VALPARAISO | A lifelong Valparaiso resident and longtime Valparaiso High School art teacher was given the ultimate honor Sunday afternoon.
The east wing of the Porter County Museum was named after Robert Cain, who taught art at Valparaiso High from 1958 to 1990.
Cain was featured at a reception in his honor, as the newly dubbed Robert Cain Gallery displayed more than a dozen of his pen and ink drawings and sculptures.
Cain’s whimsical art often features two of his favorite subjects — horses and roosters, which Cain describes as “visually beautiful.”
“We try to capture and preserve things that have meaning for us because life is so fleeting,” Cain said. “Art gives us a chance to express our feelings for these things.”
To Cain, who doesn’t use references when he draws and sculpts, art holds memories.
One drawing depicts the artist as a teenager, working one summer as a “whistle boy” for the railroad, while another depicts the artist next to a sign reading “Saturday morning, August 4, 1937.”
“That was a big date in my life,” Cain said. “It reminds me of the year 1937, when I moved to a neighborhood where I made some of the best friends of my life.”
Cain’s sculptures also include “found objects,” including door hinges, small animal busts and old silver dollars.
“You’ll often find me at a junkyard or antique store,” Cain said. “Objects I think are visually interesting I work into the piece.”
Museum Director Kevin Pazour said a museum goal is to feature the community’s art and artists.
“It was ideal to start with Bob’s work,” Pazour said. “He is a longtime educator and an inspiration to generations of students.”
Museum board director Joanne Urschel said Cain was an inspiration to both her and her daughter, Danielle Urschel, in the art classroom when they each attended Valparaiso High.
“We always remember the teachers who have had an impact on us,” Urschel said.
Urschel said Cain was a “pivotal influence” for her daughter, who has a master’s degree in fine art.
“It was important for her to have Mr. Cain to encourage her talent,” Urschel said. “He’s not only a teacher, but a fine artist. His time has come, and we’re so pleased to honor him.”
Cain, now 83, has never put down the pen.
“Not a day goes by that I don’t put two to three hours in on a drawing,” Cain said.
When Pazour announced “this will always be the Robert Cain Gallery,” Cain responded with his signature sense of humor.
“You can’t beat that with a stick,” Cain said. “I’m going to be so famous. ... I hope it doesn’t go to my head.”