Limestone in Art

Our art museum, located on the Bloomington campus of Indiana University, is situated right in the heart of limestone country. Bloomington and the surrounding area are known as sources for some of the best limestone in the world. Limestone from southern Indiana has been used to create such iconic structures as the Empire State Building and Yankee Stadium in New York and the Pentagon and the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. It is the predominant building material throughout the Indiana University Bloomington campus, which was named the second most beautiful campus in the country in a 2016 USA Today poll. Every June we celebrate Limestone Month in Bloomington. It is an excellent opportunity to discuss limestone’s presence in the history of art, as well as some examples of limestone art in our collection.

Limestone has been used as a material in art since before antiquity. The Venus of Willendorf (28,000–25,000 BCE), one of the oldest and most famous surviving works of art, is made of Oolitic limestone (Oolitic is also the name of a town just south of Bloomington). The Great Pyramid of Giza was encased in Tura limestone, and the Great Sphinx of Giza, located in the pyramid complex, is made of Nummulitic limestone. (For an interesting and odd connection between the Great Pyramid of Giza and Indiana, read up on the failed attempt to create a limestone replica of the pyramid in Needmore, Indiana, in the 1970s.) Use of limestone can also be found in Sumerian, Egyptian, Cypriot, Greek, and Roman cultures, as well as medieval Europe, and China.

Two early examples from the Eskenazi Museum of Art’s collection include a Servant Figure of a Brewer, an Egyptian statuette dating to the 5th Dynasty (ca. 2,565–2,420 BCE) and Striding Young Man, a Greek kouros (a statue of a standing nude youth popular during the Archaic period), which dates to 500–450 BCE.

A more recent example of limestone sculpture in our collection is Peasant (La Paysanne) by the French artist Marcel Damboise (1903–1992), which you can read more about here.

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Marcel Damboise (French 1903-1922). Peasant (La Paysanne), 1938-1939. Stone. Gift of Danielle Damboise Françoise, daughter of the artist, 2016.2

The museum also owns a beautiful print by Indiana University Professor Emeritus of Photography Jeffrey Wolin, from his Stone Country series. Just this year, an updated version of Wolin’s book Stone Country: Then and Now, was released by IU Press. It serves as an artistic and informative document of the limestone industry and quarries of southern Indiana.

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Jeffrey Wolin (American, born 1951). Winter, Oolitic, from Stone Country, 1984. Gelatin silver print. 90.18.7

If you are interested in other ways to celebrate Limestone Month, check out the Visit Bloomington calendar, which covers this month’s festivities in the city. Of particular note is a photography exhibition titled Building a Nation: Indiana Limestone, on view all month at Fountain Square Mall.