Nebraska native honors her
Indiana roots with art bequest
Gale Walton paintings
donated to Eleutherian College
(May 2014) – Walton family ties to Eleutherian College in Lancaster, Ind., run back more than 160 years. In the 1850s, when the school was first forming, Isaiah Walton served as a member of the college board. Isaiah, along with his father, Abraham, and many other members of his family, were active members of Neil’s Creek Anti-slavery Society. Work with Eleutherian College – a school dedicated to teaching both men and women, both black and white – proved a natural extension of the family’s abolitionist principals. The Isaiah Walton home site is a member of the Indiana Network to Freedom, and family tradition tells of how the Waltons would hide fugitive slaves under false floors in wagons to assist in their flights north.
Photo courtesy of Eleutherian College
This is one of the many paintings recently donated to Eleutherian College that were created by the late Gale Walton, a descendant of the abolitionist Isaiah Walton.
Today, as awareness of the importance history and cultural significant of Historic Eleutherian continues to grow, the Walton family is once again reaching out to assist in the site’s mission. Fifty works of art painted by Gale Walton, an amateur artist and the great-grandson of Isaiah Walton, were recently donated to Eleutherian College by the artist’s daughter, Gayle Walton Fuller. Fuller, a native of Nebraska, died in June of 2013 at age 75.
Rick Bennett, who teaches art history and humanities at Hanover College, was the first area artist to look over the donation in order to give the Eleutherian board members a better idea of the value and importance of the collection. Bennett describes the collection as being primarily oils. He notes that many of the pieces are quite large.
“He was a pretty serious amateur painter,” says Bennett, who dates the works from the 1940s and ’50s up through more recent years. He classifies the pieces as being mainly American Realist Landscapes, though some other subjects including European scenes and wildlife also appear.
Eleutherian Board President Larry DeBuhr highlights the family history of the artist and says, “I think the connections back to the early years of Jefferson County makes the collection interesting.”
In 1937, Gale Walton and his wife, Helen, welcomed their daughter, Gayle, into the world amidst a terrible blizzard and brought her home from the hospital in bunting made from rabbit fur. Gayle was the first girl to be born in the Walton family for 71 years. She would grow up to be an organist who toured across Europe, performed with Lawrence Welk and played at the Seattle World’s Fair. Later in life, she became a devoted student of genealogy and wrote extensively about family histories.
During her research into family history, she explored her ties to Eleutherian College and connected with her relative Gilbert Maupin. Maupin, of Commiskey, Ind., has served on the board of Historic Eleutherian for about 10 years, drawn in by the family connections he shares with the abolitionist Waltons.
“I’m a distant cousin,” says Maupin of Fuller, sharing that “our great-great-grandfathers were brothers.”
Maupin explains that Fuller traveled to Indiana from Oregon as part of her family research. She had “been out here two or three times to visit the college and the home of her ancestors,” he says. Her visits convinced her that Eleutherian College would be a fitting place for a significant portion of her father’s art collection, and before her death she approached Maupin about whether the board would be interested in such a gift. Maupin was touched that Fuller wanted to share her father’s treasured paintings with Eleutherian and says, “She was quite proud of them.”
Despite the conversation, the actual arrival of the pieces proved a bit unexpected.
“We heard nothing until a call came in saying they would be shipping some paintings,” DeBuhr said. “They were shipped to Gilbert’s house. So it was a total surprise, since they had contacted us a year before, but there had been no communication between the original call and the final notification.”
The other half of her father’s work was donated to a college in Geneva, Neb., where Fuller grew up.
Much work needs to be done with the paintings before final decisions are made as to which will be sold and which will be retained for exhibition at Eleutherian. Bennett has been busy “sorting through the ones I thought would be the best.” He expects that some of the pieces will soon be hung in Welcome Center at Eleutherian.
DeBuhr suspects that several of the pieces in the bequest have never before been displayed since some do not appear to have ever been framed. The collection will need to be cataloged, with photographs being taken of the works and information on inscribed titles and dates recorded.
“Some of the paintings need to be cleaned up and made ready for display,” says Bennett.
While organizers are still in the early stages of evaluating the paintings, it is possible that some of the work could be done by Hanover College students. Hanover students have been involved in archaeological work at the site before, and the project would undoubtedly prove attractive to those focusing on art history. Bennett, himself a landscape painter, says that the pieces are the work of “someone who was pretty serious. I think some of them are really pretty good examples of regional landscape painting and some are pretty quirky.”
Maupin said he hopes that the art donation will stir up more interest in Eleutherian College. “We’d like to see it all rebuilt. We’ve done a lot. It’s a historical site.”
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