

master woodworker), together with Fremion, have

embarked on a journey to fabricate unique

elements of interior/exterior handcrafted

furniture.

Initially inspired by the look of the furniture

made popular by the Dunbar Company of Berne in

the 20 years following the WWII, Fremion and his

associates have dedicated themselves to the

revival of this modernist style, a style that is

both contemporary (think Scandinavian) and yet

imbues a kind of timelessness of quality (think

Shaker).

In the case of their room screens or dividers,

the group uses exotic woods to fashion inlaid

veneer designs, and they incorporate sculpted

ceramic elements along with epoxy resin “windows”

and rich, molten glass panels. The pieces also

contain suede and fabric collages and the results

are not only unique but resonate with quality and

craftsmanship.

The small side or end tables make use of special

rare woods, and some are topped with hand-blown

and molded art glass and pottery inserts. Brass,

aluminum and stainless steel, as with the

original Dunbar, are used as accents.

“Our intention is to reinterpret and reproduce

the 50s modern era classic designs,” Fremion

states. “We believe we can better some of the

designs by the incorporation of exotic woods,

ceramic and glass mosaic tops and technical

advances not available 50 years ago. We feel,

because of the rarity of many of these designs,

that we will be able to market our designs to the

vintage market as well as to the developing retro

market.”

The Arts and Crafts Indiana for Modern building

with a 6,000-square-foot workshop and assembly

area together with an adjoining two-story gallery

and showroom was actually opened with a

thoroughly wonderful show in early May. The

exhibition features works from the “Jewelry for

the Home” collection of accessory tables and room

screens along with works from artists George

McCullough, Norman Bradley, David Krouse and

Russell Oettel in addition to pieces by Fremion,

Lupkin and Tuck. The show is still up and is well

worth the half-hour drive. (See

www.indianamodern.com for more info).

Fremion’s path to the creation of Indiana for

Modern actually began at the old Fort Wayne Art

Institute where he studied art history, painting,

design and metalsmithing under instructors like

McCullough, Bradley and Oettel. From there he

went on to study at the former Purdue University

DIGITS campus where he pursued work in contract

and residential interior and architectural

design.

At one point he apprenticed with the former

local architect and painter Dale Amburn.

Most ironically, about 10 years ago he and his

wife Nancy purchased a house in Ossian only to

learn later, after perusing the structure’s

blueprints, that it was designed by his mentor

Amburn.

The home serves as a most suitable showcase for

Fremion’s vast collection of not only Dunbar

furnishings but a formidable library related to

all things Dunbar, including materials related to

Dunbar designers Edward Wormley and Roger Lee

Sprunger. Some day Fremion hopes to produce a

definitive book on the two designers and the

Dunbar legacy.

That’s a project that may have to wait a bit as

his time is consumed with commissioned work

through Indiana for Modern.

Oh yeah, then there are all those who think you

can’t be a hero in your own hometown, just ripe

for conversion.

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