Headline Image

Release Date: August 20, 2013

Students Gain Valuable Experience Through Restoration of Vintage Diorama

Media Spotlight Media Contact
Person Icon
Belinda Allen
Office of Communications and Marketing
Call Media Contact

Two mechanical engineering students from Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus (IUPUC) gained hands-on experience this summer through the restoration of a historical folk art exhibit that depicts life in Indiana before 1900 through mechanical dioramas.

Native Hoosier Merle Yenawine was born in Georgetown in 1887. Untrained as an artist, Yenawine’s passion for carving grew into tableau-based depictions of his childhood memories of small town life in Indiana.

Yenawine’s folk art dioramas include hundreds of moving mechanical objects. Buildings are made of plywood and figures are carved from poplar and pine. Human figures are about two inches tall with many of the human and animal figures articulated and animated.

Local resident Cindy Hendershot is Yenawine’s granddaughter and a graduate of Indiana University. She and her husband Robert are IUPUC donors and friends.

Seeking to restore the vintage dioramas in her possession, Cindy approached IUPUC to offer engineering students a unique learning experience and an opportunity to contribute to a worthy historical cause.

IUPUC mechanical engineering students Kable Walton of Columbus and Joseph Peters of Shelbyville completed restoration of the Yenawine diorama this summer. In the process, they learned about sizing new motors and belts, understanding specifications and ordering mechanical equipment, reducer gears, fixing and replacing mechanical linkages, basic wiring, plus performing basic engineering calculations.

Peters stated, “The project not only benefited my education, but provided an opportunity to develop an appreciation of the various quirks of historical mechanics and the rewards of restoration.”

“By restoring the dioramas I developed new skills and learned many new things, such as soldering, four-bar linkage theory, how reduction works, and patience,” said Walton.

The Carnegie Center for the Arts in New Albany, IN is home of an extensive Yenawine folk art exhibit. An article with feature photos titled “Grandpa Makes A Scene” is posted online at 

Not seen in those photos are the mechanisms underneath the historical scenic depictions that provide the animation. According to Hendershot, many of those mechanisms are more complex than the dioramas she now owns.

For more information about this project or the mechanical engineering program at IUPUC, contact: