If halls could talk, those in Henrion would have plenty to say — about all kinds of things. We’d hear about athletics and art, for sure. There’d be tales of student love affairs and other intrigues, countless stories of Shocker activity, old and brand new.
IN ITS ORIGINAL ITERATION, Henrion, built in several phases, was the first permanent gym on campus.
Memorial Gymnasium, dedicated to Fairmount College students who served in World War I, first welcomed cheering Shocker men’s basketball fans through its doors in 1921.
The gym was later renamed for Walter S. Henrion, whose construction company made a sizable contribution to the building. A women’s gym was built in 1929, and locker rooms were added in 1937.
The physical education department was housed in Henrion until the Heskett Center opened in 1983, and Henrion was host to years of PE classes that ranged from archery to clogging and “natural dance.”
Henrion’s main gymnasium was also the site of the University of Wichita’s annual Military Ball, which is said to have been a “brilliant” social function, attended by “over two hundred couples” in 1932.
HENRION’S SECOND ITERATION has been as lair to studio artists, both faculty members and students, but especially potters and sculptors.
While painting, drawing, print-making, photography and other studio arts office in the McKnight Art Center, ceramics and sculpture have found a working home in and just outside (where the kilns are) Henrion.
One recent Friday, which happened to be the hottest day of the year so far, Laura Nave and Garet Reynek, both second-year grad students in ceramics, plus ceramics instructor and graduate faculty member Brenda Lichman and Ted Adler, associate professor and area head of ceramics media, were hot at work in venerable, non-central air conditioned Henrion.
“It’s a visually rich space,” Adler says about the rambling warren of studios, offices and work areas that seem to have taken root in the old hardwood courts of the men’s and women’s gyms, and grown, all topsy-turvy, into a most vibrant and inspiring environment.
That’s not to say, though, that the potters and sculptors who dream up and then make their art in Henrion wouldn’t welcome change and some new collaborators into their artful abode.
THE THIRD ITERATION OF HENRION will be as Wichita State’s Ideas Lab. When complete, the lab will serve as a “fine arts version of a makerspace,” explains Rodney Miller, dean of the fine arts college.
Still grounded by ceramics and sculpture, and coordinated through fine arts, the Ideas Lab will bring engineers, business majors and others into contact with artists in a creative mix that Adler, Miller, WSU President John Bardo and others believe will be a catalyst for all kinds of innovative technologies.
An advanced set of kilns is one item on the Ideas Lab procurement list. The kilns would assist engineers in testing new designs in composite materials, an area of research for which Wichita State is well known.
Henrion has already added a few new Ideas Lab inhabitants, a plasma cutter, for one thing.
Royce Smith, associate professor of modern and contemporary art history, director of the School of Art, Design and Creative Industries, and a 2015 Fulbright Scholar, says, “I’d say the phase we’re in now with the Ideas Lab is learning how to share our toys with one another, deciding what piece of equipment goes in what space — what works and where.”
He adds that he’s excited about the cross-campus, cross-discipline collaborations that are developing. “Barry Badgett, our area head in sculpture, is fielding calls and questions from engineers, and Ted Adler is already sharing ideas about how WSU-made ceramics might be used in Innovation Campus properties — tiles in the new hotel, for example. That’s exciting!
“It’s exciting to be part of envisioning a new approach to teaching creative industries. The Ideas Lab is unique. There’s absolutely nothing like it in our region — not at KU, not at K-State.”
Working with fine arts faculty, administrators, alumni and others who have come together as members of the Ideas Lab Leadership Council, the WSU Foundation is raising funds for Henrion’s transformation into the Ideas Lab. The goal is $4 million.
“The strong volunteer leadership coupled with the vision of Dean Miller and his faculty make this a fun and exciting fundraising project,” says Elizabeth King, president and CEO of the foundation. “Transforming – and saving – an iconic building like Henrion gives additional substance to our efforts.”
As varied as Henrion’s functions and forms have been through the years, who knows what’s coming next!