(July 2019) – This year’s poster for the Madison Chautauqua Festival of Art demonstrates the changing times in the art world – especially among younger artists known as Millennials. Just like the traditional printed newspaper has had to adjust to the changing ways of the Internet and digital times, the art world is undergoing similar changes.
So this year’s poster was not created by a paint brush in the studio of an experienced or up-and-coming artist. No, this breakthrough poster was created by a young man on a computer.
Joseph Belt’s image of “Little Jimmy,” who sits atop the Madison’s Fair Play Fire Co. No. 1 tower, may look like a painting – thanks to a Photoshop filter – but the image itself was initially a computer-generated file.
Now before all you traditional art lovers jump off your couches to start the revolt, please understand that there is creativity involved in this new digital age of art. Belt, a 20-year-old, third-year Purdue University student from Madison, did in fact begin with a photograph that was then used to create a digital 3-D image. From there, a computer program called Maya Auto Desk helped him create the digital image that he wanted. Using a filter in Photoshop, the digital image was made to look like a painting.
Photo by Don Ward
Joseph Belt holds a print of his Chautauqua poster for 2019 along with poster sponsor Harry Dobbins, owner of Harry’s Stone Grill in Madison, Ind.
Belt is a 2017 graduate of Shawe Memorial High School in Madison and the son of Timothy and Marta Belt. His high school art teacher, Chautauqua co-coordinator Amy Fischmer, couldn’t be prouder. She says that seeing a young art student from Madison coming back home to be selected as the Chautauqua poster artist exhibits the central goal of the festival’s mantra – support and foster local art. Even if is the first venture into digitally produced art.
Regardless of your feelings about digitally produced art, you may be surprised at the finished product. The image pays tribute to an iconic Madison landmark and honors a talented, young, local artist – even if his art replaces a paint brush with a computer keyboard.
“This is the first ever Chautauqua poster created digitally,” she said. “I’m really excited for him because his selection is exactly what our scholarship program is all about. In this case, his selection as a scholarship winner has come full circle.”
Belt indeed joins a select group of talented area artists who have enjoyed the honor of poster artist.
“I’m honored,” Belt said, recognizing the level of talented artists who preceded him.
“I remember seeing (Madison artist) Eric Phagan’s art and other people’s art around town who were selected for this honor. My mom has several Chautauqua posters in our house. I know what this means. I just hope it helps my career down the road.”
Belt said his idea to feature Little Jimmy as his subject resulted from his thinking about images that remind him of Madison. “Whenever I think of Madison, I think of the Broadway Fountain, the river, Little Jimmy, the Lanier Mansion and the Ohio Theatre. But almost all of them had been done except Little Jimmy. So that became my subject for this project.”
Little Jimmy is a well-known Madison landmark that sits atop Indiana’s oldest volunteer fire department building on Madison’s Main Street. According to the National Park Service’s website, the firehouse was built around 1875 as a horse-drawn streetcar barn for the Madison Street Railways Co.
The Fair Play Fire Co. No. 1 Firehouse building’s wide entrance and open floor plan made it ideal for use as a firehouse. In 1888, the Fair Play Co. purchased the streetcar barn and moved its operations to its current location on the northeast corner of Main and Walnut streets. During a renovation that began shortly after the purchase of the building, the company added the firehouse’s impressive three and one-half story brick tower that still stands over downtown Madison. The tower’s wood supports, used to hang fire hoses to dry, are still visible, and decorative brick detailing surrounds its inset windows.
Perched atop the tower is the Fair Play Fire Co.’s mascot, “Little Jimmy.” Fair Play Co. member Peter Hoffman created the tin figure of a boy blowing a bugle during the 1880s. The weathervane immediately became a symbol of the Fair Play Co. and a notable Madison landmark. After years of service, the original Little Jimmy was retired in 1997 and is now displayed inside the firehouse. He was replaced with an identical copper version crafted by New Hampshire artist Don Felix.
Considering that unique Madison history, Little Jimmy became an inspiration for Belt’s Chautauqua submission.
As a result of his selection, Belt will sit for two signings of the poster at the Chautauqua Information Tent on Broadway Street on Saturday, Sept. 28, of the two-day festival, set for Sept. 28-29 in downtown Madison. He will be available from 10-11:30 a.m. and again from 4-5 p.m. That is the first day the limited edition poster will be available for sale to the public for $45 each. This year, only one poster size of 16x20 is being sold, as opposed to the large and small size offered for sale last year. A total of 150 prints will be sold. Harry Dobbins, who owns and operates Harry’s Stone Grill in Madison, sponsors the poster for the festival.
The T-shirt, based on a portion of the poster image, will go on sale at the Lanier-Madison Visitors Center beginning Labor Day Weekend. The shirts are sold in short-sleeve for $16, long-sleeve for $21 and sweatshirts for $30.
Belt said he has always been interested in computer gaming and has developed the artwork for computer games while in high school and at college. He said his father, a computer aided designer at a large company in Seymour, urged him to pursue a career in engineering at Purdue. “I just couldn’t see myself going down that path,” Belt said.
But his talent at the computer instead has led him into this fast-growing field of digital gaming and art. “It’s a really booming field,” he said.
Belt was a Chautauqua high school scholarship winner two years as a senior at Shawe. The festival awards scholarships each year to seniors pursuing a career in art. Since arriving at Purdue two years ago, Belt has been pursuing a double degree in animation and gaming development.
Belt has won several awards for his gaming development and digital artwork. He was a two-time award winner at a student art show at Purdue. This year, he was in charge of organizing a student art show there.
Belt is the third of four children. He has two sisters and one brother. This summer, he is working at the Envision Center at Purdue. “It’s big in virtual reality and augmented reality,” he said. “They do a lot of 2-D and 3-D art there.”
• Don Ward is the editor, publisher and owner of RoundAbout. Call him at (812) 273-2259 or email him at: info@RoundAbout.bz.
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