Mark of All Mediums

If you’ve visited the Indianapolis Art Center in the past eight years, chances are you’ve seen Mark Swaim in your classroom or the hallways or busy working at Open Studio hours. During the OneAmerica Broad Ripple Art Fair, you’ve seen him in the glass shop or the print studio doing demos. During the Student Show, you’ve seen his artwork hanging on the wall or heard his name called for an award. “I've pretty much proven that anybody can be an artist. It can be done. I think most people can learn these skills,” says the retired engineer.

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In 2008, Mark enrolled in his first photo class at the Art Center. ”After taking two more photo classes, I wandered around the building to see what else was going on. There was a beginning glass studio class that I was able to get into. Everything mushroomed from that,” he says. 

The native Hoosier wanted to become a teacher, but eventually he became an engineer. He joined the Navy and got to see some of the world. When he came back to Indiana, he settled north of Fort Wayne. Later, he moved to Broad Ripple, where he saw the Indianapolis Art Center being built from his apartment window. After retiring, he and his wife went back to Northern Indiana where he’s lived ever since. For the past ten years, he has spent most of his time developing himself creatively in every single Art Center studio. He didn’t get rid of the apartment and stays there whenever he is in town for class. 

“I took a class at the Pittsburgh Glass Center with [Art Center instructor] Ben Johnson, but that’s all glass. A couple of years ago I went to a studio in Alabama to blow glass. But again, that was only glass and ceramics. I haven’t found a place like the Indianapolis Art Center that offers a complete overview of all the visual arts.” 

In all his time at the Art Center, Mark has learned  how to take great photos, use color, develop his drawing skills, pour iron for sculptures, blow vases from hot molten glass and make a series of prints. Last session, he even learned how to weave a scarf. He has won awards for artwork he submitted to the Art Center’s Annual Student Show, the Garrett Museum of Art and the Eckhart Library’s annual show. His work is currently available at Expressions Gallery in Auburn, IN.

Mark now helps some of his instructors teach new students learning about glass for the very first time. “It feels good when you can pass on a skill to someone who hasn’t done it before. I started out a long time ago wanting to be a teacher but that didn’t work out. So I guess I still have a little bit of that teacher in me,” Swaim says.

In finding the parallels between being an engineer and being an artist, Mark discovered that attention to detail and patience both play a role in becoming a good artist. For him, making art is not just about showing up to express something; it is also about challenging yourself and the set of skills you bring to the studio. “I think one of the biggest things is not to be afraid to try new techniques and ideas,” Swaim says. “You are going to try and you are going to fail. In the glass shop, you can work on a piece for 45 minutes and when you make the transfer from the blow pipe to the punty and it drops on the floor, then it’s all gone. There’s more glass in the furnace, but you’ll have to start from scratch,” he says.

None of this can be done alone. It is the willingness of the instructors to share their knowledge and the creativity of other students that makes all of what the Art Center has to offer happen. But what makes all the work and effort worthwhile for the Indianapolis Art Center’s most versatile student is the people he meets. “It is the camaraderie that you get here - the hundreds of people that you meet over the years. You broaden your community of neighbors. And I think It’s a pretty good community.” We can’t help but agree.  

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