Wiley Dummich with a self-portrait at his Cedar Lake home. | Photo provided
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Updated: June 20, 2013 6:32AM
“A ship is always referred to as ‘she’ because it costs so much to keep her in paint and powder.”
— Fleet Admiral Charles W. Nimitz
My friend Mary McClelland of South Shore Arts tipped me off about abstract artist Wiley E. Dummich of Cedar Lake. McClelland told me that Dummich, 83, is an inspiration and probably the smartest person she’d ever met.
Upon entering Dummich’s home atop a hill overlooking the lake, it wasn’t acrylic abstract paintings I was shown, but a stack of large black-and-white photographs he’d taken of dilapidated barns and houses. They were of a quality that would make Ansel Adams or Walker Evans blush.
“Yes, to Carol,” he said. “Between us we have four daughters and nine grandchildren.”
Born and raised in Cedar Lake?
“I was born in Attica, but we moved to Indianapolis when I was about 2 because there was work there for my father.”
What did your father do for a living?
“He was a wood pattern maker. Years after he retired I told him, ‘Dad, I hate to tell you this, but they don’t have wooden pattern makers any more.’ He couldn’t believe it. Dad did everything by hand.”
A true artisan. Was your mother an artistic type as well?
“My mother was an invalid, but I’d rather not talk about that.”
Childhood memories of growing up in Indianapolis?
“We lived behind the women’s prison on the east side of Indy. I used to climb over the back wall of the prison and pick apples in the orchard there.”
Early memories of drawing or painting?
“There was a comic strip called ‘Lil’ Abner’ by Al Capp. I learned to sketch all of his characters when I was 8. I received a minor scholarship from the John Herron Art Institute out of Indianapolis when I was 13.”
At what high school did you attend?
“Howe High School, but I dropped out and spent five years in the Navy. Once I got out of the Navy, I thought I better go back to school. I showed some papers to a Dr. Maxim at Butler University. He asked me if I’d taken any tests in the Navy and I told him that I’d taken lots of tests in the Navy. Maxim asked me if I knew what GED meant, I told him I did not. I studied journalism for two years at Butler without a high school diploma.”
“I became a sketch maker at a forging company while attending Purdue University (West Lafayette) where I studied mechanical engineering.”
“I got into marketing. I wanted to be the best ball bearing and roller bearing salesman you could ever be. The problem was, the company told me they were going to transfer me to Cleveland. I told my wife at the time about Cleveland and she said, ‘Well, goodbye.’ So, I was let go because I refused to go to Cleveland.”
“I moved to Chicago to work for Aircraft Gear Corp. in Bedford Park. I became vice-president of marketing. I had 35 years in the aerospace business and had air force secret clearance and what is called Level L clearance.”
“Really. I spent some time with Gordie Cooper; there were certain things we couldn’t say.”
Are you referring to the late astronaut Gordon Cooper?
“Yes, the man who rounded the Earth. I saw him on television several years ago. He was no longer with the government and he admitted that he looked out the window of his spacecraft and saw UFOs following him. He wasn’t allowed to talk about that before.”
“The government wouldn’t allow me to say things such as S8G or A1W. I was involved with the nuclear reactor on the aircraft carrier Chester W. Nimitz. My thumb print is on that reactor.”
Like you, Chester Nimitz quit high school to join the Navy. It wasn’t until years later, after he became Fleet Admiral, that he was awarded a high school diploma. Please, continue.
“I was on several missions during the Korean Conflict. Eventually, I was transferred to the carrier Tripoli. We went from New York to the Panama Canal to pick up some aircraft for MacArthur’s invasion of Inchon. I was newspaper editor of the ship. We called the paper The Tripolitan.”
Wiley, you’re an eclectic cuss.
“I’ve been in every jet airplane and helicopter plant in the country. When I got out of the marketing field, I started my own consulting business called Coyote Engineering. I did that for several years.”
Other unique experiences?
“In the ‘70s, a cousin of mine who was a television stuntman in Hollywood approached about marketing a hang-glider.”
“I designed and built a hang-glider I called the Dyna-Soar. We produced them in Carmel. Our hang-glider appeared in a television episode of ‘Planet of the Apes’ and an episode of the ‘The Magician’ starring Bill Bixby.”
Cool. Can I have the dime tour of your art studio downstairs?
“Sure. This painting is a favorite with the kids, it’s called Blue Spiderman. This one has never been shown to the public, it’s called Love Dancer. Do you see how she has her hand holding a bouquet behind her back? She’s facing away from him while he is doing the love dance.”
“This is a self-portrait I took from a Leonardo Da Vinci sketch.”
Amazing. This acrylic painting has an Ancient Latin title.
“Yes, ‘Ex nihilo’ — out of nothing or how the Earth was created. Book of Genesis.”
I really like this one called “The Actress.”
“You can buy it for $2,500.”
Wiley, that’s $2,490 more than I have on me right now.
“This one, ‘Hermes and The Three Graces,’ will be shown at Butler University soon.”
I must confess that I kinda got faked out on this interview. When I entered your front door, I was expecting to see some guy wearing a beret and a pencil mustache. I figured we’d talk about your painting for an hour. Mary McClelland didn’t tell me all that you’ve done in your life.
“I’ve never told her. Art is really the smallest part of my life. People around here know me as an artist and a photographer, but they don’t know much about my personal life.”
They will now.
Wiley E. Dummich is not only a friendly man and a tremendous artist.
He’s probably the smartest person I’ve ever met.