One of America’s clowns—and one of the state’s most famous Hoosiers—now graces the lobby of Vincennes University’s Red Skelton Performing Arts Center.
A bronze sculpture of Red Skelton was unveiled by his widow, Lothian Skelton, and C. James and Marilyn McCormick of Vincennes in a ceremony immediately prior to Saturday evening’s Gala Reception and Performance Tribute to Skelton.
Marilyn McCormick served as executive chair of the Red Skelton Gala Committee and C. James McCormick is former chair of the VU Board of Trustees.
Vincennes-native Mark Parmenter created the sculpture that was donated to VU by The McCormick Family Foundation. Combined with its black granite base, the sculpture stands more than ten feet high and weighs about one ton. It is the centerpiece of the lobby.
Parmenter said that he viewed hundreds of photos and videos of Skelton’s television shows as part of his research.
“I can tell you as an artist that Red Skelton had a rubber face. The man could look like another person at the drop of a Hobo hat. This makes life very nice for the audience, but very difficult for the artist. Red Skelton was also a very handsome man, when he was not clowning around. One photo in particular struck me. It depicted Mr. Skelton with a rather wistful look. It was a formal portrait of Red, not a character. I put this photo's expression together with the clowns he painted and the numerous other photos of him in his 40's and came up with this expression,” Parmenter said.
Recalling that he never missed “The Red Skelton Show” when he was growing up in Vincennes, Parmenter said that one of his prized possessions today is one of Skelton’s lithographs, a frowning clown with a cigar, signed by Skelton.
Prior to receiving an associate degree in electro-optics from VU in 1980, Parmenter earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Indiana University in 1974 and a master’s degree in fine arts in 1977 from Indiana State University.
His career includes teaching at VU and ISU and working in electro-optics research and engineering in Massachusetts and Ohio, prior to opening the White River Foundry (www.whiteriverfoundry.com) in Spencer in 1989, where he is the owner and lead artist.
Parmenter’s works are included in the collections of ISU, Rose Hulman Institute of Technology, Sheldon Swope Art Museum, and numerous private collections. In 2002 he was selected as the general contractor for the Knox County Civil War Monument Restoration project in Vincennes.
“Mr. Skelton was a very talented and I believe a very complicated man, he did comedy, he painted, he composed music, he was a humanitarian. I am sure he loved theater. He had to, he lived theater. I wanted to depict a more complicated man that just the clown we all know and love. I also wanted him larger than life, because the Red Skelton we remember is larger than
life,” Parmenter said. The sculpture is two times life size.
Concluding his remarks at the dedication ceremony, Parmenter said that Skelton was a remarkable man who loved people.
“I am reminded of a story I heard from someone when doing research. This man had met Red sometime in the 50's. He was in the Army. Red had flown into wherever they were and he came over to the group of soldiers and talked with them at length. The people he was with were urging him to leave and he kept postponing his departure. This man said they talked about everyday things and he never forgot that a big star was such a humble and loving man. I think this episode probably says more about Red Skelton as a man than all his other talents combined. I believe Red just loved people and he wanted them to be happy, regardless of his own state of mind. I hope this statue shows Red as a great man in all his many aspects,” Parmenter said.
Other participants in the unveiling ceremony included Indiana Lt. Governor Becky Skillman, VU President Dick Helton, Phillip M. Summers, president emeritus of VU and coordinator of the Red Skelton Project; the Rev. Georg Karl, senior pastor at First Church of God, and Miss VU 2006 Jenna Summers.
The inscription mounted on the black granite base of the sculpture reads:
Richard “Red” Skelton was born July 18, 1913 one block from this site at 111 West Lyndale. Through his amazing creative talent, Red Skelton became an international star of theater, radio, movies and television. He was also a highly regarded author, artist, composer, humanitarian and patriot. This Performing Arts Center is dedicated in Red Skelton’s honor and memory and as a lasting tribute to “One of America’s Clowns.”
The Red Skelton statue was generously donated by The McCormick Family Foundation