Grottos in the Heartland - Speaker

October 8, 2012 - 6:00pm to 8:00pm | Room 300, Donnelly Center

Mount Mercy University will welcome curator Susannah Koerber, vice president of collections and interpretation at the Indiana State Museum, for a special presentation of “Grottos in the Heartland” on October 8 at 7:00 p.m. in Donnelly 300. 

Koerber will detail the period between 1924 and 1941 -- the peak of popularity for grotto shrines in the United States, when William H. Lightner was creating Mount Mercy’s iconic Our Mother of Sorrows Grotto. Using Lightner’s work as a starting point, Koerber will look at Catholic religious shrines, devotional practices, and recreational spaces during this time and discuss how Our Mother of Sorrows Grotto fits within this broader context. She will also show how the decline of these iconic sites followed artistic and religious trends that dramatically altered the American religious landscape, resulting in the loss of many sites before a small band of dedicated individuals began to recognize the importance of such artistry, and worked to protect and restore them.

 Started in 1929 by Lightner, Mount Mercy's grotto is a cherished landmark on campus, which includes arched entryways, a bridge surrounded by a lagoon, a ten column structure representing the Ten Commandments, and a monumental central shrine containing mosaics of the seven sorrows of Christ's mother. 

The ten-column structure is the centerpiece of the lagoon, with each of the commandments inscribed on the base in mosaic. The huge central shrine is a grotto cave holding a white marble statue of the Virgin Mary made from Carrara marble by the Italian sculptor Marcello Rebechini. The statue was originally installed in 1949 after the shrines' dedication by Archbishop Beckman in 1941.

Mount Mercy was recently awarded a $30,000 National Endowment for the Arts matching grant to help fund renovation of the grotto bridge and Ten Commandments column. To make a contribution to the grotto restoration, please visit

Koerber has been researching grassroots art environments since 1988. She has worked in museums, primarily as a curator and administrator, for more than fifteen years. In her role as vice president of collections and interpretation at the Indiana State Museum, she oversees exhibitions, curatorial affairs, education, collections, research and outreach.

Previously, she was chief curator of the Art Museum of Western Virginia (now the Taubman Museum of Art). She also served as the educator and curator of the American Experience Collections at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis and was in the American art department at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. She has taught courses at Virginia Tech and Hollins College in Virginia and at Emory University. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in comparative literature, specializing in the interrelationship of literature and the arts, from Indiana University, and a Master of Arts and PhD in specializing in American studies from Emory University, where her dissertation examined grassroots religious environments in the South and Midwest. She publishes and lectures on American art, contemporary art, grassroots art environments, and the social and cultural roles of American museums.

As a Catholic institution, Mount Mercy University welcomes speakers who address diverse topics and represent various backgrounds in the pursuit of educational discourse. During public occasions, guest speakers may express opinions that do not necessarily reflect the mission and values of Mount Mercy or are necessarily endorsed by official institutional positions and policy.


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