Wednesday, August 13, 2003

"Intangible Spirit" An obituary for artist Harry Blomme published in NUVO August 13, 2003

By Mary Lee Pappas
Published in NUVO August 13, 2003

Harry Blomme knows what God looks like. “It’s supposed to be a surprise,” he once told me. Blomme, a local artist, passed away suddenly the weekend of July 12. He was 69.

“He lived his life in preparation for this,” Bill Bickel, director of Holy Family Shelter, said. In 1997, Bill became Harry’s caseworker at the Homeless Initiative. A former Southern Indiana farmer, a Flemish Canadian export, Harry was homeless and epileptic. “Health was always a concern,” Bill said.

I first met Harry six years ago when he and Bill visited a Massachusetts Avenue gallery where I worked to check out the art. I can’t recall whose art was hanging on the walls, but Harry I remember vividly. He gave me a deftly drawn charcoal portrait of a girl as a token of his visit. This was typical Harry.

“It always amazed him when someone would take an interest in him,” Bill recalled. “He was spiritual and approachable. He looked at situations so optimistically and held by his convictions. He was much, much more than a homeless artist. That doesn’t begin to explain who he was. He broke stereotypes and boundaries about homelessness without knowing it. He looked at himself as being one of us and folks treated him that way. That’s what we want. No one should be labeled.”

When U.S. Rep. Julia Carson was presented with two of Harry’s paintings, “She was, I think, very humbled,” Bill said. One was of Carson and the other was of Rosa Parks, who Harry had read was an inspiration to Carson.

Harry sold some of his paintings at Utrillo’s Art, owned by Greg Brown. “He intelligently approached his work. His method was fascinating and impressive. It’s stuck with me and affected my own work,” Greg said of his friend Harry.

Three years ago, just before Harry got settled into his apartment (called “studio-studio”), he lived with David Hittle, of Lutheran Child and Family Services. The annual April Show, an art show inspired by Harry’s talent, started from their close friendship.

“Very intangible” is the only way David could explain the impact Harry has had on him. “Harry had a clear and profound effect on people he may have only met once or twice.”

Harry’s passing was sudden. “He was doing very, very well,” Bill said.
“I saw him the day before and he was having a blast,” Greg recalled. “He’s kind of a gad-about. He was full of life and having fun.”

Harry’s funeral was July 19 in his hometown of Rockport, Ind. “It was packed. It seems that the people of Rockport knew Harry as we knew him here. He was known for pulling out his sketchbook,” David said. “The music was awesome. Southern Indiana shoutin’ Pentecostal music. Very bluegrassy. Real good stuff.”
“I would put Harry up there as one of the greatest teachers I’ve ever had,” Bill said.

David had difficulty putting the effect Harry has had on his life into words. “Gargantuan is the only word to describe it.”

A memorial service for Harry will be held at Roberts Park Church on Aug. 14, 6:30 p.m. If you own a piece of Harry’s work, please bring it for a display after the service.

For more information on Harry’s art visit The Web page for an interview with Harry July 3, 2002, can be found at

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