Editor's note: The following article was published in Resource Library on September 19, 2016 with permission of the author. If you have questions or comments regarding the text, please contact the author via the Indiana State Museum, 650 West Washington Street, Indianapolis, IN 46204 at either this phone number or Web address:


200 Years of Indiana Art: A Cultural Legacy

By Mark Ruschman


Historical and contemporary works of art by those who helped shape Indiana's view of the world and the world's view of Indiana are presented in 200 Years of Indiana Art: A Cultural Legacy. Representing artists from across the state, the exhibition includes paintings, sculpture, textiles, glass and mixed media works showcasing the depth, diversity and breadth of artistic talent associated with the Hoosier state. From the early pioneer painters to the contemporary installation artists, this exhibition celebrates Indiana's bicentennial and its rich artistic heritage.

The exhibition begins with the earliest known artwork created by a European in what would become Indiana. On his way to battle American rebels holding the town of Vincennes in 1778, British officer Henry Hamilton sketched a view of the Wabash River (now in the collection of the Harvard University Library.) As Indiana achieved statehood and attracted new settlers, the demand for artists' skills slowly grew. The earliest artists were often itinerant and usually met a variety of practical demands, creating portraits, documenting settlements, and painting signs.

New Harmony, the southern Indiana utopian community, was one of the few that could support multiple artists. German-born folk artist Jacob Maentel (1763-1863) moved with his family from Pennsylvania to New Harmony in 1838. Maentel took full advantage of the town's cultural and social opportunities. Though Maentel is known for his primitive-style portraits, his paintings are notable for the artist's attention to detail, elaborate settings and interpretive qualities. Maentel remained in New Harmony until his death at the age of 100. Among his patrons were the Coopers, prominent members of the New Harmony community. John Cooper was a successful farmer who owned land east of New Harmony. In this painting, Cooper is shown with his dog, Snap, and his home and fields in the background. The portrait is one of six family portraits that have remained together through the generations, making the collection extremely rare.

To the north, Granville Bishop (1831-1902) was a self-taught artist who made his living traveling central Indiana painting landscapes, portraits, store signs and theatrical scenery. Oak Hill Farm (circa 1870) was commissioned by Charles Seaward, Sr., the owner of the property in Alto (now part of Kokomo), Indiana. Crippled and confined to a wheelchair, Bishop completed the painting while living on the Seaward farm, receiving room and board, plus a small wage for his work. Charles Sr. was a breeder of prize cattle and is depicted on the right side of the painting, dressed in white shirt and suspenders. The painting was passed down through the family until Mary Agnes Duncan, Charles Seaward Sr.'s great-great-granddaughter, donated it to the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites in 2012.

Many viewers will be familiar with the Hoosier Group, founded by T.C. Steele, William Forsyth, J. Ottis Adams, Otto Stark and Richard Gruelle in the 1890s. Best known for adapting Impressionist techniques to the Indiana landscape, their influence continues today. As a youth, John Ottis Adams (1857-1927) spent time in the Indiana towns of Franklin, Martinsville and Shelbyville. He later attended Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana. In 1898, Adams and fellow artist T.C. Steele purchased a house in Franklin County in the town of Brookville. Known as The Hermitage, it was a popular gathering place for artists, and its studio space provided easy access to the landscape. Later that year, Adams married the artist Winifred Brady, and the two settled in the Brookville studio and residence. Old Spears Mill (1902) captures an abandoned sawmill on the outskirts of Brookville; the town with church steeple is off in the distance.

The Hoosier Group artists' interest in the Arts and Crafts movement can be seen today in the aesthetic environment created by T.C. Steele and his wife Selma Neubacher Steele at the House of the Singing Winds near Nashville, Indiana, now a part of the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites. By the 1920s, the Arts and Crafts movement was coming to a close, but its influence could still be seen in the one-of-a-kind floor screen by Hoosier artist Carl Graf, created around 1925. In addition to paintings, Graf (1892-1947) created multiple functional screens for himself and his patrons. The quality of the work suggests Graf viewed the screens not just as decorative functional objects, but as an art form. The hollyhock motif was a common theme in Graf's two-dimensional works.

The Hoosier Group artists' influence spread through their exhibitions and advocacy on behalf of Indiana artists, their role in popularizing Brown County as a destination for artists, and their teaching careers. Along with the fellow Hoosier Group artists, T. C. Steele and William Forsyth, Adams was instrumental in establishing the Herron School of Art in Indianapolis. A beloved teacher as well as an accomplished painter, William Forsyth mentored hundreds of Indiana artists during the first half of the 20th century. Forsyth (1854-1935) was perhaps the most varied in style and technique of the Hoosier Group painters, although like his contemporaries, he built his reputation as an Impressionist painter. The Red City (1913) won a bronze medal at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition. Despite his well-documented disdain for modernist works, the abstract qualities of this painting show he was open to experimentation and likely was influenced by nontraditional painters of the day.

The appeal of Brown County is evident in numerous works on view and reflects the appeal of the area to artists from outside the state. A native of Chicago, Charles W. Dahlgreen (1864-1955) first visited Brown County in 1914. He was one of many out-of-town artists who regularly returned to the region to paint. Traveling in a custom-equipped Model A "studio" truck, Dahlgreen spent extended periods of time on the road, stopping and painting whatever caught his eye. He was active in both the Chicago and Brown County art scenes. When he died, Dahlgreen requested that his ashes be spread in Brown County, under a white oak tree he frequently painted.

Brown County was not the only locale where artists formed strong and supportive communities. Richmond, Indiana was the center of the earliest such community of artists; the Richmond Group, which pre-dated their neighbors to the south and had a large and active membership. Further south in the state, the Wonderland Way artists coalesced around the Art Shop in New Albany, Indiana and its owner, James L. Russell. Named for the route between Cincinnati and New Albany, the group was active from 1906 into the 1930s and included about 300 artists.

Katherine Bulliet (1880-1946) was born in Corydon, Indiana, and studied with local artists Sidney Crosier and Russell. A member of The Wonderland Way Art Club and active in Illinois and Southern Indiana art communities, Bulliet had a contemporary edge that set her apart from her peers. Her work, which was closely aligned with Modernist painters of the day, featured abstract imagery and dramatic settings. Bulliet regularly exhibited in New York and Chicago art shows. Her husband, C. J. Bulliet, was the art critic for the Chicago Tribune.

Another artist that clearly identified with a modernist approach was Will Henry Stevens (1881-1949). Born in Vevay, Indiana, Stevens worked in both representational landscape and geometric abstract styles of painting. In 1901, the artist enrolled at the Cincinnati Art Academy, leaving in 1904 to work at Rookwood Pottery as a painter and designer of ceramics. With an interest in experimenting with a variety of media, he made his own paint and developed a new formula for pastel chalks. Late in life, Stevens experimented with abstract compositions influenced by the Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky after viewing an exhibition of the artists work. While Kandinsky's influence is readily apparent in Stevens' painting No. 3, the artist continued to work in many different styles, including representational landscape.

The first quarter of the 20th century saw the establishment of another Indiana institution that is thriving today. The Daughters of Indiana, a group of women from Indiana then living in Chicago, recognized artists from their home state were not getting their due. In response, they organized an annual art exhibition. On March 9th, 1925 the first Hoosier Salon exhibition opened to the public on the second floor of Marshall Field & Company galleries located in downtown Chicago. The show would relocate to Indianapolis in 1942.

Daddy Bucks' Place (circa 1925) by Francis Focer Brown was exhibited in the first Hoosier Salon and won the award for "Best Painting by (an) Artist Under 35 Years of Age." Brown (1891-1971) was an accomplished painter and respected teacher. He headed the Fine Arts Department at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, from 1925 until 1957 and was director of the Muncie Art Museum. Brown trained with Hoosier Group artist J. Ottis Adams at The Hermitage, and also studied with William Forsyth at Herron School of Art, where he met his wife, the artist Beulah H. Brown.

Another regular participant and award winner in the Hoosier Salon exhibitions, Mildred Niesse (1915-2008) was born in Milroy, Indiana and received her formal training at the Indianapolis Art League in the 1950s. She was a life member at the Brown County Art Gallery. The artist used a recognizable primitive style in her paintings, but upon closer inspection, the work is highly detailed and sophisticated. 402 North Meridian Street (1976) shows the Blancherne apartment building at the corner of Vermont and Meridian Streets in Indianapolis.

Other Indiana artists went to Europe for academic training and then returned to apply their talents to Hoosier subjects.

George Ames Aldrich's Steel was an award winner at the1929 Hoosier Salon. In the early 1920's, Aldrich (1872-1941) moved to Indiana and taught drawing at the Fine Arts Club in South Bend. Born in Worcester, Massachusetts, he studied at New York's Art Students League in the 1890s under the American Impressionist painter John H. Twachtman. Later, Aldrich traveled throughout Europe, living in France for several years before moving back to the states in 1917 and settling in Chicago. Aldrich is best known for his romanticized landscapes complete with rural mills and flowing streams. This painting is a rare example of his industrial scenes, inspired by steel mill foundries that dotted the Lake Michigan shoreline in Lake County, Indiana.

Another artist who traveled abroad, William Edouard Scott (1884-1964) was an accomplished portrait artist who challenged the common practice of painting African Americans as subordinate, instead presenting his subjects in positions of prominence and social independence. Born in Indianapolis in 1884, Scott attended Emmerich Manual High School, and then studied under the Hoosier Group artist Otto Stark. The artist moved to Chicago and enrolled in the Art Institute of Chicago where he won the Frederick Mangus Brand prize for pictorial composition. He traveled abroad and was mentored by the esteemed African American artist Henry O. Tanner in France, where he developed a strong reputation for his genre scenes and exhibited at the Paris Salon and the Royal Academy in London. Scott returned to Indiana where he enjoyed a successful career as a muralist and portrait painter. The subject of the family portrait on view, Dr. William Weir Stuart, was a prominent Indianapolis dentist and long-time patron of the artist. The current owner of the painting is the child sitting on Dr. Stuart's lap.

In the 1920s and '30s, Indiana artists mirrored national trends, with increasing interest in realism, Regionalism and the American Scene. Born in Peru, Indiana, the so-called "Circus Capital of the World," Robert Weaver (1913-1991) was a regional artist and illustrator who took full advantage of his hometown's claim to fame. In paintings and drawings, Weaver chronicled the everyday lives of circus performers, animals and the public they entertained. Weaver earned his bachelor of fine arts degree in painting from Herron School of Art and received many national awards for his colorful compositions. The Riding Hannefords (1939) is considered one of his finest works and was exhibited at the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition.

Post WW II, rapid changes in communication, science, industry and social norms transformed Indiana as it did the rest of the world. As Indiana changed, its artists responded. While representational work remained popular, a new direction in art emerged; the proliferation of abstract, non-objective and imagery with a social message.

Originally from Indianapolis and a 1931 graduate of Crispus Attucks High School, Felrath Hines (1913-1993) attended Herron School of Art, because it was open to all races. Hines left Indianapolis in 1937 to further his studies at the Art Institute of Chicago, and, later, the Pratt Institute in New York City. In the 1960s, Hines became active in the Civil Rights movement and joined fellow African American artists in Spiral, a group headed by Romare Bearden. Hines' early work, such as Parrot (1952) was primarily abstract and influenced by Cubism.

Garo Antreasian (b. 1922) was born in Indianapolis and attended Arsenal Technical High School (as did Robert Indiana), studying under the renowned instructor Sara Foresman Bard. In 1940, he earned a scholarship to Herron School of Art, where he studied painting and lithography. Upon graduation, Antreasian joined the faculty at Herron and was instrumental in establishing the school's printmaking department. He left Indianapolis in 1960, joining fellow printmaker June Wayne to open Tamarind Lithography Workshop in Los Angeles.

The proliferation of University based art programs and easy access to new technologies and funding fueled the growth in alternative artistic disciplines. Previously associated with craft, contemporary ceramics, glass and metalwork would take its place alongside traditional artforms of painting and sculpture. Site specific, installation and collaborative works would also respond to a growing public appetite for experiential works in public places.

Since 1983, Randy Long (b. 1951) has been a professor of art and head of the Metalsmithing and Jewelry Department at Indiana University in Bloomington. In her work, she strives for balance between technique, materials and function. Each of her pieces has personal meaning as well as universal appeal. Her Tuscany tea service was inspired by an evening stroll in the town of Orvietto, Italy. The components of the piece capture Long's vision of a full moon suspended between the striped marble walls of a cathedral and an enormous cypress tree at the entrance of the village square.

Soft Serve was made through a collaborative effort by a six-artist team called The Droops. Ally Alsup, Brock Forrer, Emily Gable, Paul Pelsue, Ashley Windbigler and Adam Wollenberg, all with Indiana roots, met while students at Herron School of Art and Design. Drawing on a mixture of influences including childhood memories, cartoon illustration and tattoo art, each contributes a unique style of work to the overall composition. There's no blending here; rather, each artist stakes out his or her territory, aims and fires. The results are stark, provocative, and sometimes dark and sprinkled with uneasy humor.

The exhibition also features site-specific installations and sculpture by George Rickey, David Smith, Anila Quayyum Agha, Ish Muhammad Nieves and Claire Ashley, Kay Rosen, and Leticia Bajuyo.

Leticia Bajuyo (b.1976) designs physically engaging and dynamic installations that fit the space so well they seem indispensable. In Event Horizons, the artist weaves together thousands of donated CDs and DVDs, creating a shimmering wall with illuminated tunnels and vortices that appear to be pulling the discs into another space. The discs still hold coded information, but their usefulness has waned as streaming and downloading the same content has increased. The essence of these discs has not altered; it is society's expectations that have changed. Bajuyo's work encourages dialogue about perception, memory and waste while physically transforming the Indiana State Museum's entryway.

200 Years of Indiana Art: A Cultural Legacy is first and foremost an art exhibition. But for those looking for more, it's a testament to artistic achievement and commitment by men and women who shared the common thread of their connection with Indiana. From the earliest pioneer painters who traveled the state in search of work, to current day high-tech installation artists who travel the globe, 200 Years of Indiana Art reminds us that the progress we've made in the visual arts was built one artist at a time, establishing a rich and significant cultural legacy for future generations to enjoy and learn from.

About the author

Mark Ruschman has been Chief Fine Arts Curator for the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites since 2012. Responsibilities include: managing the ISMHS fine art collection, acquiring new artwork through donation and purchase, organizing exhibitions and overseeing the Indiana Statehouse art collection. Prior to the museum, he owned and directed Ruschman Gallery, a retail gallery specializing in contemporary fine art for 25 years. Ruschman has served on various nonprofit boards and civic organizations including iMOCA (Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art) and IDADA (Indianapolis Downtown Artist and Dealers Association), where he was a founding member and past president. Ruschman also served as past president of the Riley Area Development Corporation, a downtown community development corporation.

About the related exhibition

Hoosiers are being introduced to a special body of artwork this year during the 200 Years of Indiana Art: A Cultural Legacy exhibition, March 19 through October 2, 2016 at the Indiana State Museum.

The exhibit is comprised of more than 100 two- and three-dimensional works of art. Works by important early Indiana artists provide a historical perspective. Additional works include modern and contemporary pieces illustrating the development of the visual arts in Indiana, showcasing the immense talent and diversity associated with the State.

"The Indiana State Museum is delighted to host this important exhibition. Working with artists, collectors and institutions statewide, we've assembled a collection of works that illustrate the evolution and influence of the visual arts over our 200 year history," said Mark Ruschman, chief curator of fine art.

The exhibit is a signature project of the Indiana Bicentennial Commission with support from the Indiana Arts Commission, additional funding is provided by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Arts Council of Indianapolis and the City of Indianapolis.


Resource Library editor's note:

The above article was published in Resource Library on September 19, 2016, with permission of Mark J. Ruschman, Chief Fine Arts Curator of the Indiana State Museum, which was granted to TFAO on September 2, 2016.

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