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Lawyers capture beauty of courthouses in their art

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While traveling to Steuben County to deliver a file to her former boss, Deborah Agard snapped a picture of the county courthouse.

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It was a beautiful building that, to Agard, was more than a place of government activity; it told the story of the local community. The experience ignited in her a desire to see all the courthouses in Indiana and so, in 2000, she began a project that consumed every Memorial Day weekend for the next eight or nine years.

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The Indianapolis-based family law attorney, who has been taking black-and-white photos since the early 1980s, has finished capturing each courthouse on film. Of those that have been developed, printed and matted, several are hanging on her office walls.

Every person who comes to her office comments on the courthouse pictures, she said. Sometimes, “they’ll indulge me and let me take them around, show them the photos and tell the story.”
 

Agard’s project is one of two ongoing efforts meant to preserve the art and architecture of Hoosier courthouses. The second is the art program of the Indiana State Bar Association, launched in 2009 by then-association president Doug Church. This effort is soliciting original paintings and works of art from local bar associations around the state of their courthouses.
 

morgan-county092212-1col.jpg Photos of courthouses in Lake, Rush and Morgan counties were taken by attorney Deborah Agard. She spent nearly nine years capturing all of Indiana’s 92 courthouses on film. (Photos submitted)

Church calls the structures “architectural gems” that are often just as beautiful inside – with intricate tile work and murals – as they are outside. They are all different in appearance and have individual features that make them unique to their county. For example, the stonemasons who built the Fulton County courthouse took the extra limestone and carved lions which now guard the entrances. As an additional feature, the masons substituted the traditional lion’s face with likenesses of the local elected officials at that time.

More than art, Church said, courthouses are “monuments to the rule of law” created by huge investments from the taxpayers. The buildings are a testament to frontier America realizing the importance of allowing laws to resolve disputes, he said. People left their guns and knives at home to let a judge and jury decide.

Church’s sentiment reflects Agard’s own feelings about courthouses.

“I look at a courthouse as part of the community,” she said. “They tell a lot about that community, what that community considers critical and central to their idea of law.”

In her darkroom, she unfolds a map of the state with the county seats circled in black ballpoint pen and she points to a cluster of finger-sized rolls of film that are the courthouse photos yet to be developed and printed.

Using a Hasselblad 500 C/M camera and a light meter, Agard photographed the courthouses in either the early morning or the hours before dusk (the “sweet light hours”) because these times yield much more dramatic photos.

She began by walking all the way around the courthouse and then shot four to six rolls of film, 12 exposures each, of the building overall as well as of the ornamental details. Everything on her camera is manual, no auto focus or auto settings of any kind. She makes every decision and neatly writes the shutter speed, length of exposure, and light conditions in a small notebook so that when she enters the darkroom, what emerges in the developing tray is the “truest image.”

agard Agard

Agard does not use her darkroom to manipulate her photos, no altering them to emphasize a particular element or emotion. For the same reason she shoots in only black and white, she goes into the darkroom to create the picture exactly as it appeared to her at the time it was taken.

“Photos tell a story,” she explained. “To capture that story, you have to go back to the moment.”

She first got captivated by photography in the early 1980s. Still in the U.S. Army, Agard took a photo of The Awakening, the striking statue that used to reside at East Potomac Park in Washington, D.C. When she saw how the picture turned out, she wanted to take more.

The camera has from then on always been tossed into her luggage whenever and wherever she travels. Photos of the pastoral countryside mark the time she spent in England one summer studying for her master’s degree, and a photo of the Twin Towers was taken in 2000 when she fled to New York City after taking the bar exam.

Around 2008, she enrolled in a class at the Indianapolis Art Center to learn how to develop film herself. It was, she said, the best $240 she ever spent. An upstairs bedroom was partly partitioned off to create a darkroom in her house, and Agard spends a couple of evenings a week and at least one entire Friday a month inside developing pictures.

allen-county-by-roger-hultquist-15col.jpgFort Wayne attorney Roger Hultquist painted this rendering of the Allen County Courthouse. (Photo submitted)

Crowded next to the darkroom sits Agard’s work space that is overwhelmed with stacks, rows and books of her photos. Photography has crossed over from being a hobby into an endeavor that she describes as “soul saving.”

“Being able to create something positive and lasting, something that gives other people pleasure, that’s awesome,” Agard said. “It’s truly a gift.”

ISBA project

To date, the ISBA has received about 39 paintings for its courthouse art project and has another three coming, bringing the effort close to the halfway point of getting pictures from all 92 counties.

Among the professional and amateur artists who have provided paintings, Roger Hultquist is possibly the only attorney to contribute a work so far. Like Agard and Church, he has a special admiration for courthouses, using words like “grand” and “marvelous” to describe the courthouse in his home of Allen County.

“Honored, very honored,” Hultquist said of being asked to contribute the painting. “I am humbled by it. It was received in a very nice and enthusiastic way.”

He started painting about 40 years ago when, as a new father, he took many photos of his son and became impatient waiting for the pictures to be developed. So he picked up a pen and paper then eventually evolved into painting.

Mostly he sticks to representational art, painting buildings, still life and landscapes. Some have hung in galleries and others have found places in corporate offices around Fort Wayne. Getting an award for one of his paintings, he said, is as exciting as winning a jury trial.

Hultquist originally did the portrait of the courthouse for the preservation trust, selling prints to help raise funds for the $10 million renovation of the building. When the Allen County Bar Association asked him for a painting to donate to the ISBA, he handed over that original.

He began the painting by taking a bunch of photos of the courthouse then used those for reference when he returned to his studio. Typically, he said, he starts a work, gets the basics on the canvas, then rejects it before starting again. For several more days, he will peck at it until the painting is finished.

Although he is never satisfied and is critical of the tightness he sees in his work, he does not intend to put down his brush and quit.

“If you have a creative side,” Hultquist said, “it needs to be expressed.”•

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  1. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  2. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  3. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

  4. When I hear 'Juvenile Lawyer' I think of an attorney helping a high school aged kid through the court system for a poor decision; like smashing mailboxes. Thank you for opening up my eyes to the bigger picture of the need for juvenile attorneys. It made me sad, but also fascinated, when it was explained, in the sixth paragraph, that parents making poor decisions (such as drug abuse) can cause situations where children need legal representation and aid from a lawyer.

  5. Some in the Hoosier legal elite consider this prayer recommended by the AG seditious, not to mention the Saint who pledged loyalty to God over King and went to the axe for so doing: "Thomas More, counselor of law and statesman of integrity, merry martyr and most human of saints: Pray that, for the glory of God and in the pursuit of His justice, I may be trustworthy with confidences, keen in study, accurate in analysis, correct in conclusion, able in argument, loyal to clients, honest with all, courteous to adversaries, ever attentive to conscience. Sit with me at my desk and listen with me to my clients' tales. Read with me in my library and stand always beside me so that today I shall not, to win a point, lose my soul. Pray that my family may find in me what yours found in you: friendship and courage, cheerfulness and charity, diligence in duties, counsel in adversity, patience in pain—their good servant, and God's first. Amen."

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