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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. Am I the only one who sees that the City is essentially giving away the MSA site AND giving millions to build new buildings on the site when this site would be the perfect place for the Justice Complex? Across from City-County, check; keeping it centrally located, check, etc. It's my understanding that the GM site must be purchased by the City from Motors Liquidation Company. STOP WASTING WHAT WE ALREADY HAVE AND OUR TAX DOLLARS! The Ballard Administration has not been known for it's common sense...never voted for him and never will!

  2. This guy sounds like the classic molester/manipulator.

  3. Louis D. Brandeis was born in 1856. At 9 years of age it would have been 1865. The Brandeis family did not own slaves. My source Louis D. Brandeis: A Life, by Melvin L. Urofsky.

  4. My name is Matthew Lucas Major, I recently went through a jury trial in Bloomington , In. It was the week of Feb 19-21. Although I have been incarcerated since August 5, 2014. The reason I 'am writing to you sir is on the 21 of February the jury came in with a very excessive and wrongful verdict of guilty on 6 child molesting charges against my daughter who was 9 at the time I was accused. I also had 2 other Felonies one of Intimidation and 1 of Sexual Vicarious Gratification. Judge Marc Kellam on the second day of trial gave me a not guilty on those 2 felonies. The jury was sent out during that time and when brought back Judge Kellam told them to not concern themselves with the 2 Felonies that he ruled on them. They were told to not let evidence they had already heard influence there verdicts. I never in my life touched any child sexually and definitely not with my own daughter. When I was arrested Detective Shawn Karr told me I would be convicted guilty just on my daughters word even without evidence. That's just what happened. my public defender did me so wrong he never once proved to the court and jury all the lies the child told, and Jeremy Noel my public defender could of proven the lies easily. The stories in Serenity's depositions and Forensic interview changed and were not consistent as Prosecutor Darcie Fawcett claimed they were. Yet my attorney never mentioned that. The facts that the child accused me of full penetration in her vagina and rectum was proven lies. Doctor Roberta Hibbard of Riley hospital in Indianapolis confirmed Serenity's hymen intact, no scars, no tearing, no signs of rape to her. Yet my attorney didn't use that knowledge . the DNA was all in my favor. I tell you I will spend my entire life in prison going through rape and beatings etc. even Judge Kellam abused his authority by telling the jurors to listen and believe what the prosecutors side in evidence like my daughters testimony. In one interview with the detectives my daughter got flustered with her mom and said on camera " I'm saying what you told me to mom"!! Yet Mr. Noel said nor did anything to even resemble a defense attorney. Judge Kellam allowed edited version of a taped conversation between the child and her mother. Also Judge Kellam allowed the Prosecutor too bring in to my case a knife found under my seat, the knife wasn't part of my case. She was allowed by my attorney and the judge to put a huge picture of it on the screen and huge picture of my naked privates in a full courtroom and open court. Ms. Fawcett says to jury see how easy Mr. Major could reach the knife and cut his Childs throat. Even though I had no weapons charge against these cases. This gave the jurors prejudice thought against me thinking I threatened her with that knife and how scared she would of been knowing i could get it and kill her. On my sentencing court March 19, 2014 my public defender told Judge Kellam he wish to resign from being my attorney and wished for the court to give me outside council to file a error to trial or appeal. We were denied. Now after openly knowing my public defender don't want to represent me he has to. Well when as parents we make our kids clean a room when they really don't wish to, well the child will but don't mean she will do a good job, that's where I'm at with Mr. Noel. please dont ignore mine and my families pleas for your help . we have all the legal proof you could need to prove Im innocent. Please dont make my spend years in prison innocent when you can fix this wrong. Im not saying Im a perfect man or that I was a perfect dad to my 2 children none of us are. Ive made some bad choices in life and I paid for them. But I didnt ever touch or rape my daughter . I love my children with all my heart. And now through needing attention and a ex-wife who told my granny several times she wish she could put me in prison to get me out of their lives. Well my ex finally accomplished her goal. Sad part is she is destroying our daughter with all this horrific lies and things she taught my daughter to say. My daughter will need therapist to ever hope for a chance of a normal life after what she had done to her by her mom and their side of the family. My daughter told everyone even on stand she had a dream months before i supposedly molested her in this dream I was molesting her and when I finally did it matched her dream perfectly. She admitted to watching movies about little girls being molested and watching U-Tube videos about child molesting all before it happened supposedly to her. Doesn't that sound very unusual that a non molested 9 yr old would need to know so much about being molested? The only reason I could think a 9 year old would need so much information is to be prepared to know what to say and be able to say how it felt what took place etc.. So when questioned by authorities she would be prepared. And there again sir if a parent is pre grooming a 9 year old child she would need intimate details . Like telling her daughter about a couple moles on my private area. The child admitted to sneaking my cell and looking many many times at nudes of me and my girlfriend even one where my penis was entering my girlfriends vagina. In that picture my moles are obvious. Yet when prosecutor showed everyone in court my privates and pictures of the moles she said the only way the child would know about them is if she saw them for herself. My attorney once again said nothing about the pictures my child saw. Or could a ex-wife be able to describe my moles to help her case against getting rid of me? I beg you help me. This is my very existence. Ive lost everything , a good job, a wonderful girlfriend, my freedom, but worse thing Ive lost is my children. They were my reason to get up every morning and strive to be better. The wonderful bond I had with my Serenity is gone. After this I would be afraid to even hug her for fear of what next can they do to me. I'm not afraid to tell you I sit here in this cell and try to hold back my tears. Everyone knows you cant show weakness in prison. My life has already been threatened here at Wabash Valley Prison. After only 3 days of arrival. I was tricked into signing a waiver now Im in G Block General Population with 6 child molesting felony charges. Mrs. Hart as a 18 year old I almost died hooked to machines in hospital almost 1 month and now I know that fear was childish compared to this . I cant help but put emotions in this, after all Mrs. Hart Im human and God help Me I never been more afraid in my life. I didnt hurt my little girl I didnt touch her sexually. As much as it shreds me and fills my mind what Im facing I worry more about my mom and granny because of their great love for me mam they are suffering so deeply. I aint done this things but my loved ones suffering right along beside me and If you take my case you will be in essence freeing them also. I sent momma this letter and asked her to email it to you. I'm scared I have been done so unjustly by our legal system and I need you to fix this and give me freedom. I ask you please don't just ignore my pleas. Here in America its nice to be able to trust our legal justice system, well they destroyed my and my loved ones trust in our justice system . And I'm trusting in You !!! My entire family is suffering this nightmare with me. My 77 year old granny had a stroke and isn't doing so well. My single mother that raised 3 kids alone is dying from Lupus and since my arrest has stayed so sick and weary. Our lives torn to peices by a government I was taught I could trust in. my momma has tried so many innocent project and wrongfully accused and cant get anywhere. please please help me. A quote from the late Nelson Mandela: To be free is not merely to cast off ones chains, But to live in a way that respects and enhances The Freedom Of Others. I have Faith in you and your clinic to cast my chains off and give me freedom I do deserve as a wrongfully accused Man, son, brother, father, friend. Matthew Major DOC# 246179 Cause # : 53c02-1308-FA-000779 God Bless you. Please contact me with your decision so I know you made a life changing decision for me , just please at least write me so I know you care enough about your citizens to respond to cries for your help. You can speak openly with my mother Charlotte Spain (828) 476-0406: 71 Lakeview Dr. Canton, NC 28716 Thank You Matthew Major I know yall get thousands of request and inmates claiming innocence, and each person who are innocent deserve to have organizations like yours willing to fight for them and I give yall so much Thanks and I thank God everyday yall are out there caring enough to help free the innocents. Since discovering firsthand how easily lives and families can be destroyed by Poor Defense attorneys not doing their job . And Prosecutors allowed to do as they please in court

  5. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

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