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Datebook: In Artist Herb Eaton's New Show, He Asks, 'May I Have This Dance?'

It’s brutally cold outside. There’s a foot of snow adding to the misery. Oh, and the pandemic. Charming. 

But one local artist steadfastly has embraced an inner warmth with his new collection of works, letting his romantic side out to shine a light in the persistent darkness. 

“Dance, Romance and a Rose” features the latest works in various media by a stalwart member of the downtown Bloomington arts community, Herb Eaton. The show is on display at the Eaton Studio and Gallerythrough Feb. 27.  Although he’s described himself as someone who likes to make utilitarian things, Eaton admits, at heart, he’s just an out-and-out romantic. 

“I think, deep in the soul, there was always the romance of making art and dancing and music. All those sorts of things are part of the makeup,” he said.

In his sculptures and paintings, Eaton has been exploring dance for many years. He said some of his dance works hint at a serious message within the graceful lines. 

“It’s not all about the fun and games, it’s about how we try to dance our way through life, as opposed to being consumed by those aspects of life that aren’t so wonderful. The only solution is to enjoy dance and music and the like in order to make life enjoyable and have a good time.” 

It’s not just visual art in “Dance, Romance and a Rose.” Eaton writes short poems to accompany some of his pieces. 

“I didn’t get good art education until I was in my early 20s and I went to ISU,” Eaton explained. “My visual art education was what I would consider poor in high school and earlier days. But I did have some really good teachers in English language, as well as drama teachers. They made me consider what words I said and what they mean and how you can mix things together. 

“Some of this just oozes out of my frozen fingers sometimes, along with the imagery. I’m a storyteller, as you might figure out. For me, the importance of art is to provide images to go with the thoughts we have about living. If I can throw in some words that might help, I do that. 

“I think people really like to find out what's going on in my mind when I do these things. There’s not some distinct pattern of this. Sometimes, the writing comes first and then the image, sometimes the images come first. Sometimes it's years separated between them.” 

Two figures often populate Eaton’s works, a male and a female, caught in an eternal dance. They first began manifesting in Eaton’s works back in the 1960’s. He dubbed them He and She.  

Regarding He, Eaton said, “My wife said I’m supposed to call him a boy spirit; I just call him an idiot.” 

“Well, he’s naked and he’s running around doing stupid things. And then She--her body and her dress are one. And she’s hiding more than she reveals.” 

Elements of He and She reflect dual elements of Eaton’s nature, he revealed. 

“She’s more about elegance. There’s a part of me that has this elegance. But mostly, it’s this idiot running around the world and making stuff and all the rest of that. And so, it kind of becomes two parts of me that I get to manipulate in paint, bronze and what have you. And I think it just started in and they just won’t quit.” 

Eaton’s romantic nature has, over time, brought the He and She figures closer together. 

“They actually appear to be dancing with each other. In a lot of my early work, they weren't dancing with each other; they were dancing around each other,” he said.

“I think they’re always causing me to think of a different way of doing something--just because there’s part elegance and part idiocy.” 

“Dance, Romance and a Rose” continues through Feb. 27. The Eaton Studio and Gallery, 411 N. Center St., in Bloomington is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays, and also by appointment.

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Reporter, content producer and former All Things Considered host, Laura Kennedy is a native of the Midwest who occasionally affects an English accent just for the heck of it. Related to two U.S. presidents, Kennedy appalled her family by going into show business.