Central Indiana

Central Indiana (Regions 4,5,6,7)

Farmland dotted with barns and rolled hay bales characterize much of central Indiana, where cultural and artistic traditions revolve around rural life. Needlework, woodcarving, quilting, glasswork, basketball, historic re-enactment, decorative barn roofing, gardening, and canning bring residents together.

Woodcarving in central Indiana is a particularly strong and visible tradition. The Eastern Woodland Carver’s Club is headquartered in Converse, Indiana (Miami County). With 300 members, it ranks as the largest woodcarvers’ club in the state. Tom Brown, himself a native of Converse and a past president of the club, is a nationally-known, award-winning caricature carver. In Henry County, Raintree Woodcarvers hosted their 18th annual woodcarving show in New Castle in the summer of 2000. Seventy carvers displayed their work. Kenny Vermillion, a nationally acclaimed wildlife carver, lives in Terre Haute. He carves delicate leaves and butterflies with power tools fitted with dental bits.

Indianapolis, Indiana’s largest city and capital, holds endless possibility for researching traditional practices.

African Americans constitute twenty-five percent of the population of Indianapolis (2000 census figures). Many families descend from places like Clarksville, Tennessee, and Paducah, Kentucky, having migrated north for work between 1915 and 1940. Indianapolis is home to some of the world’s great African American jazz, blues, gospel, and ragtime musicians. Tyscot Records, established in 1976 by Dr. Leonard Tyson, is one of the most important African American Gospel recording studios in the country.

In churches all over Indianapolis, gospel choirs shape the worship service. Older men in some of the Baptist, Apostolic and AME churches still sing the old moaning spirituals, learned in childhood in the South.

Southern culture has also influenced foodways. The 7-11 located on W. 29th and Martin Luther King Boulevard sells collard greens and fatback. Excellent rib tips (marinated in vinegar sauce and smoked over an open-pit fire) in Indianapolis are available at Ma and Pa’s in Riverside, an African American neighborhood in northwest Indianapolis.

In the 1960s and early 1970s, approximately nine families of Indian origin lived in Indianapolis. Since then, the population has swelled, resulting in a mosaic of overlapping networks and relationships. Currently over 2,000 families of Indian origin live in Indianapolis.

Forty years ago, many came from India to seek professional education. Some were offered jobs and chose to stay. This pattern resulted from U.S. immigration policies that favored professionally qualified immigrants. The older Indian community contains a large base population of professionals. A traditional artist interviewed by TAI suggested that recent changes in immigration policy have led to a greater diversity in the Indian community.

Regions or states in India are quite distinct, having their own languages and traditions. As the population in Indianapolis has grown, individuals have tended to organize associations and activities according to regional identities. At these gatherings, they speak local languages and eat locally distinctive foods. For example, there is the Gujarati Samaj and the Telagu Association in Indianapolis. There are also Maliyali events, Kerala events, and more.

As a way to maintain “Indianness,” adolescent girls are taught Indian dance and culture in dance studios. Rangoli, mehndi, and foodways are active traditions in the Indianapolis Indian community.