Editor's note: The following essay was rekeyed and reprinted on October 30, 2002 in Resource Library Magazine with permission of Eckert Fine Art /Indianapolis, Inc.. The essay, written in 2000, was previously included in an illustrated catalogue for the exhibition A Walk in the Woods: The Art of John Elwood Bundy (1853-1933) held November 11 through December 2, 2000 at Eckert Fine Art Galleries. Images accompanying the text in the illustrated catalogue were not reproduced with this reprinting. If you have questions or comments regarding the essay, or if you have interest in obtaining a copy of the catalogue please call Eckert Fine Art Galleries at 317-255-4561, or write to Eckert Fine Art Galleries, 5627 North Illinois Street, Indianapolis, IN 46208.


A Walk in the Woods: The Art of John Elwood Bundy (1853-1933)

by William H. Gerdts


To John Elwood Bundy


While the dominant artistic developments in the United States have emanated from the Northeast -- from New York, Boston, and Philadelphia -- increasing attention and recognition has been paid in the last several decades to the cultural achievements that occurred elsewhere in the United States, in cities, states, and regions throughout the nation. The celebrated accomplishments of nationally recognized artists were often mirrored in the work of talented local painters and sculptors, who, nevertheless, not only often displayed exceptional artistic competence, but also embedded their legacies with individual ideation.

Such is the case with the creative mastery of the painters of Indiana, especially in the last three decades of the nineteenth century through the first half of the twentieth. Most renowned, reaching even to national and international recognition, is the work of the Hoosier Group -- Theodore Steele and his colleagues and successors, active in Indianapolis and especially in Brown County. These artists celebrated the beauty of the indigenous landscape, and they were recognized by writers such as Hamlin Garland as creating a distinctly modern American art -- one that applied the aesthetics of Impressionism to the exploration of and exultation in the American heartland.

While Indianapolis, the state capital, was naturally a center of artistic achievement in Indiana, other cities and towns had their own rich and vibrant cultural life. This is true, for instance, of Muncie, where several of the Hoosier Group taught, and of Fort Wayne, where a surprisingly strong exhibition program regularly brought art of national celebrity before the local populace. But of all the smaller communities in Indiana, none could boast so extensive an artistic vitality as Richmond. This was expressed in the series of significant shows mounted by the Art Association of Richmond, which began in 1898, in which the art of both national and local painters of note were annually exhibited. One of the cultural glories of the city today is the permanent collection that was formed out of this series of shows.[2]

Beginning in 1910, for almost two decades, the Association selected and managed circuit exhibitions that went beyond the boundaries of Indiana and reached as far north as Milwaukee, as far west as Lincoln, Nebraska, as far south as New Orleans, and as far east as Rochester and Syracuse, New York.[3] But of equal prominence at the turn of the century was the existence of what was nationally recognized as "The Richmond School," a group of landscape painters working in a mode parallel to the better-known Hoosier Group but distinctive from them, though they traversed the same geography and drew from similar subject matter.[4] These painters included John Elwood Bundy, the subject of this essay, Charles Conner, Frank J. Girardin, Micajah Thomas Nordyke, Alden Mote, Florence Chandlee, Elwood Morris, Mrs. Joe A. Hodgin, Mrs. Elmer Lebo, William A. Eyden, Sr., James Edgar Forkner, Anna M. Newman, M. Ella Lacey, Fred Pearce, Charles Clawson, Florence J. Fox, A. W. Gregg, and William A. Holly -- an extraordinarily large and diverse group of indigenous talent.[5] Some of these painters, of course, remained distinctly local, but a surprising number gained significant fame at least regionally -- not only Bundy, but Conner, Girardin, and Forkner, especially. Girardin later moved away, first to Los Angeles in 1911 and then to Redondo Beach, California, in 1920. Forkner went on to settle in Seattle, Washington, in 1911, becoming a major figure in the art scene of the Northwest.[6]

While the artists of The Richmond School were, of course, "stars" in the local firmament and their work was regularly exhibited with the Richmond Art Association, their reputations were by no means local. Work by these painters appeared regularly in national exhibitions, and the school was recognized in important Eastern publications. And their distinction from the Hoosier Group was also recognized; one writer in an Eastern journal noting that "Unlike the members of the 'Indiana group,' [The Hoosier Group] who studied for many years abroad, these men, with one or two exceptions, are native taught."[7] Some writers attributed the strength of the Richmond School, in part, to the nature of the terrain in which Richmond is situated, believing that it reinforced, even more than with the artists of the Hoosier Group, the almost total adherence to landscape painting. "Some misconception exists with reference to the landscape of the commonwealth of Indiana, it being generally put down as a 'prairie State,' whereas but a small portion of it should be so designated. Southern Indiana, especially Southeastern Indiana, is hilly and rolling, cut into by rivers, with high cliff-like banks, beautiful forests and groves of many of our native trees, all of which afford infinite variety and an endless field of observation to the landscape painter. Especially striking in natural effects is the Valley of the Whitewater, which deepens into a gorge with precipitous bluffs as it approaches Richmond."[8]

Indeed, the beauty of the Whitewater Valley became a major attraction for the brushes of the Richmond painters. Given that two of the major Hoosier Group painters, Theodore Steele and John Ottis Adams, located themselves on the Whitewater at Brookville in 1898 and that Adams remained there throughout his career, there was almost certainly interchange between the two groups. The city of Richmond itself was denigrated for its industrialization and "the usual American indifference to aesthetic considerations," but "This is, of course, only in the city proper, its loveliness being without blemish in the suburbs and country surroundings."[9] And the distinctiveness of the Richmond School painters has continued to be recognized in their hometown and was celebrated in 1985 in an exhibition held both in Richmond and in Portland, Indiana.[10] That exhibition recognized the heritage left to the city by its early painters, such as Marcus Mote, but it centered on the accomplishments of John Elwood Bundy.

An Ode to John Elwood Bundy


John Elwood Bundy was born in Guilford County, North Carolina, on May I, 1853, the son of John and Mary (Moore) Bundy, who were themselves natives of that North Carolina county. In 1858, the Bundy family moved to a farm in Morgan County, Indiana, near Monrovia, where the elder Bundys remained for the rest of their lives, the artist's father dying in 1891 and his mother in 1893. Young John, one of nine children, attended the Quaker school in Monrovia and remained with his parents until 1877, attending the district schools while his precocious skill at drawing was encouraged by the local community. The celebrated Hoosier poet James Whitcomb Riley became aware of Bundy's talent when he viewed a number of the artist's youthful pictures and drawings in a photography gallery in Monrovia, Indiana. The poet gave the young man a number of books with reproductions of the work of famous painters, thus, in a sense, helping to stimulate Bundy's future career.[12] In 1875 Bundy married Mary Marlatt, who was born and reared in Morgan County; the couple had two sons, Arthur L. Bundy, who became a photographer in Richmond, and Walter R. Bundy, who became a civil engineer in Chicago. Eventually, Bundy went to Indianapolis to study with Barton S. Hays, that city's premier portraitist, but he remained with Hays only a few weeks, and subsequently went East, to New York City. For about a decade in these early years, Bundy was engaged in portraiture, a more financially secure form of artistry, though even at this time the inspiration of Nature always served as his primary motivation.[13] In 1886-87, Bundy lived in Martinsville, Indiana, painting portraits and teaching a class in drawing and painting.

Then, in 1888, the family moved to Richmond, where Bundy took charge of the Art Department at Earlham College in Richmond. He taught drawing and painting and remained there for eight years. A high point of his artistic career at the time, and an unusual one for Bundy, was the publication of a book of etchings illustrative of the scenery around Earlham in 1891. The volume, Fond Recollections. A Souvenir of Earlham and the Regions of the Whitewater; was produced by Bundy and Clarence Mills Burkholder, an Earlham College student and, later, a minister and writer. Bundy provided the illustrations and Burkholder, presumably most of the parallel poetic text, though several of the poems contained therein were credited to others.[14] Bundy's illustrations are charming and divide into scenes at the College itself, its buildings and its students, and bucolic views of the surrounding Whitewater landscape, complete with farms and farm animals, rustic buildings, mills, covered bridges and railroad bridges. One illustration is a true genre scene, with four young women in an attractively furnished interior. The subject matter of many of the etchings suggests Bundy's mastery of thematic roads not taken subsequently; given his command of the etching medium, one can regret that he did not engage further in this artistic pursuit.

Bundy was also a photographer, which may have encouraged his son, Arthur, to undertake this profession. In 1896, however, Bundy decided to devote himself exclusively to painting. The artist built a home and studio at 527 West Main Street, later enlarging the studio behind the house, where he resided with his sister after the death of his wife in 1906. His son Arthur and his daughter-in-law lived in the main house. By the early 1920s, Bundy was sharing his home and studio with a younger Richmond School painter, Elwood Morris, and his wife.[15] The artist also maintained a summer studio southeast of Richmond, near Elliott's Falls and the adjoining mill, which he named "Cedar Crest." Bundy spent one winter in California in 1910-11 with his fellow Richmond artist Micajah Nordykc.[16] A few years later he began the first of three summers near Petoskey, Michigan, one of the larger towns in Northern Michigan, on Little Traverse Bay, where he worked primarily, though not exclusively, in watercolor.[17]

Early in his profession, Bundy had also painted some lovely watercolors, such as his 1898 Early Fall, and he continued to explore this medium in such mature works as his watercolor Apple Blossom Time and interpreting his preferred theme in such gouaches as Spring Beeches. Rut he worked primarily in oils, creating paintings ranging from small pictures 6 by 9 inches to large canvases up to 36 by 46 inches. Landscape was his chosen theme, and he remained faithful to it throughout his career, also painting a number of still lifes[18] and sometimes including rural buildings and farm animals in his scenic work. He seldom included figures, except in his very early work. While Bundy became Richmond's premier artist, his work was exhibited and collected far beyond the city and outside of Indiana. His primary dealer was J. W. Young of Chicago, who held regular exhibitions of Bundy's paintings beginning in 1908, writing much about him in the exhibition catalogues that he published.[19] Bundy was represented in the Art Gallery of the Louisiana Purchase International Exposition held in St. Louis in 1904 with his Brook in Winter,[20] while his Beechwoods in Autumn was shown in the Indiana Pavilion there. Bundy's work was traveled in 1902 in the seventh annual exhibition of the Society of Western Artists, who were showing their work in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Detroit, Chicago, and Cleveland. He subsequently became an active member of the organization, though he exhibited again with them only in 1911 and 1912. In 1910, Bundy's Heart of Beechwoods was on view in Young's Chicago gallery, where it was seen by Halsey Ives, the director of the St. Louis Art Museum, and purchased for that institution. It was to be included in a show of a hundred masterworks being exhibited in Buffalo and St. Louis.[21]

Bundy exhibited once at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia in 1904, and in New York at the National Academy of Design in 1911 and 1916. In 1914 his work was selected by Gardner Symons for inclusion in a show at the National Arts Club in New York. In 1910 he showed in the Biennial Exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D. C. Bundy's landscapes appeared in the annual exhibitions held at the Chicago Art Institute in 1903 and then fairly regularly between 1907 and 1914. One of his last major exhibition venues was The Hoosier Salon annual in Chicago, which was instituted in 1925. He showed with this group from the inaugural year through 1928 and was subsequently invited to show two paintings in 1930. And of course, Bundy exhibited throughout Indiana. He began exhibiting in the annual Indiana Circuit exhibitions, which were instituted in 1910 and traveled to such towns as Terre Haute, Fort Wayne, Lafayette, Muncie, Vincennes, Greencastle, Seymour, Marion, Peru, South Bend, Valparaiso, Logansport, Auburn, Tipton, Crawfordsville, Connersville, Anderson, Bluffton, Winchester, Gary, Columbus, Aurora, Evansville, Bloomington, as well as Richmond and Indianapolis.[22] In Indianapolis, Bundy began showing with the Art Association in 1891 and in their Annual Exhibition of Paintings and Sculpture by Indiana Artists beginning in 1909, serving regularly on the jury from 1912. He won the Association's Holcomb Prize at the John Herron Art Institute in 1918 for his painting Waning of Winter.[23]

Increasingly frail in his later years, Bundy moved with his son and daughter-in-law to Harlingen, Texas, in September of 1929,[24] but died in a sanatorium in Cincinnati on January 17, 1933 With no family remaining in Richmond, his funeral was held in the Centerville, Indiana, home of his most active patron, John Nixon. One of those who spoke, in a room filled with Bundy landscapes, was William Forsyth, a preeminent artist of the Hoosier Group. The artist was buried in Earlham Cemetery.[25]


The Retrospective Exhibition
Dedicated to John Elwood Bundy, Painter


When Bundy left Richmond to live with his son in Texas in September of 1929, one critic wrote: "The closing of his studio marks the end of an art epoch in this community....Richmond owes a debt which can never be paid to Mr. Bundy. He stimulated the production of art here. He encouraged its producers. Injected new blood into the veins of the local art body. And, through the products of his own palette and brush, pulled Richmond into the spotlight of the art world."[27] Bundy's presence in Richmond as an artist and teacher for so many years was instrumental in the development of sustained interest in and support of visual culture there. It was stated in his obituary that "His influence did much toward creating the cultural atmosphere which Richmond boasts."[28] As early as 1902, the Richmond Art Association, in its Sixth Annual Exhibition, included an extensive selection of fifty-five canvases by Bundy, a show within a show. From then on, Richmond recognized Bundy as its premier artist, culminating in a retrospective exhibition of seventy-six of the artist's paintings and sketches. The exhibition, held by the Art Association at its gallery, opened on September 17, 1926. This poem appeared in the catalogue of the show and was also recited in the program at the dinner at the Reid Memorial Church following the opening of the show. The program also featured an address by Bundy's studio colleague, Ellwood Morris, titled "The Early Richmond Group," and also a talk on Bundy himself by George Chambers Calvert, chairman of the exhibition committee.[29] This exhibition also marked the thirtieth anniversary of the Association, of which Bundy had been one of the founding members.

Almost exactly ten years earlier, Bundy had been proclaimed in the city as the "Dean of the 'Richmond Group' of artists."[30] The writer quoted the well-known Hoosier painter and writer William Forsyth, who had once noted that the Richmond painters amounted almost to a school, because, "with slight personal variations they paint in the same method, choose almost the same motives, and seem to have the same vision of art and nature."[31] The writer credited Forsyth's observation to Bundy's success, which led all the Richmond painters to choose themes that "are mostly local, of places near at hand, characteristic of the country. There is little to remind one of the newer movements of art in its search for light and color or realistic impressions, but the artists depend almost entirely on their appeal to the eye through the presentation of the familiar in subject -- the everyday effect of things to the everyday man. In this they are highly successful. [E]specially is this true of Mr. Bundy....The late Charles Conner [sic] was a painter of no common gifts and bid fair to become perhaps the most vigorous of the group. He had not the poetic feeling that is often marked in Mr. Bundy's work, but he had a certain strength and dash of presentation that was promising. Others of the group are Messrs. Baker, Girardin, Forkner, Mote and Eyden -- but Mr. Bundy remains the dominant figure."[32]

Eyden was one of a number of local artists who studied with Bundy, along with Maude Eggemeyer, John King, Lawrence McConaha, Edna Cathell, and Glen Cooper Henshaw.[33] Bundy was instrumental in the founding of the Art Association of Richmond. He was present at the organizational meeting, served on the board of directors, and was chairman of the exhibition committee for many years. As noted, the Art Association had honored Bundy previous to the 1926 retrospective. In addition to regularly exhibiting his work, and showing fifty-five of his paintings in 1902, they had, early on, acquired his five-foot-long Blue Spring, a landscape painted in 1900. At the Association, Bundy won the Richmond Prize in 1907, 1909, and again in 1926, at the time of the retrospective; and he won the Mary T. R. Foulke Purchase Prize in 1917 for his Winter Landscape. Eventually, nine of his paintings would enter the collection there. The chapel of the Joseph Moore School in Richmond was dedicated as the John Elwood Bundy Chapel, and sixteen of Bundy's canvases were distributed throughout the Richmond school system to offer inspiration to the local schoolchildren.[34] Several of the artist's canvases were acquired by Earlham College, and on February 19, 1933, a few weeks after his death, a memorial exhibition of his work took place at the college, where Bundy had previously taught.[35] But for Bundy, Richmond represented much more than an exhibition venue or even a city that offered him patronage, both private and public. Richmond was the center of the countryside from which he constantly drew inspiration. As a reporter quoted the artist in 1914, "...there is still enough left of interest and beauty in the landscape around Richmond to furnish subjects for the remainder of his life."[36]


J. E. Bundy -- A Tribute


Though there is great consistency, in style, subject, and quality in Bundy's painting, his early work is quite distinct from what he achieved later. The pictures painted before he began to devote himself full-time to painting, after leaving Earlham College, tend to be, actually, more broadly painted than his later work, pictures such as his 1899 Afternoon Storm and the very similar Summer Storm (both private collection), which are more concerned with stormy settings and great contrasts of light and dark, and less with botanical specificity, than his paintings done in the twentieth century. These earlier paintings, in fact, are the works that most invoke the spirit of George Inness and the American Barbizon tradition, then a prevalent direction in American landscape painting. These pictures, also, are often farm scenes, including farm buildings, cows, and even the occasional figure, such as his Haystacks After the Rain and Herding the Cows (private collection); both pictures, painted in 1887, are among the earliest known scenic works by Bundy. Nor did he totally cease painting scenes of farming and cultivation; his Summer Sheep is dated 1900, his A Grey Autumn Morning was exhibited at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904, and his Edge of Woods (private collection), with a group of corn shocks seen in a field beyond the woods, is a late painting.

Though Bundy is said to have painted in California during his one winter there, pictures from that sojourn have yet to come to light. He did paint scenes in Northern Michigan, and he explored the dune country of Northern Indiana in such works as his oil Lake Michigan Dunes and his watercolor Dunes, both probably painted in 1902. Indeed, he was one of the first painters to work in this region, preceding by a decade Frank V. Dudley, the artist most associated with this region.[38]

Nevertheless, the theme to which John Bundy was devoted throughout his mature career was the woodland interior, in works such as his early After the Rain of ca. 1897, and his much later Lingering Snow, of 1918. Though he painted portraits early on -- and continued to do so sporadically even at the height of his career -- as well as occasional still lifes -- some fruit pictures though mostly florals -- the natural world was his painting ground, usually devoid of human presence or habitation. His landscapes featured either intimate (rather than panoramic) wilderness spaces or pastoral spaces, the only intrusions into which were occasional farm animals -- cows or sheep wandering, unattended, among the trees and along the streams. For the most part, he drew upon the scenery of Wayne County and especially the Whitewater Valley. There, he found not only congenial surroundings, but an environment with which he could commune directly with nature, a communion that, in turn, inspired his viewers and patrons then and still today. Woodland scenes offered Bundy true spiritual inspiration. One wonders, in fact, if the artist might not have been familiar, during his formative years, with the writings of William M. Bryant (not the earlier nature poet William Cullen Bryant), who wrote of trees in 1882 in his Philosophy of Landscape Painting, that "They possess the element of life; and this brings them into a nearer relationship to humanity than that possessed by any of the forms of inorganic nature."[39]

Over and over again Bundy painted, with variations, the woods and trees of Wayne County (and of Northern Michigan during his several sojourns at Petoskey). Ella Bond Johnston, director of the Richmond Art Association and one of the artist's greatest enthusiasts, wrote: "Since trees were the characteristic feature of his environing landscape, he worshipped trees and recorded in his forming mind all the appearance of them. He learned them en masse as a part of the changing color scheme of the seasons, from the earliest greening of the willows by the spring to the last brown leaves on the beeches."[40] Indeed, within those forests, he chose to examine, record, and venerate especially the beech tree, and Bundy has remained forever associated with paintings of these woodland monarchs, in works such as his 1902 Hillside in the Fall.

Bundy himself noted: "I was first attracted to the beech because it is so numerous here in Indiana. I think the beech right here in Wayne county is the finest I have seen anywhere. I like the woodland and, of course, I could not paint a woodland without painting the beech."[41] Bundy could not recall when he first started to paint the beech tree, but he was already exhibiting this subject at the annual exhibitions of the Richmond Art Association by 1900. In 1902, in the large display of Bundy's pictures included within the Richmond annual of 1902, there were four works specifically noted as depicting the beech. Paintings of beech trees dominated his 1926 exhibition at the Richmond Art Association, where "Seldom, however, is the tree painted full length. Trunks firmly rooted in the ground, with the body of the tree appearing in not more than one-third or one-half its length, is the rule in foregrounds where monarchs of the forest take their place, while smaller, full-boughed trees afford color masses in the middle distance and backgrounds."[42] Bundy could be inspired by a single beech and spiritually relate to it. He told of loving and admiring one magnificent beech that he painted over and over at least twenty times: "I know every twig, every bit of moss that clings to the trunk of this old tree."[43] One writer noted in 1912 that "Indeed the beech tree in all its moods seems to be his favorite theme and no other artist can interpret it better."[44] And in his obituary, the artist was described as "Noted especially for his paintings of beech trees and woodland scenes."[45]

Bundy's devotion to this subject was not singular; as far back as 1845, one of the great masters of the Hudson River School, Asher B. Durand, gained his first great celebrity in landscape painting with his picture The Beeches (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). Indeed, paintings and studies of beech trees by American artists were fairly numerous in the middle of the nineteenth century, though many of the artists, especially John F. Kensett, concentrated on the Burnham Beeches of England, inspired, of course, by Shakespeare's Macbeth.[46] And just before and during Bundy's own career, there were other artists, especially in the near-Midwest, who also concentrated on beechwoods, especially William McKendree Snyder, painting in Madison, Indiana, and Carl Christian Brenner and Harvey Joiner, both established in Louisville in neighboring Kentucky.[47] Other notable artists of the region also painted the beech at least occasionally, including Louisville's Patty Prather Thum.[48]

The beech tree was ubiquitous not only throughout North America, but in Europe and Asia as well.[49] Throughout the nineteenth century, it was celebrated by such leading New England nature poets as William Cullen Bryant and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, though not to the extent that other trees, such as the oak and the elm, figured in their poetry. It is probably John Greenleaf Whittier who made the most conspicuous reference to the beech, drawing upon the beeches of Cape Ann, Massachusetts.[50] The beech makes its appearance in Whittier's writings in such poems as "To My Sister"[51] and "Telling the Bees,"[52] while he associated its longevity with the passing of the Native American in such early poems as "Mogg Megone" and the "Funeral Tree of the Sokokis."[53]

Yet, the elm was venerated particularly as embodying spiritual values associated with American history, especially that of New England,[54] and the oak was long a paternalistic, sheltering nature image, not only in the New World but the Old, especially in Germany, where it was associated with the Medieval glory of the Holy Roman Empire.[55] While both prosaic and poetic literary references to the beech stemmed for the most part from New England,[56] and although Indiana's poet laureate, James Whitcomb Riley, did not embrace the beech tree to any extent,[57] it nevertheless became particularly associated with the Ohio River Valley, and especially Indiana.[58] There, the American Beech is found in nearly every county and is the dominant tree on the Tipton Till Plain, which includes Wayne County. Beech woodlands are found especially in Wayne and Henry counties.[59] Also, there are, for instance, the city of Beech Grove, outside of Indianapolis, and Beech Grove Cemetery in Muncie.

In the nineteenth century, the beech became a symbol of strength and hardiness.[60] As early as 1855, one author associated various trees with specific locales, identifying- "the stately tulip trees and feathery beeches of the West."[61] Beeches were admired even more for their assemblages, for the "peculiar sweep of the lateral branches, when they are standing in a group....in the Beech all the lines produced by the branches and foliage are harmonious, and may be distinctly traced."[62] Bundy capitalized on the beauty of these stands of beeches in works such as Path through the Woods, though he equally focused upon a single great tree, as in Cows by Sunlit Beech Tree.

By the time Bundy began to concentrate on the beech tree as a primary subject, the beech was recognized not only for its "sociability," but also for its sympathetic analogies. One writer, Frank French, noted that the tree's "well-groomed appearance gives it a decided air of high-born gentility...and whether it be that this tree conveys some intimate sense of human relationship, or that the expanse of the smooth bark is a temptation to the possessor of a pocket-knife, I do not know, but it is common for romantic youths and maidens to carve their names upon it."[63] Indeed, the beech was singled out for this latter partiality: "The beech-tree, with its peculiarly smooth bark, has, perhaps, oftener borne carvings and inscriptions than any other."[64] French went on to describe the attractions of the beech tree almost in "Bundyan" terms: "There are few things more enjoyable than to lie upon one's back beneath a beech-tree and look up at the quivering translucent canopy of leaves, lined by delicate branches and etched by clean-cut lines of ribs and midribs against the blue sky. Autumn transfigures the foliage of the beech into a lustrous mass of pale yellow. Its matchless beauty, however, does not depend upon fine vestments, and in its winter nudity it is equally attractive."[65]

Bundy's concentration on and association with the beech tree, however, may somewhat conceal the broader range of his pictorial interests. Bundy did, of course, paint other trees -- cedars, oaks, birches, sycamores, and apple trees. For instance, he concentrated on a single tree in The Apple Tree and painted Among the Autumn Birches and Sycamore Sunset. But more significant was his varied seasonal interests. Mary Q. Burnet, in her seminal Art and Artists of Indiana, wrote of Bundy: "The magnificent trees of the forest caught and held his attention. He lived with them from the earliest spring when the swaying branches sent forth the bursting red brown buds through the stages of tender greens into midsummer when the full leaf casts its welcome and cooling shadows on into the colorful glowing tints of the autumn. Even as the leaves left the branches one by one he studied the contour of the trees against the winter skies."[66] Burnet pinpoints an element perhaps even more fundamental to Bundy's concerns: the natural beauty of changing seasons. Many of Bundy's canvases of the beech feature them in autumn -- both the golden leafage of October and the subsequent bareness of the great monarchs. One critic noted that he preferred to paint the beech "near the close of the season, when the foliage has deepened in color from the earlier tints of delicate rose and yellow to the shades of reddish brown. Often the branches are nearly bare and patches of snow appear on the leaf-covered ground. Bare branches afford an opportunity to represent characteristic tree growth."[67] Indeed, the seasons are all present in Bundy's work, from his springtime April and his watercolor Summertime, of 1901 and 1902 respectively, through his many autumnal scenes such as Road through Autumn Woods and Old Farm in Winter, of 1918.

Although autumn may have been his favorite season of all, many of Bundy's paintings are truly winter scenes, in which he concentrated on streams flowing between snowy banks, such as his 1903 Winter Afternoon (private collection) and his Winter on the Whitewater and Wane of Winter, both of 1914. In fact, Bundy's earliest contributions to the shows of the Richmond Art Association were pictures of "winter time." Bundy surely would have enjoyed, with John Burroughs, "the warmth that lurks in the frost" and might have agreed with him that "Winter has its own beauty, but let us admit it is not the beauty of life, of the leaf and the petal, but the beauty of the crystal or the gem."[68]

In this focus on the winter landscape, Bundy was very much in the main stream of American landscape painting. Many of the leading Eastern artists, such as Walter Launt Palmer, John Carlson, Birge Harrison, Edward Redfield, Gardner Symons, Edward Schofield, John Twachtman, and Willard Metcalf, became especially noted for their concentration on the winter landscape, and the literature devoted to such efforts was considerable at the time.[69] The majority of these painters worked within the broadly defined aesthetic of "American Impressionism," but Bundy was very much not associated with this aesthetic. A broad coloristic spectrum and soft, feathery brushwork would have negated, for Bundy, his reverence for both the individual trees and the majesty of the forests from which he drew his subjects and to which he was devoted on a truly spiritual plane. Understandably, the American master whom he respected most was the great American Barbizon landscape painter George Inness. When asked which American master he admired the most, Bundy stated: "I like the work of George Inness, the New York artist....Among the masters Inness is my really favorite artist because he was so poetic in all that he did....Had I seen his work earlier, I probably would have changed my style."[70] Like the Barbizon and Tonalist painters, and unlike the Impressionists, Bundy's major works were usually, though not always, studio productions; he produced smaller landscape sketches in oil in the out-of-doors that were then transferred or "transplanted" to larger canvases.[71] Despite the specificity of his approach, he could also be a very rapid painter and could paint a large landscape "on the spot" and complete the picture within a half-hour's time.[72]

As with Inness and the Tonalists, Bundy also often preferred to depict nature not at the height of day, but in the glow of sunrise, as in his Autumn Sunrise, or, more often, sunset, as in October Sunset with Harvest Moon and in his monumental Woodland Twilight, of 1916, where the evening glow offers a veil of mystery to the forest interior. But Bundy was really not a follower of Inness or the Barbizon or Tonalist movements. He could best be described as a Naturalist, deriving an empathetic ambience from the specifics of Nature. Among American masters of landscape, he finds a close stylistic parallel with such artists as Hugh Bolton Jones and the above-mentioned Palmer, though sharing spiritual values with Tonalist painters such as Harrison, Bruce Crane, Charles Warren Eaton and others, but resisting their more reductive approach.[73]

It may be that seeking parallels to his art among the accomplishments of his contemporaries is without significant value. As his great admirer Ella Bond Johnston wrote in her tribute to the artist: "Of these landscape painter-historians no one sees beauty in nature more poetically or expresses it with a vision and technique more uninfluenced by the ideas or conventions of other painters than does John Elwood Bundy. He sings naturally, in the language of color, the beauty of the Hoosier landscape, just as James Whitcomb Riley gives us in words the charm of his Hoosier neighbors and friends....His paintings have been great teachers, opening the eyes of the unseeing to find beauty in nature as he sees it, and to appreciate and enjoy the expression of it on canvas. His work will live to show coming generations the character of the native landscape in the Whitewater valley of Indiana and the beautiful way one sensitive soul felt about it...."[74]

The words spoken of Bundy in 1933 by his Hoosier colleague William Forsyth at the opening of his memorial exhibition at Earlham College eloquently sums up the man and his art. Forsyth stated: "Kindly, gentle, reserved, he was a dreamer of dreams....And it was those dreams he sought to impinge on canvas and thus interpret to the world. Mr. Bundy was a dreamer and a poet....He was an occultist who saw the elusive beauty of all things in the sky and the trees and the sunshine and the flowers. He loved the out-of-doors. He heard music in the streams and lovely harmonies in the wind that stirred the trees. Those trees of the middle west, the beeches, which he immortalized on canvas. The landscape was always beckoning him. He stood at his windows and was steeped in the exquisite tints of the sunset sky. He watched the dawn and its opalescent beauty. The storm-swept sky was equally as fascinating and the snow-draped fields and woods were warm under his painter's brush. Attuned to nature's heartbeats, this artist was intimately affected by nature's every passing mood and was touched by the sweep of the divine wing."[75] Johnston's and Forsyth's eloquent words have held true for generations over more than three-quarters of a century, and today we still share with the artist that character and that beauty of the Hoosier landscape.



1. John R. Webb, "To John Elwood Bundy," Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram, January 18, 1933; poem written in Richmond in October 1926.

2. For an important study of these developments, see Ella Bond Johnston, The Art Movement in Richmond, Indiana (Richmond, n.p., 1937). In 1910, the prominent portrait and figure painter John White Alexander, president of the National Academy of Design in New York City, wrote of Richmond's gallery in favorable terms compared to the situation in New York. See "'Even Richmond, Ind., Has a Better Art Exhibition Than New York'," New York Times, September 25, 1910, p. 10.

3. Johnston, op, cit., p. 18.

4. For the artistic traditions of Richmond and the "Richmond School," see, by the present author, Art Across America, 3 vol. (New York: Abbeville Press, 1990), 2, pp. 257-258, 275-277.

5. Johnston, op. cit., p. 5. Eyden's son, William Arnold Eyden, studied with his father, Theodore Steele, and Charles Hawthorne, and became a major figure among the next generation of Richmond painters, as well as an important art teacher and lecturer in the state.

6. The short-lived Conner was honored with a memorial exhibition held within the Ninth Annual Exhibition of the Art Association of Richmond, Indiana, in 1905. Forkner was especially noted for his work in watercolor, and enjoyed an exhibition by the Seattle Fine Arts Society in December 1920.

7. "'The Richmond Group' of Painters," Art Interchange 51 (October, 1903), pp. 85-86. Bundy especially, but also Girardin, Conner, and Forkner were singled out as the major figures of the Richmond School in this article; the others mentioned here were Nordyke, Morris, Alden Mote and Holly.

8. "'The Richmond Group' of Painters," op. cit., p. 85-86

9. "'The Richmond Group' of Painters," op.cit., p. 85.

10. The Richmond School (Portland, Indiana: Hugh N. Ronald Memorial Gallery Center for the Arts and Richmond, Indiana, Art Association of Richmond, 1985) The artists included here, in addition to Bundy, were Marcus Mote and his nephew (William), Alden Mote, Girardin, Conner, Forkner, John Albert Seaford, William A. Eyden, Maude Kaufman Eggemeyer, George Herbert Baker, Francis Focer Brown, Randolph LaSalle Coats, Lawrence McConaha, John M. King, and Marston Dean Hodgin. Brown, Coats, McConaha, and King, all born in the 1890s, were considerably younger than Bundy and his generation of artists of the Richmond School, while Hodgin, born in 1903, was still alive in 1985. Not only was Bundy the artist best represented in the show, but Eggemeyer and McConaha had studied with him, Baker was a close friend, and King was represented by his painting The Pause, commissioned by E. Harrison Scott, a Richmond admirer of Bundy and his art. This work depicts Bundy, sitting in a rocking chair in his studio and reading his Bible, while a grove of his beloved beech trees is seen through a window behind him. See "Richmond Man's Memory of Artist Results in Unusual Bundy Painting," Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram, September 25, 1929; and Carolyn Maund, "Scott Family Donates Paintings," Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram, January 31, 1960.

11. Clarence Votaw, "An Ode to John Elwood Bundy," Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram, January 18, 1933; poem written in November, 1926.

12. "J. E. Bundy," Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram, July 1, 1904.

13. For Bundy's early years, see Wilbur D. Peat, Pioneer Painters of Indiana (Indianapolis: Art Association of Indianapolis, Indiana, 1954), pp. 77-79.

14. John Elwood Bundy and Clarence Mills Burkholder, Fond Recollections. A Souvenir of Earlham and the Regions of the Whitewater (Richmond: J. E. Bundy and C. M. Burkholder, 1891). The volume was presumably completed and published late that year, for it was noticed in "Bundy does book of etchings of Earlham," Richmond Evening Item, January 8, 1892.

15. Vance Prather, "Bundy's 'Beeches,' Found Deep in Hoosier Fastnesses, Have Been Made Famous the Country over as Indiana Artist's Unerring Genius Gained Fair Recognition," Indianapolis Sunday Star, May 14, 1922.

16. "...the artist is spending the winter in out-door painting in California," The Fourth Annual Exhibition of Paintings by J. E. Bundy (Chicago: Young's Art Galleries, n.p., 1911). Since Bundy's Richmond colleague Frank Girardin moved to California in 1911, it is possible that they were there together.

17. Bundy's oil Woodland in Northern Michigan, in the collection of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, was painted at Roaring Brook near Petoskey around 1916. Prather, op. cit.; Lucille B. Morehouse, "In the World of Art, Richmond Honors Bundy Master of Landscapes," Indianapolis Star; September 26, 1926.

18. The Richmond Art Association owns Bundy's 1901 still-life painting Chrysanthemums. This may have been a favorite floral subject for Bundy, as an Indianapolis critic who attended his 1926 Retrospective in Richmond wrote of visiting Bundy's studio and finding him painting a basket of chrysanthemums that had been presented to him at the opening night dinner. Morehouse, op, cit. In the 1933 Earlham College Memorial Exhibition, the Richmond painter Ellwood Morris lent a large flower picture, Hydrangeas, and there was a second, small floral work. It was noted that "Bundy was not so well known as a painter of this class of subject." "Bundy Memorial Exhibition to Open Today at Earlham College," Richmond Item, February 19, 1933.

19. See especially Young's essays on Bundy in The Art of J. E. Bundy (Chicago: Young's Art Galleries, 1911); and Catalogne of an Exhibition of Paintings by Three Indiana Artists. Works of J. E. Bundy in Oil, Glenn C. Henshaw in Pastel, Edgar Forkner in Water Color (Chicago: Young's Art Galleries, 1917).

20. "Pictures by Bundy on display at World's Fair," Richmond Evening Item, April 11, 1904.

21. "Bundy's Picture Given Honor at Albright Show,'The Heart of Beechwood' by Bundy among American masterpieces," Richmond Evening Item, March 16, 1910.

22. The circuit differed from year to year. Some shows also were traveled beyond Indiana, to Charleston, Rockford, and Urbana, Illinois; Louisville, Kentucky; Des Moines, Iowa; and Lincoln, Nebraska.

23. "Holcomb Prize, Herron Art Institute," Richmond Evening Item, July 24, 1918.

24. "Famous local artist moves residence to Texas," Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram, January 30, 1929; Esther Griffin White, "Artist Bundy Goes to New Home in Texas," Richmond Item, September 15, 1929.

25. Much of this biography has been drawn from a typescript written by Mrs. Robert Hampton, February, 1984, courtesy of Frank Milligan; and from the discussion of Bundy in Mary Q. Burnet, Art and Artists of Indiana (New York: Century Company, 1921), pp. 281-287. See also "Indiana Artists Series. J. E. Bundy," New Era (South Bend), February 17, 1912; Ella Bond Johnston, "An Indiana Landscape Poet and Historian," Outlook 107 June 27, 1914), pp. 474-479; and Vance Prather, op. cit.

26. Marston Dean Hodgin, "The Retrospective Exhibition," Retrospective Exhibit of Paintings by John Elwood Bundy (Richmond, Richmond Art Association, 1926), p. 5. Hodgin was a fellow artist of the Richmond School.

27. Esther Griffin White, op. cit.

28. "Noted Local Artist Dies. Funeral Services For Bundy Set For Saturday," Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram, January 18, 1933. Two obituaries for Bundy were published in this issue of the newspaper; see also "Death Claims Leading Figure in Art World."

29. "Exhibit of Bundy Canvases Planned by Art Association," Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram, August 28, 1926.

30. "J. E. Bundy Proclaimed as Dean of 'Richmond Group' of Artists," Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram, September 28, 1916. See also Morehouse, op. cit.

31. Forsyth's article was put into more permanent form as an independent booklet. See William Forsyth, Art in Indiana (Indianapolis: H. Lieber Company, 1916), pp. 31-32.

32. "J. E.. Bundy Proclaimed as Dean of 'Richmond Group' of Artists," op. cit.

33. Hampton, op. cit., p. 8. However, in Louise Heritage and Warren Wilmer Brown, Glen Cooper Henshaw (Baltimore, Maryland: Monumental Press, 1945), there is no mention of Henshaw's study with Bundy, and in her "Introduction," Glen Cooper Henshaw (Muncie: Ball State University Art Gallery, 1982), Anne Moore states that "Mr. Hinshaw [sic] began his art studies in 1901 at Herron School of Art in Indianapolis as a student of J. Ottis Adams."

34. "Noted Local Artist Dies. Funeral Services for Bundy Set for Saturday," op. cit.

35. "Bundy Memorial Exhibition to Open Today at Earlham College," op. cit.

36. Johnston, "An Indiana Landscape Poet and Historian," op. cit., pp. 478-479.

37. Elizabeth E. Phallic, "J. E. Bundy -- A Tribute," Retrospective Exhibit of Paintings by John Elwood Bundy (Richmond: Richmond Art Association, 1926), p. 3.

38. See A. G. Richards, "Lake Michigan's Wonderful Dunes," Fine Arts Journal 36 (June, 1918), pp. 19-25, written in connection with an exhibition of Doodles work, where the author states of the dunes that "Mr. Dowdily has been the only one of our local painters to make the recording of their beauties a life work." The Westchester Township Historical Museum in Chesterton, Indiana, maintains a display of the work of "Artists of the Dunes."

39. William M. Bryant, Philosophy of Landscape Painting (St. Louis, Missouri: St. Louis News Company, 1882), p. 91.

40. Johnston, "An Indiana Landscape Poet and Historian," op. cit., p. 477.

41. Prather, op. cit.

42. Morehouse, op. cit.

43. Hampton, op. cit., p. 5.

44. "Indiana Artists Series. J. E. Bundy," New Era, op. cit.

45. "Death Claims Leading Figure in Art World," Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram, January 18, 1933.

46. See James L. Yarnall and William H. Gerdts, The National Museum of American Art's Index to American Art Exhibition Catalogues from the Beginning through the 1876 Centennial Year; 6 vols. (Boston: G. K. Hall & Co, 1986), passim.

47. For Brenner, who is the painter most often referenced in Yarnall and Gerdts for paintings of beech trees, see Justus Bier, "Carl C. Brenner -- A German American Landscapist," American-German Review 17 (April, 1951), pp 20-25; for Joiner, see the references to him in Arthur F. Jones and Bruce Weber, The Kentucky Painter from the Frontier Era to the Great War (Lexington: University of Kentucky Art Museum, 1981).

48. Thum's 1912 Beech Tree, Early Spring is in the collection of the J. B. Speed Art Museum in Louisville.

49. See Rob Peters, Beech Forests (Norwell, Massachusetts: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1997).

50. H. H. Butterworth, "John G. Whittier," The Ladies' Repository 2 (December, 1875), p.· 487.

51. John Greenleaf Whittier, Songs of Labor (Boston: Tichner & Fields, 1856), p. 78.

52. John Greenleaf Whittier, Ballads of New England (Boston: Fields, Osgood and Co., 1870), p. 14.

53. John Greenleaf Whittier, Poems (Boston: B. B. Mussey & Co., 1850), pp. 34, 90-91. The Indian, Mogg Megone, is seen in "The moonlight,/ through the open bough of the gnarl'd beech." The fallen Sokokis is buried at the foot of a beech tree, where "The beechen-tree stands up unbent,--/The Indian's fitting monument!...O long may sunset's light be shed/As now upon that beech's head.--/A green memorial of the dead!"

54. Michael Kammen, Meadows of Memory, Images of Time and Tradition in American Art and Culture (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1992), pp. 133-146, 166-167. See also "Trees," Southern Literary Messenger 14 (January, 1848), p. 14; and Walter Prichard Eaton, "Trees," Century Magazine 91 (January, 1916), p. 368.

55. Probably the most monumental pictorial reference here was painted by the great nineteenth century Düsseldorf painter Carl Friedrich Lessing, his 1836 Thousand Year-Old Oak (Städelesches Künstinstitut, Frankfurt, Germany).

56. One of the best-known such books was written by the educator and author Arlo Bates, Under the Beech-Tree (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1899).

57. Riley mentions the beech in passing in "In Swimming-Time," Rhymes of Childhood (Indianapolis, Bowen-Merrill Co., 1890), p. 171; and "The Old Swimmin'-Hole," Neighborly Poems of Friendship, Grief and Farm-Life (Indianapolis: Bowen-Merrill Co., 1891), p. xv.

58. There are over fifty references to the beech tree in Richard Swainson Fisher, Indiana (New York: J. H. Colton, 1852).

59. Charles C. Deam, with the Assistance of Thomas Edward Shaw, Trees of Indiana (Indianapolis: Bookwaltcr Company, 1953), pp. 112-115.

60. "Sylvania," Trees and Their Likenings," The Ladies' Repository 1 (October 1841), p. 289.

61. "About Trees," Putnam's Monthly Magazine of American Literature, Science and Art 6 (November 1855), p. 521.

62. "Among the Trees," Atlantic Monthly 6 (September 1860), p. 260. Admiration for the "social" grouping of beech trees can also be found in "Trees in Assemblages," Atlantic Monthly 8 (August 1861), p. 135.

63. Frank French, "Trees," Scribner's Magazine 28 (July 1900), p. 32.

64. Elmer Lynnde, "Trees and Their Stories," Ladies' Repository 14 (December 1974), p. 473.

65. French, op. cit.

66. Burnet, op. cit., pp. 282-283.

67. Morehouse, op. cit.

68. John Burroughs, "The Tonic of Winter," Country Life in America 19 (December Mid-Month, 1910), pp. 1?7, 179.

69. "Snow-Scenes in Oil-Painting," 44 (March 1901), pp. 99-100; Eliot Clark, "American Painters of the Winter Landscape," Scribner's Magazine 72 (December 1922), pp. 763-768; Birge Harrison, "The Appeal of the Winter Landscape," Fine Arts Journal 30 (April 1914), pp. 191-196.

70. Prather, op. cit.

71. Prather, op. cit.

72. Morehouse, op. cit.

73. Eaton, in fact, was the Eastern artist with whom Bundy was especially likened and compared. See "Bundy is Classed with Charles W. Eaton as Artist," Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram, September 19, 1907. For the myriad stylistic possibilities of landscape painting at the turn-of-the-century, see the essay by Bruce Weber, in Weber and William H. Gerdts, In Nature's Ways: American Landscape Painting of the Late Nineteenth Century (West Palm Beach: Norton Gallery of Art, 1987), pp. 7-24.

74. Johnston, "An Indiana Landscape Poet and Historian," op. cit., p. 475.

75. "Memorial Exhibition," undated clipping, Forsyth file, Eckert Galleries, Indianapolis.

76. William Dudley Foulke, "To J. E. BUNDY," Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram, September 18, 1926.


About the author

Dr. William H. Gerdts is Professor Emeritus of Art History at The Graduate Center, City University of New York. He received a MA from Harvard University in 1950 and a PhD from Harvard University in 1966. He is the author of many books concerning American art history. According to CUNY: "Professor Gerdts began his career in the museum field, serving one year as Curator of Art at the Norfolk (Virginia) Museum, and resident director of the historic Myers House in Norfolk; and then twelve years as Curator of Painting and Sculpture at the Newark (New Jersey) Museum. In 1966 he was appointed Associate Professor of Art History, and Gallery Director, at the University of Maryland (College Park), a post he held for three years. From 1969 to 1971 he was Vice President of the Coe Kerr Gallery in New York. He joined the faculty of Brooklyn College, and The Graduate Center, CUNY, in 1971; he assumed emeritus status on his retirement in 1999. Gerdts has held visiting professorships at Johns Hopkins University, Rutgers University, and Washington University. He received a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, and an American Philosophical Society Fellowship in 1980. He was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters by Amherst College in 1992, and an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts by Syracuse University in 1996."


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